‘Democratic’ Subversion of the Rule of Law!

Chief Minister of Pakistan's Sindh province, Syed Qaim Ali Shah is addressing the provincial assembly.
Chief Minister of Pakistan’s Sindh province, Syed Qaim Ali Shah is addressing the provincial assembly.

Assisted by members of the Sindh Police, and firing into the air at the gate of the mills, armed men took over the Seri Sugar Mills (Hyderabad district) and the Tando Mohammad Khan Sugar Mills, removing the management appointed by the owners, former Sindh Governor Ashraf W. Tabani’s family. Armoured personnel carriers (a coincidence if they are the same Serbian ones being investigated for corruption?) were reportedly brought in to support the forcible grab. Fearing a backlash from coming on record, a terrified Tabani family member said, “they could not resist the forcible takeover at the behest of a powerful group of industries that now owns most sugar mills in Sindh”.  No wonder the PPP is up in arms about the Rangers powers being extended to entire Sindh!

The federal government may benignly ignore this for “the sake of democracy” but this horrible incident symbolizes the conduct of those responsible to uphold the rule of law, instead using these powers of the State to satisfy their insatiable personal greed and aggrandizement. Would my friends Senators Raza Rabbani and Aitzaz Ahsan want to pontificate about the houses around Bilawal House being acquired through “offers that the original owners could not refuse”?   Not surprising that the Sindh High Court (SHC) is trying the Sindh IG Police and a dozen plus senior police officers for contempt of court for flagrantly violating the sanctity of the SHC premises.  How many more such atrocities have been committed, on behalf of their political bosses and on their own account?   Will they simply get a light slap on their wrists by our respected senior judiciary, or will an example be made so that a loud and clear message is sent that the police cannot be used for crass political and personal purpose?

The blatant hypocrisy is apparent from the Sindh government dragging its feet extending the special powers given to the Rangers on the plea that “they had overstepped their authority raiding govt offices, arresting officials and seizing official records while having the mandate for only four heinous crimes — terrorism, targeted killing, kidnapping for ransom and extortion.” The Provincial Assembly’s resolution omitted the mention of terrorism and severely curtailed powers given to the Rangers, effectively making them at best a “Watch and Ward” force.  Corruption mostly involves public money, if you take government departments out of the ambit, who are we fooling?  This attracted a strong reaction from the entire civic society, with only hard-core PPP activists protesting the “special powers”. Everyone and his uncle knows that the real reason for all this drama is to get Dr Asim out – or at least give him this hope – the man who matters fears Dr Asim may turn “approver”.

A JIT constituted with representation from Rangers, Karachi Police, Counter Terrorism Department (CTD), ISI and MI, unanimously agreed about the charges of corruption against Dr Asim Hussain, more importantly indicting him for facilitating terrorists at his private hospital in Karachi.  Among other things the JIT recorded, that acting on the instructions of Asif Ali Zardari, PPP leaders Zulfiqar Mirza, Muzaafar (Tapi) and Qadir Patel not only “managed” the armed clashes between the warring groups in the Lyari gang war which were involved in extortion, encroachments and target killings i.e. Uzair Baluch/Baba Ladla groups, but supplied illegal weapons to these groups while provoking armed clashes between the Lyari groups and MQM target killers.

Pertaining to the medical treatment of terrorists, the Investigation Officer (IO), DSP Altaf Hussain, appointed by the Sindh government informed the Court on Dec 11 that since ‘no terror-related evidence’ was found against Dr Asim under Section 497 (II) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), he was to be released. The sequential chain of police activity is very revealing, the investigation report was approved in record time by the SSP concerned than by his superior DIG, and than finally by the Sindh Police’s legal team. The Administrative Judge of the Anti-Terrorism Courts (ATC) Justice Naimatullah Phulpoto, flatly rejected the Altaf Hussain report seeking acquittal of the PPP leader, next day the ATC sent him to jail pending trial.  In a most blatant partisan move the PPP government appointed Nisar Ahmed Durrani, a hard-core PPP activist, in place of Mushtaq Jehangiri as the Special Public Prosecutor in the case against Dr Asim.

The PPP government’s “democratic credentials” have been fully exposed going all out to get Dr Asim out of the country and join the dozens of other corrupt in “self-imposed” exile in Dubai. Crossing all the limits of partiality and bias has helped show how hollow the present “democratic” system is, protecting criminals and the corrupt rather than the common innocent citizen. While there are serious flaws in the criminal justice system in the country, it does work when the government in power upholds the law and does not openly and blatantly support criminals. The Dr Asim case symbolizes the bankruptcy of the police and prosecution branches, Will the Sindh civil and police executive ever recover from being brought to a new low because of massive politicization?

The “conditional” resolution passed by the Sindh Assembly would have the Rangers seek permission of the CM Sindh before arresting anyone without a direct link to terrorism, needing a warrant before raiding a public office, to act only against target killers, extortionists, murderers and known criminals. The word “terrorism” was not used.   Facing imminent action by the Federal Govt under the Constitution, inserting “terrorism” the Sindh Chief Minister belatedly signed a Summary extending the Rangers special powers for another 60 days from the date of expiry Dec 5.

Notwithstanding Asif Zardari deliberately baiting Mian Nawaz Sharif egging him onto take on the military, the PM has been firm that the “Karachi operations” will continue to restore sustainable peace in the centre of economic activity in the country. Rejecting the Summary sent by the CM, the federal government said these powers under Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 could not be abridged, customized or made conditional.

Buttressed by a well-publicized “show of force” by the Corps Commander, Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar, to the Rangers HQ, the DG told a very agitated traders’ delegation that the ‘Karachi operation’ would continue at the same pace “till its logical end”  wherein the city regains its past glory, peace and stability. Maj Gen Bilal Akbar was reflecting the firm commitment of the present military leadership about eliminating terrorism from its roots all over the country, come what may! With democracy preferably, without it if necessary!

The question is not “whither Dr Asim”, it is whither PPP?

The writer is a leading defense and political analyst of Pakistan. He can be contacted at ikram.sehgal@wpplsms.com

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