Friday, December 19, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Dec 20, 2014

Chinks in our armour An unprecedented unity attends political and public opinion throughout the country after the dastardly attack on the Peshawar school. There is hardly a dry eye or light heart in the country after the deaths of so many children at the hands of the ruthless terrorists. The situation requires rethinking on the part of state institutions as well as all those who have been or still are apologists for or defenders of these barbarians. It is exceedingly strange therefore to contemplate that while the government and the military are moving towards carrying out executions of convicted terrorists after lifting the moratorium on the death penalty for terrorism acts, and the military is intensifying attacks on the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in FATA, that an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Islamabad has seen fit at this exact moment to allow bail to the main accused in the Mumbai attacks of 2008. Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi was so favoured by the court despite the prosecution’s objections. The government is expected to appeal against the decision, otherwise Lakhvi is poised to walk free. The development should be seen in the context of the complaint many have been voicing and which was forcefully underlined by COAS General Raheel Sharif to Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif in their meeting immediately after the Peshawar carnage. The COAS complained that the courts were lax in convicting terrorists and even when they were convicted and their appeals process had been exhausted, the informal moratorium on executions meant the deterrent effect of the death penalty had been reduced to a toothless tiger. This situation, General Raheel argued, could only encourage the terrorists since they feared no retribution. The PM responded by lifting the moratorium on executions of convicted terrorists. The first executions are on the verge of being carried out (and some may have been by the time these lines appear in print). The PM has briefed the president and asked him to expedite the final decision on the mercy appeals pending with his office or now being forwarded. The COAS in the meantime has signed the death warrants of six terrorists convicted by military courts. On the other hand, Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Nasirul Mulk has stated that a meeting of High Court judges is to be convened shortly to expedite trials of terrorism cases. In the light of this response to the massacre, the decision of the ATC in Lakhvi’s case is all the more inexplicable and unwelcome, sending as it does the wrong message at the wrong time. India has predictably reacted negatively to this development, which is made sadder by the fact that our neighbouring country, from the government to ordinary citizens and particularly students, has shown exemplary sympathy and solidarity with Pakistan and the victims of this tragedy. Talk about bad timing. But apart from the failure of the ATC to be sensitive to the obtaining situation, the judge in question has merely followed the ‘business as usual’ approach of the courts to what are extraordinary cases requiring more application of mind. Simply sticking to the letter of the law has led our courts in this direction. But what the courts need to realise is the threat and menace such accused pose to society when released. There are innumerable reports that those charged with terrorist offences, when released on bail or even acquitted, go back to their deathly ways. One report says that in the last four years, 14,115 persons have been acquitted in terrorism-related cases. Now purist legal minds may argue that this is not the courts’ fault and they simply follow what is laid down in the statute book. The real culprit, according to this view, is the poor state of our investigating and prosecution agencies that are unable to convincingly prove in court that the accused are guilty of what they are charged with. Even if thus argument is taken on board without prejudice, surely there is a case here for bringing in extraordinary legislation to meet the exigencies of an extraordinary war situation to deny such accused bail or lightly acquit them to return to freedom and continue to wreak havoc on state and society. The other categories of those who badly expose the chinks in our armour where terrorism is concerned are those who in the past have been apologists or defenders of the terrorists. This category of people may have been temporarily silenced by the scale and brutality of the Peshawar bloodbath, but there is no evidence that they have changed their views. Voices are now being raised that such people should be categorised as terrorists too, since they bring comfort and grist to the mill of the terrorist monsters. Food for thought if we are serious about getting serious about crushing the hydra of terrorism.

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