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Dawn Editorial 17 September 2020

Unfair justice

IN remarks that mirror reality, the attorney general of Pakistan, Khalid Jawed Khan, acknowledged that our criminal justice system favours the perpetrators of the crime rather than the victims. Speaking at a ceremony to mark the start of the judicial year at the Supreme Court, the AG rightly said that injustice is at its worst if the perpetrator is socially or financially powerful. He also spoke about the deep flaws in the investigation and prosecution processes that allowed criminals to get away with their crimes. In civil matters, he said, cases linger on for generations and in ­white-collar crimes perpetrators pass themselves off as victims due to a faulty accountability mechanism. The AG also regretted that women usually bear the brunt of the injustice prevalent in our system.
It is refreshing to hear the AG admit these fundamental and structural flaws within our system. It is unusual for state functionaries to admit how broken our criminal justice system is. It is either a lack of understanding, or of acceptance of this reality, that often leads people to cite harsh punishments as a panacea for crimes. Very few among our public office holders display the courage to accept that unless the criminal justice system is reformed, no amount of harsh punishment will curb crime. In the case of the motorway rape incident, we are witnessing similar superficial remedies being offered by parliamentarians and state functionaries at large. These people prefer the shortcut — and one that is ineffective — of public hangings than the tedious reform process of fixing our policing, investigations, prosecution and transparent litigation that provides justice that is timely and affordable. These are difficult tasks but there is no way around them. Any government that wants to fix this broken system will need to delve deep into these matters and repair damaged institutions with consistent and sincere efforts. However for this to happen, the governments of the day will need to depoliticise policing. It is unfortunate that no government in Pakistan, including the present federal and provincial ones, is willing to take this step. If the root cause is not addressed, not much can be achieved except superficial measures that cater more to optics than substance.
The AG has said the right things. He now needs to push for action on them. He commands influence within the system and therefore his words, while welcome, should be the first step in a process to reform the criminal justice system. The judiciary plays a critical role and it too has a responsibility to reform its own house that continues to be burdened with delays and many other ailments. Without such reforms Pakistan will continue to stumble from crisis to crisis without realising that firefighting is the wrong strategy to address deep-rooted weaknesses. The challenge has never been clearer.



Unreasonable bill

THE right to freedom of speech as stipulated in Article 19 of the Constitution is subject to “reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of … the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan”, etc. In practice however, the list of topics out of bounds for the ordinary mortals living in this country is a long one, and they ignore it at their peril. The concept of ‘national security’ is being applied so broadly as to even preclude fair comment — indeed, to extend blanket immunity to certain personalities themselves. That is a specious use of the term. Not content with this, some representatives of the people have decided to go further and give these unreasonable restrictions the force of law. On Tuesday, a private member’s bill was tabled in the National Assembly proposing amendments to the Pakistan Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code whereby anyone who “intentionally ridicules, brings into disrepute or defames the armed forces of Pakistan or a member thereof” will be liable to “imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with a fine up to Rs500,000 or both”.
There is in this country no dearth of admiration for our armed forces. It is manifested when they assist civilian administrations in rescuing victims of earthquakes and floods; when their helicopters pluck stranded climbers from frozen mountainsides; and, most of all, when soldiers are martyred while defending Pakistan. No one would ridicule or defame them when they acquit themselves honourably in their duty to safeguard the nation’s territorial integrity. It is only when they stray from that path into the dirty world of politics and business that they render their institution controversial. Governance and policymaking is not their domain. In the past, some chiefs of army staff such as Gen Jehangir Karamat tried to keep the military within its constitutional bounds, and saw the institution’s reputation enhanced for it. Gen Qamar Bajwa would also earn plaudits were he to distance the army from civilian affairs. This country has lived through multiple military dictatorships; and senior security forces personnel, retired and otherwise, run vast corporate concerns. Parliament must not place these areas beyond the scope of fair comment, which is made in the public interest and thereby constitutes a defence against a charge of defamation. Surely the military itself would rather not be seen as so intolerant of constructive criticism.



Comeback formula

THE choice is before former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif. He can continue to take refuge in the advice of his London-based medical consultant or return home to face the legal charges against him. The Islamabad High Court has provided a reason for his return by issuing a non-bailable warrant for his arrest on Tuesday. A greater cause may be waiting for him in the echelons of power in Pakistan — over and above the protective shield his lieutenants have tried to build around him against any attempt to forcibly bring him back. What was medical leave then has since turned into self-exile, and any attempt at absconding in the eye of the law will also be seen as wilful absence from his political task. Those who want Mr Sharif back legally wonder why he isn’t in a hospital undergoing examination and treatment. This might sound cruel to some but then politics is not for the faint-hearted or those who become addicted to the luxuries that often accompany success in the profession. A battery of PML-N leaders may go on pressing for their leader’s right to avail the best treatment abroad — but this will be at the risk of losing crucial space during an uncertain phase.
The mystery regarding Mr Sharif’s health condition appears to be having a debilitating effect on the personality that was in the making after his removal from power. The image is in contrast to his vows of resistance after he quit under a court decree in July 2017. There are no two ways about it. Either he can resume the refrain that he is being targeted as part of a selective accountability drive or he can choose a life on the sidelines, passing on the mantle of leadership to someone he deems capable. Or his sympathisers can continue to project how an under-duress, ailing man is being treated by a ‘vengeful’ system. It is an old formula that some may see as his best option.


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