By Ayesha Siddiqa
This article was originally posted on Ayesha Siddiqa’s blog.
A MQM worker was killed in Rangers’ custody – a reminder of the old tradition of lack of accountability of law enforcement and the overall security apparatus of the state. Torture and its most crude form: extra-judicial killing takes place all in the name of providing security. But we are not sure if such measures contribute to peace and stability. I am reminded of what a senior police officer once told me the problem was with such above the law mechanisms. In torturing people to death or killing them without following the course of law we often forget that the person has people who love him/her. They will always get back at you and in case the power is disproportionate they may not get back at the powerful but the powerless.
I realize that this is unattractive for those who are burnt by weakness of the law enforcement and judicial system and have little faith left in it. For societies to survive you can’t have shot cuts. Military courts cannot replace real courts, and torture and extra-judicial killings is not real retribution to restore sense of justice.
At this point in time when a lot of people seem excited about extra-constitutional use of force restoring peace one is reminded of the dire need of the need of accountability of the law enforcement system. It has become even more important to guard and question the guardians. Let’s examine two important incidents which have happened in the recent past.
The first pertains to death of Malik Ishaq, a leader of the militant organization Lashkare Jhangavi. Many gave the security establishment a thumbs-up for killing a man who had spilt blood of hundreds. Intriguingly, the state desisted from punishing him for his heinous crimes through a judicial process. I am reminded of conversations with senior law enforcement officials in Punjab, who would argue during Ishaq’s life time, that there was no threat from the militant leader, and that indeed he was a friend of Pakistan’s and didn’t want to bring any harm. No heed was ever given to the fact that he was proven guilty in killing an Iranian diplomat and for killing numerous other people. He was even proven guilty in the eyes of the judicial system which we decry. There was sufficient evidence against him. But none of that was honored. Furthermore, he was released by the Supreme Court that was the final court of appeal, in the absence of new evidence which would have allowed the judges to do so. There are questions to be asked about why did Justices Iftikhar Ch and Dogar do so? In the same vain why was he never really stopped from instigating killings of Hazaras in Baluchistan? And finally what triggered the decision to conduct his extra-judicial killing?
Let’s not forget that extra-judicial means break down of law and power of those that the state thinks it has punished. Had Ishaq been put through the course of law without having the power to intimidate his witnesses, as he did in the past, his guilt would have been proved and people convinced of how he was a terrorist and a burden on the society. A secret death makes him a hero that will inspire some to eulogize and copy. It also demonstrated that there is no judicial system. Hence, even when a killer was punished as in the case of Mumtaz Qadri people remain skeptical. Why should the law perform now when it has never done so before? If the law can’t bring Ishaq to justice then why should it in Qadri’s case? Its difficult to ignore such rumblings in the minds of many.
The second incident pertains to operation against the Chotu gang. The death of 72 innocent people in Lahore seems to have resulted in a sequence of events – a sudden announcement that there was need for a cleanup operation in Punjab followed by the security establishment zooming-in on this gang in the tribal areas of Punjab leading to an armed operation. Suddenly, Chotu became the source of all evil and crime spread from Rahim Yar Khan to Dera Ghazi Khan. It was overnight that a hooligan and criminal was transformed into a terrorist who had questioned the state and tried to break it. All force had to be deployed against him. Expert analysts even wrote amazing pieces outlining effective strategies to overpower such phenomenal source of evil.
Of course, the law enforcement apparatus did not even allow to ask the question whether Chotu was over-rated. No one was even encouraged to find out if the criminal was of the worth that required deployment of an army corps and gun-ship helicopters? Since the end of the operation no one has dared ask the cost and effort incurred to capture just thirteen men. There is certainly little interest in law enforcement officials disclosing how they were part of the ‘wheat war’ being fought between them and these criminals in the tribal areas. Not having extra-regional supply network the gang would try to sell millions of rupees worth of wheat in the process of which they would encounter extortion by the police. The conflict over share of spoils heated up resulting in abduction and killing of policemen last year and even this year. No one has even bothered to inquire where did the millions of rupees worth of wheat disappear last year or this year after the operation.
At the end of the day, Chotu is a criminal and not a terrorist. Criminals indicate poor governance and presence of militants, especially with compliance of the state denotes criminality of the state. But both elements increase where the overall state apparatus lacks accountability and transparency. The people have to know facts of the latest operation. They also need to know the elements behind the Lahore attack as much as they need to find out facts about killing of 140 children in Peshawar. These disconnected myths, hidden truths and wrong tools to restore stability is a lethal combination. It will never bring peace or sanity. You can’t have law above law.