PAKISTAN: Suo motu action on massacre of lawyers must be independent and effective

The dust has barely settled on the Quetta carnage and killing of lawyers that another attack has taken place against the Judiciary. On 2 September 2016, terror once again visited District Court Mardan, Peshawar, KPK Province. The modus operandi was similar: a suicide attacker lobbed a hand grenade before exploding himself at the main gate of Mardan District Court, killing 14 people, including six lawyers and two policemen. This is the second direct attack against the lawyers in less than a month. The lawyers of Balochistan and KPK are being targeted to prevent them from speaking against the large quantum of missing persons in Balochistan Province.

On August 31, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court took suo motu notice of the Quetta carnage, to enquire into the harrowing incident that claimed the lives of 90 lawyers and injured many others. Though the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has taken suo motu notice of the Quetta attack, the lawyer fraternity feels that it is too little too late. The general impression in minds these days is that, after minorities, lawyers are being targeted for standing up for their own rights and that of others.

The Chief Justice issued the suo motu notices to the Inspector General of Police, the Chief Secretary, and the Advocate General of Balochistan Province, to present themselves for the hearing of the suo motu notice on September 20. In its notice, the Supreme Court stated that the Quetta attack has raised several questions over governance. The Court has added that the Quetta attack was pre-planned. “The way the planned incident took place brings into question the efficacy of the state machinery,” the apex court has stated.

The notice went on to deplore the state of security in the country: “Lack of security arrangements, despite past precedents points at the miserable failure of Provincial Government and law enforcement agencies to avert the tragic incident.”
The lack of proper medical facility and deplorable condition of the civil hospital is also discussed in the notice:

“Due to insufficient facilities at hospital several lives which could have been saved were wasted. The serious injured were compelled to be shifted from Civil Hospital to the Combined Military Hospitals (CMH) and other hospitals outside the province. The post disaster scenario is not encouraging either. It appears that the incident has been forgotten and no headway has been made in either tracing the culprits or to mobilize state resources to prevent such occurrences in future.”

Unfortunately for a country like Pakistan, suo motu notices and enquiry committees are set up to divert the attention of the masses from the actual culprit; in majority of such cases, the courts and the enquiry committees conclude the proceeding without coming to any conclusion. 
The committees formed to probe the murder of two prime ministers of Pakistan, Khan Liaqat Ali Khan in 1954 and Ms. Benazir Bhutto in 2008, were left inconclusive. Can one expect anything better for the common man given the state of law and order in the country?

Judicial enquiries do little more than provide cover to the ineffectiveness of security measures and failure of the government to devise a cohesive counter terrorism strategy. Enquiry commissions have thus become redundant. That is why, after every incident of terrorism, the victims demand that UN probe the case; people no longer trust their own justice institutions.

The results of those judicial inquiry commissions / committees, which have pointed out the negligence of state and its security agencies, including intelligence agencies, have never been made public. There are many reports like Hammod ur Rehman Commission Report, missing persons commissions, the presence of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan and USA marines attack inside Pakistani borders, and journalist Saleem Shahzad’s murder case, which the powers of Pakistan have put a lid on.

Taking suo motu notice also hardly serves the purpose. For instance, on 26 January 2012, three lawyers were killed while they were returning from their office. Unidentified men on motorcycles intercepted their car and sprayed it with bullets. The inaction of the State apparatus was evident in the case, as media reported that according to some witnesses, a police constable was also present at the spot but he did not act. “A policeman was standing nearby, but he instead of targeting the culprits, resorted to aerial firing,” said a witness.

The Chief Justice of Sindh High Court, Justice Musheer Alam, taking suo motu notice on the killing of lawyers, summoned Sindh Police Chief and other officials asking them to submit a report on the incidents of targeted killings of members of the Bar. Four years down the line, the case is still pending in the court while the culprits are yet to be apprehended.

The State and the Judiciary have utterly failed to secure the lives of citizens and dispense justice, thus breaking the confidence of the masses in the system of governance. The State’s abject apathy to the bloodbath of innocents has incited the populace against the State, resulting in anarchy and lawlessness. The courts have become dysfunctional to the extent that the terrorists, goons, and gangsters like Jammat Ut Dawwa (JUD) are setting up their own courts to fill in the vacuum. What is worrisome is that people are approaching these illegal courts en masse for redress, knowing that at least there they will get some kind of justice.

It is such an irony that, rather than the State, the masses trust such unscrupulous elements. Are these not the signs of a failed state? Suicide and bomb attacks inside court premises and killing of lawyers will further erode public confidence. By assailing a fundamental pillar of the State, the fundamentalist elements are collapsing the entire structure of the State, thereby strategically creating inroads to establish their hold on the affairs of the State.

Early this year, on 23 January 2016, a video was released on social media after Bachha Khan University in Charsadda, Peshawar, was attacked. In the video, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader stated the reason for singling out schools and colleges for attacks:

“…because this is the place where lawyers are made; this is the place that produces military officers; this is the place that produces members of parliament; all of whom challenge Allah’s sovereignty”. Instead of targeting armed soldiers, he said, “We will target the nurseries that produce these people.” “We will continue to attack schools, colleges and universities across Pakistan as these are the foundations that produce apostates. We will target and demolish the foundations.”

A question arises in the face of such blatant threat. How can the State turn a blind eye to the issue of security within the country and ignore vulnerable targets, clearly identified in the video statement?

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), reminds the Judiciary of its responsibility of providing justice to the masses rather than to the State and its functionaries, and realises the looming disaster that is in the offing. Due to the increasing frequency of attacks the Chief Justice must comprehend the dangerous situation wherein the lawyers are reluctant to take up cases where collective rights of the people and public interest are involved. They have been put at the mercy of terrorists and the failure of law enforcement, particularly when the whole province of Balochistan is under Military control.

It is ironical for the State – founded by a lawyer – to systematically attack its lawyers through non State actors, forcing them to follow the dictates of the State. The lawyers, in every democratic society, play a fundamental role in ensuring that the general public is able to seek justice. Without lawyers, no system of justice can be expected to sustain.

The AHRC earnestly hopes that suo motu action will result in fair trial of those who are responsible for rule of law and security of citizens, and not only make the terrorists responsible for the bloody incident. The Judiciary must ensure that it functions effectively and independently, otherwise the state of law and order can only get worse, which from this standpoint itself seems scarcely imaginable.