Monthly Archives: November 2012

On death row !

Brig.Farooq Hameed Khan (R)

It was a setback to all anti death penalty campaigners in Pakistan when Army soldier Muhammad Hussain  was recently hanged to death in Mianwali jail after rejection of  his mercy petitions  by  the Army Chief and President of Pakistan. This capital punishment  also marked an apparent  break in the de facto moratorium  on executions observed by the PPP led coalition government since December 2008.

   Muhammad Hussain was sentenced to death by military court martial four years ago for murdering a senior non commissioned officer. His execution led to an official condemnation by French foreign ministry which called for renewal of the temporary hold on executions and abolishing the death sentence in Pakistan. While the French termed this capital punishment as “step backwards in Pakistan’s move towards greater respect for human rights”, this constituted uncalled for interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs.

    Hussain is not the first Army man to meet such a fate as serving Army officers, too, in past faced court martial on murder charges and were awarded death sentences. In February 1984 an Army Major went to the gallows for murdering his wife in Quetta. In 1996, another Major underwent capital punishment for the 1992 Tando Bahawal ( Sindh) carnage involving  murder of  few innocent villagers  who were portrayed as terrorists.

   No Army can maintain its structural strength and integrity without a credible and effective system of justice and accountability. That the Army’s  internal legal mechanism is fair, across the board as well as ruthless  is evident from  the institution’s zero tolerance towards serious and major offences involving attempted military coups, externally motivated subversion, corruption or crime like murder.

        While high profile cases of death sentence /jail term   awarded by military courts are reported in media, other major cases involving breach of military discipline resulting in severe punishments like premature retirement/ dismissal from service, also need to be made public. This would help counter the misperception in certain quarters that military’s accountability was non transparent and selective.

           Pakistani jails seem to be over flowing with 7000 to 8000 condemned prisoners probably the largest death row population in the world. When terrorists and serial target killers know that they will not be hanged, then Pakistanis should bear the consequences as witnessed in Karachi where murderers rule the streets and around 2000 people became victims of well orchestrated violence in 2012.

    Shockingly, about three dozen dangerous convicts were mysteriously released on ‘parole’, though the previous Chief Minister Sindh, Arbab Rahim’s administration is blamed for this grave lapse. But then, what steps did the present Sindh government take to re arrest these killers and bring them to justice.

     It cannot be denied that many convicts on death row may be innocent victims of false testimonies or circumstances that are typical ofour flawed legal system supported by corrupt police with its poor investigations and weak prosecutions. But then all mercy petitions end up on President’s table after the convicts exhaust their legal options in the High Court and Supreme Court.

    It is  a fact that during prolonged imprisonment while facing murder trial or filing appeals against conviction that usually drag on for many years, many prisoners undergo physical / mental disabilities. Are such convicts not entitled to relief on humanitarian grounds?

     Will the hanging of Mumbai prime accused Ajmal Kasab save Indian national Sarabjeet Singh from going to the gallows in Pakistan? The execution of Ajmal Kasab whose plea for clemency was rejected by President of India may intensify President Zardari’s dilemma who could face strong domestic opposition if he decides to commute Sarabjit Singh’s death sentence into life imprisonment or even pardon him. Reportedly Sarabajit who has spent over 21 years in death cell, filed fresh mercy petition seeking the President’s pardon.

     Sarabjit had illegally crossed into Pakistan in August 1990 and was sentenced to death for involvement in string of bombings in Pakistani cities that led to loss of many lives. For the PPP government, Sarbajit Singh’s release is critical as it could pave way for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s long awaited visit to Pakistan.

     Earlier on the government of Pakistan released Indian national Surjeet Singh in June 2012 to reciprocate the Indian Supreme Court/ government’s humanitarian release of 80 year old  Pakistani scientist Dr. Pervez Khalil Chishti. Surjeet was  awarded death sentence in 1985 on spying charges that was later commuted to life imprisonment in 1989 by then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan.

      Does Muhammad Hussain’s hanging indicate the government’s intention to lift its informal ban on carrying out death sentences? Or will the government maintain the freeze, barring this odd exception, to continue appeasing the west and human rights bodies in country and abroad? 

  Awaiting the gallows may be more painful  than the actual event itself. Since end 2008 a complete stalemate persists in which executions in general continue to be stayed with the President neither commuting any death sentence to life imprisonment or pardoning any death row convict.

   There is a need for a comprehensive public/ media debate to examine the ramifications of abolishing death penalty on Pakistan’s social fabric that is already torn apart by the negative fallouts of war against terrorism. If credible deterrence like the death penalty is replaced with life sentence for crimes like terrorism/ murder/ rape/ kidnapping for ransom, would it not promote chaos and anarchy in the country? 

     The government remains ambiguous on abolishing the death penalty, an issue that is considered highly sensitive and therefore warrants careful handling. Any move  to  introduce the anti death penalty legislation in parliament is likely to meet stiff opposition  from the right wing / religious political parties on the grounds that it violates the Islamic/ Sharia laws. The Supreme Court may eventually be forced to intervene to restore the due process of law.

   More important is the question- should the present parliament and government which will soon complete their five year term and have lost their moral legitimacy, be given the right to  take such a decision that has far reaching consequences for our society?

The writer is a columnist for The News. This is a cross post from the paper.

