South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

Judicial Impediments and Terrorism
By: Osman Khan

The terror phenomenon in Pakistan is an outcome of state’s perpetual neglect on arresting extremist trends and ideologies that are posing a serious challenge to the security of Pakistan. Translating these trends and ideologies by their sponsors through acts of violence against the people and the state is shaping up into a common norm. This sole critical security challenge to the state from extremists and terrorists remains unaddressed because of the existing weaknesses in our judicial dispensation of justice.

The terrorists continue to challenge government’s writ and attack strategic targets at places and timings of their own likings. In a latest show of their expanding outreach, terrorists from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacked a security forces’ compound on 2nd February in Serai Naurang town of Lakki Marwat district. The mayhem staged by TTP militants took away precious 36 lives with it, both military and civilian. This terror incident is amongst many that have taken place earlier on military check posts, installations and other strategic targets. Sequel to the attack on the military compound, TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan repeated his conditional offer of negotiations for peace with Islamabad through a video message released on 3rd February. He also demanded release of three Taliban leaders under detention of Pakistan’s security agencies. The fresh TTP offer is not likely to evoke any positive response from the government. The central government and the security establishment believes that accepting Taliban’s conditional offer would tantamount to succumbing to their terror induced pressures and accepting their status as a state within a state.

Many amongst the perpetrators of violence and extremism were arrested by the law enforcement agencies but their efforts got rebuked by the courts of law for lack of evidence and were as such released. In an environment wherein religious extremism is on the rise, efforts put in by law enforcement and intelligence agencies to identify and locate the terrorists and their networks are getting nullified by the courts’ questioning legality of LEAs actions. Such persecutions are impacting the morale and confidence of security personnel who risk their lives to apprehend terrorists. It is virtually not possible to prove direct linkages of suspects with terrorism in every case. It is the prolonged surveillance and intelligence gathering that lead LEAs to conclude that a certain individual is linked with terrorism and only then he is arrested.
It was with this relevance that Senator Faisal Raza Abidi of a leading political party delved on what he termed ‘judiciary’s predisposition towards terrorists’ in a television program on September 11, 2012. Senator Abidi had questioned the dynamics for the release of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leader Malik Ishaq and the chief cleric of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid, Maulana Abdul Aziz. The Lal Masjid’s chief cleric’s younger gun trotting brother Maulvi Rashid had vowed that if something happened to him during the stand off with the Army and LEAs, suicide bombers from Waziristan would come in great numbers and unleash terror all over Pakistan. That incident had then brought in light the activities of our religious leaders in breeding extremism and militancy in Waziristan agencies’ various madrasas’ students. Whereas Maulvi Rashid got killed during the stand-off, chief cleric Maulana Aziz continues to get acquittals one by one from courts of law in various cases registered against him.

There are many other cases where other terror suspects were released by the Anti Terrorism and superior courts. Take the case of Salman Taseer, the slain governor of Punjab whose body guard pumped 27 bullets into his body and murdered him. Mumtaz Qadri, the killer who belonged to a small Islamic group ‘Dawat-e-Islam’ was showered with roses when he first appeared in a court of law after the brutal murder. Hundreds of lawyers, supposedly the defenders of the human rights and the constitution, had then pledged to defend him and treated him as a hero. Qadri’s personal bank account now stands at over Rs. 50 million (US $263,000), mainly through donations. Then there is a case of Malik Ishaq, the leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, who after serving 14 years in jail as an under trial prisoner was released in July 2011. Similarly, Hijratullah, accused in the June 10, 2010 attack on police training academy at Manawan, Muhammad Ilyas alias Qari Jamil and other two involved in the murder of Army Surgeon General Mushtaq Baig, Major (Rtd) Haroon and his two accomplices accused in killing Major General (Rtd) Ameer Faisal Alvi were all acquitted by the court. Dr. Niaz and 11 others who were arrested in 2008 for planning and conducting a suicide attack on ISI buses and firing anti-aircraft rounds at the plane of General Musharraf were also acquitted by the courts.

Most of the apprehended terrorists get reprieve because the witnesses refused to appear before the court for testifying against the terrorists for fear of their life. This is for the reason that there is no Witness Protection Program in Pakistan. In the murder case of journalist Wali Khan Babar, the 6th and the last witness to the murder was also killed by terrorists because of non existent WPP. In Shahzeb murder case, protection to the eye witness to the gruesome murder has also not been provided which may also result in his retreat in standing as a witness against Shahrukh for fear of his life.

Pakistan is internationally committed vide UN resolution that calls for all countries to prosecute those accused of terrorism. Despite that commitment, its ATCs rulings show that Pakistan’s acquittal rate of prosecuting terrorists remain over 90%. There is only one conviction in the last two decades. Over the last four years, the courts in Pakistan have spent their energies trying to jolt the government and its related institutions. During the same time period no significant terrorists leader has been convicted and many have been set free by the courts. The quoting of poetry by a judge rather than the law while sentencing a political leader in a case reflects a deep state of denial in the judiciary’s national priorities at a time when the country is under extreme threat of terrorism. There is a need for all the national institutions to feel the pinch of terrorists’ attacks and gear up and fight jihadist ideology and those who perpetrate their activities in the name of such ideologies. These terrorists continue to remain the gravest threat to the security of Pakistan. Pakistan’s media has also done little to help generate peoples’ support for eliminating extremism and fighting terrorism from our society. There is a need for the media to look within and ask why the known extremists and suspected terrorists are projected and celebrated as heroes on their channels. Post the Lakki Marwat incident, our print media gave a wide coverage to TTPs faulty peace overtures and tried to portray them as a force to reckon with. Till the time priorities of our media and judiciary are shifted from focusing more on issues of lesser evils to issues that relate to terrorism, any number of sacrifices of our people, soldiers and the members of intelligence agencies will not be enough to change the destiny of the nation.