OPINION

FRAMING AND COVERING UP

sehgal

Publisher and Managing Editor IKRAM SEHGAL talks about the well developed art of trying to frame somebody and when found it to be false, trying to cover their tracks

The primary objective of casting false allegations against anybody is to spoil that person's chances of success in any given field. A spurious, concocted accusation is meant to defame character and destroy merit. As we all know merit is a disqualification in many developing countries. It is murder all right, not meant to put the person in the grave but to leave him or her in limbo, in a form of living death. That gives the person initiating the made-up charges, or on whose behalf it is initiated, an advantageous position as opposed to the victim. Sometimes the planted rumour fulfils the purpose, sometimes a fact is distorted to represent what is not the truth. Sometimes the truth is coloured. This is not a national pasttime in Pakistan, as in many other countries, this victimisation is a serious profession. What is unique to Pakistan and many other third world countries is that the person or persons levelling the false accusations almost always get away with it. There is no punishment if the falsehood is discovered, this despite the fact that if the charges were proven it would have seriously discomforted the accused, including loss of life, job, status, prospects, etc the person's whole future. To protect the perpetrators of false witness if discovered, the art of the cover-up comes into play, this is done pretty systematically and effectively by initiating an 'enquiry'. Many a times the senior hierarchy may not themselves be involved, but in accepting the concoctions served up by their juniors in sworn statements they give an official credence to falsehood and are thus as culpable as the one making the concoctions. As such it is their responsibility to carefully sift through the statements.

Any accusation, when made, must be tested for reliability and those making the accusation must know that if allegations by them are found to be false they stand to face the same punishment as would the person facing the charges if they were found to be true. There has to be some accountability. So many accusations have been made publicly by so many people but very few have been proven, an overwhelming amount has been found to be sheer fabrication. Can anybody name one single person of consequence in Pakistan's history who has been convicted for making a false accusation? Even when someone has found falsehood to be contrived for motivated reasons, has anyone ever been brought to task? Some of the charges have been very serious, either the person being targeted is guilty, if not, then those that are victimising him or her are. It is true that sometimes facts are laid out in good faith and there may be sometimes perceptions which may colour the truth but most of the accusations are made in bad faith for gaining undue advantage, mainly by putting the person targeted at a disadvantage. It is time to put those making false allegations accountable, why not make one or two salutary examples?

While there is no doubt that the Army has done yeoman's service by coming to the rescue of WAPDA but that is at the field operational level where the Army has deployed units to literally clean out WAPDA's muck at the linesman level, these troops remaining under the command of sub-unit, unit, sub-formation and formation commanders. Some officers have been directly deputed to WAPDA for some time, there is room for interdiction from the WAPDA hierarchy directly and that is as it should be. This interdiction can be for a good purpose and/or it can be for a nefarious purpose, we have to take into account the intent. And because there are very good reputations (not to talk about careers of various kind) involved, this is as good a time to treat one case as an example.

Ms Abida Hussain's alleged pilferage of electricity has been in the news, that is a good case as any to make a case study of. According to the WAPDA Chairman, Lt Gen Zulfikar Ali, an army checking party found one offending meter at her farm in Shah Jewna approximately 66% slow. A commensurate calculation showed that for the past year (1998) this has caused Rs. 2 lacs plus loss to WAPDA. An FIR was registered and in a Press Conference thereafter, the WAPDA Chairman mentioned her case specifically as one of the legislators who have had FIRs registered or detection notices sent to. He gave this as an example of even-handedness in accountability. WAPDA's Chairman is believed to have alleged that the previous SDO in question was a person appointed by Ms Abida Hussain.

Ms Abida Hussain has a different version in her fact sheet. First, this is one of nine meters on her farm in that vicinity. The readings for that offending location for 1996, 1997 and 1998 averaged 20000-22000 units. During 1996, the PPP was in power and Ms Abida Hussain was hardly in any position to get an SDO of her choice, PPP's Saleh Faisal Hayat was. During January the old meter was changed by the new SDO even though Ms Abida Hussain had not requested it. In February the bill for the new meter (which clearly showed 'meter changed') came to about 1400 units (cold weather is a lean period and then because of load shedding standby generator is being used). If the allegation pertained to 1998, it was the old meter that was the offending meter and it had been removed by the SDO much before the checking and at that time no allegations were made. If the new meter is tampered with, it can have no bearing on the old meter or it's readings. That is a separate case altogether. Ms Abida Hussain alleges that she would hardly cheat for a couple of thousand units and the new meter can hardly show the average of the old one. She alleged a deliberate frame-up by the new SDO on behalf of her political rivals, mainly PPP's Saleh Faisal Hayat and Rao Sikander Iqbal, incidentally from the clan of, if not the relation of the WAPDA Chairman. The GOC concerned ordered an information enquiry and it should be no surprise that the enquiry backed up the version of the army officer concerned. The WAPDA Chairman presented the Superintendent Engineer (SE) to support the allegations. Suddenly the same SEs because of whom the Army is in WAPDA in the first place have become the apostles of truth.

As a cautious citizen, we must ask ourselves viz (1) why was the old meter changed? (2) Why are the calculations being made according to the old meter when the new meter is the offending meter? (3) Since the old meter had been removed earlier to the Army's checking and was in the custody of WAPDA, can it be tested as material evidence and be relied upon as anything could have been done to tamper with it? (4) Why and how did the news hit the print media only a day after the 'raid' and three days before the FIR? (5) Has anybody been taken to task for this 'leak'? (6) Why was Ms Abida served with an FIR when others were being served detection notices? Why this discrimination? (7) One believes that since Ms Abida moved a 'breach of privilege' motion, the matter was enquired into from the WAPDA by the NA Speaker in his chambers, what was his opinion and why has he not gone public? (8) According to the army's sources, an enquiry has backed up the accusations, why not do an enquiry from outside the formation? (9) in the end, as a serving Federal Minister, does she not merit a fair hearing at least?

This is a fit case for detailed enquiry. Since a Lt Gen is involved, let it be conducted by a person of equivalent rank but senior to Zulfikar as is the norm. If indeed Ms Abida Hussain is guilty as charged, then the law can always be applied as deemed fit and appropriate. On the other hand, if the enquiry reveals viz either that (1) it was a false allegation or (2) it was a frame-up and/or (3) there was a deliberate cover-up of the facts once the charges were found to be false then a different situation exists. On any one of the counts the person or persons involved must get the same punishment that would be applicable to Ms Abida if the charges against her were correct. If the charges are proven, Ms Abida Hussain can go to jail, regretfully if they cannot be substantiated the WAPDA Chairman and all those in the process of defaming her in front of a virtual 'kangaroo court' must also face commensurate prison sentences. That is the essence of justice so that nobody 'bears false witness'. There is no joy in making such a proposal, unfortunately framing-up in Pakistan has gone too far. It is time now to either prove an allegation and if these are found spurious, those who make such allegations must be punished. Above all it is time to put a stop to the insidious practice of 'framing' people up and when not proven, to immediately start 'covering up'. Those who would cast a stone must remember they may be hit in return with the same stone and with the same vehemence that they would throw it.

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