Saturday, May 19, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial May 19, 2018

Fits and starts justice

The May 12, 2007 massacre in Karachi with a toll of 50 people killed and 100 wounded has never been brought to conclusion in our courts of justice. The mayhem at the hands of gunmen who attacked the rallies of political parties, lawyers and others wanting to proceed to the airport to greet deposed Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, who had arrived in the city to address a lawyers’ gathering, forced the CJP to remain stranded inside the airport for nine hours, after which he returned without having set foot outside the airport. Current Karachi Mayor Waseem Akhtar of the MQM, who was Home Adviser to the Sindh chief minister at the time, was finally formally indicted in one of the four cases before an anti-terrorism court (ATC), along with 19 others. Waseem Akhtar and 18 others are on bail, while one of the accused is in jail. Although a total of seven cases of rioting, attempted murder, terrorism, etc, were filed in two ATCs against these 20, with 16 others declared absconders, no breakthrough in investigations forced the court to proceed with just the one indictment. This too should be considered a small mercy since the cases have dragged on for 11 years without any end in sight. A recounting of the sequence of events since 2007 could help put the delays in perspective. Waseem Akhtar and others were arrested in July 2016 (nine years after the May 12 events) after their pre-arrest bail plea was rejected by the ATC. In October 2016, the ATC granted him bail and exemption from personal appearance, a generosity that depreciated the seriousness of the charges. The ATC had cause to rue that generosity when it had to defer indictment of the accused four times as they failed to turn up together. At the last hearing, the ATC finally felt constrained to rescind the exemption from personal appearance. Four cases in ATC-II and three in ATC-III remained pending interminably as investigators expressed their helplessness before the courts regarding progress in the investigation. The cases did take a dramatic turn when the Rangers arrested Kamran Farooq, an MQM MPA, on December 16, 2016, who was absconding in several cases pertaining to the May 12 carnage. Farooq’s confessional statement before a judicial magistrate pointed the finger of responsibility at the MQM leadership, including party leader Farooq Sattar. Not surprisingly, the MQM leadership rejected Farooq’s confessional statement. Since then, and up to the present, the MQM leadership and Waseem Akhtar in particular have been trying to deflect the serious charges against them by calling for impartial investigations into the real perpetrators of the violence, an end to ‘fake’ cases filed as political vendetta, and the reopening of cases such as the Hyderabad Pucca Qila and Ali Garh incidents. No one can oppose the investigation and prosecution of all such cases from the past, but if the MQM believes this stance will somehow help it wriggle off the hook, that hope may finally be coming to an end.

Once again, the lack of progress in even such an important case glaringly throws up the woes of our judicial system. The ATCs were set up precisely to circumvent the snail’s progress in our normal courts system, but the inertia of our judicial procedures, incompetent or negligent (deliberate or inadvertent) investigation, and the inability of our prosecution regime to serve the ends of justice in a timely and efficacious manner provides more than adequate loopholes for the accused to subvert justice through interminable delays. Interestingly, the current CJP Saqib Nisar has lit the fire under many institutions for poor governance of late. Similarly, it his proactive intervention that has brought the Asghar Khan case and now this May 12 massacre case out of the deep freeze to which they remained confined year after year. Estimable as this proactive stance of the CJP and the Supreme Court is, it points to the need for serious examination and reform of the judicial system to shake it out of the lethargy that has seen two million cases pending in the courts. Is there any need to remind the honourable CJP and His Lordships of the old and well worn adage: justice delayed is justice denied?

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