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UK Lord for using neutron bomb on Pak-Afghan border

Moderator’s Comment:  I am in deep grief & a state of shock. A UK MP has made a detailed comment that a neutron bomb should be dropped on the borders of Afghanistan-Pakistan. Anyone with sensibilities will appreciate that such Hate Speech can only lead to more hate. Should it be allowed to slide?Can the world afford more hate? Should not the UK Govt be made to haul up the MP & issue an apology of the statement?

LINK: http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-13-19069-UK-Lord-for-using-neutron-bomb-on-Pak-Afghan-border

News Desk
Saturday, November 24, 2012
From Print Edition

LONDON: Britain’s House of Lords member Lord Gilbert on Friday stunned peers by suggesting that a neutron bomb could be used to create a “cordon sanitaire” in troubled border regions such as the one between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

 

According to media reports, the member of the upper house of the UK’s parliament said, during a debate over eliminating nukes across the world, that the borders could be made safe after dropping ERRB warheads commonly known as neutron bombs in the respective areas.

 

“Your Lordships may say that this is impractical, but nobody lives up in the mountains on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan except for a few goats and a handful of people herding them. If you told them that some ERRB warheads were going to be dropped there and that it would be a very unpleasant place to go, they would not go there. You would greatly reduce your problem of protecting those borders from infiltration from one side or another.” According to reports, the members of the House of Lords were shocked after listening to an unexpected speech from Gilbert.

 

The parliament members heavily criticized Gilbert and rejected his suggestion saying that it was not possible to drop a bomb in the Pak-Afghan border areas.Labour former defence secretary Lord Browne of Ladyton rounded on Lord Gilbert over his remarks, accusing him of being at his “most challenging and contrarian”.

 

Cabinet Office spokesman Lord Wallace of Saltaire said the Government did not share Lord Gilbert’s “rumbustious” views on the sensitive issue. “The UK retains a firm commitment to the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons,” he said.

 

“Our aim is to build an international environment in which no state feels the need to possess nuclear weapons – an environment that will allow nuclear states to disarm in a balanced and verifiable manner.”

 

Honouring of our heroes

This is a Pakpotpourri Exclusive

 

Shamshad Ahmad

 

As if already we didn’t have enough governance worries at home, here comes the Punjab Government’s ill-conceived decision on renaming of Lahore’s Shadman Chowk as Bhagat Singh Chowk to spark a new controversy involving distortions of history. There are many reasons for this decision to be rescinded with no second thought.

 

Firstly, there are more important things for a city administration than renaming streets and squares and complicating things for the people by giving names to places of their residence, business or daily usage that they can’t even pronounce and that too at a time when we as a nation are aflame with myriad crises and challenges of far greater magnitude. Secondly, any name once given to a place becomes its permanent identity and a public property. For example Lahore’s Qaddafi Stadium will remain Qaddafi Stadium no matter how disgraced Gaddafi later became to meet a tragic death last year.

 

Even Lahore’s Mall Road has had an official name ‘Shahrah-e-Quaid-e-Azam’ for nearly half a century but no one calls it by this name. Lahore’s Shadman Chowk was built as Shadman Chowk. For residents of the area, this name is seared in their memories and cannot be erased from their minds only because a group of “peace activists” from both sides of the border so desire.

 

Thirdly, the renowned Indian peace ‘activist’ Kuldip Nayer, whom I greatly respect, in a recent article took the credit for this decision and claimed that “India and Pakistan were now beginning to honour their icons of yesteryears” and people in the two countries also felt that “remembering such persons will evoke common emotions, renew bonds of understanding and bridge the distance between them.” If that is really so, Kuldip Nayer would have done well if he had begun his mission with honouring of Pakistan’s Father of the Nation in India rather than picking up an individual about whom as he himself admits little is known in this country.

 

I am sure he is familiar with the history of the longstanding issue of Jinnah House in Mumbai. Built in 1936, Jinnah House, originally called South Court, was the personal residence of Pakistan’s founder Quaid-e-AzamMohammad Ali Jinnah. After partition, it was taken over by the Indian government and declared evacuee property in 1949. Later it was leased to the British Consulate which moved out in 1981. Since1979, Pakistan has been seeking to buy the Jinnah House or at least lease it on long-term basis to be converted into Pakistan’s Consulate in Mumbai as a lasting tribute to its founding father.

 

Nothing could honour our Quaid more symbolically in Mumbai than his house becoming a lasting symbol of peace between the two perennially-estranged neighbours. India, true to its tradition, having initially agreed to this arrangement then backed out. Our first Consul General Sajjad Ali spent several months in a hotel waiting for possession of Jinnah House but had to return to Pakistan without opening our Consulate in Mumbai. Incidentally, this historic building which was also the venue of watershed talks between Jinnah, Gandhi and Nehru in September 1944 and August 1946 that shaped the future course of Indian history doesn’t even carry a ‘Jinnah House’ plaque.

 

We have never questioned Bhagat Singh’s place in India’s history and in fact as a mark of our respect for his role in India’s freedom struggle, Pakistan voluntarily ceded to India in 1961 the spot at Hussainiwala on the banks of Sutlej River where he was cremated after being hanged in Lahore. Thanks to Pakistan’s gesture, a Bhagat Singh memorial now stands at this spot just one kilometer from India-Pakistan border. Can we expect similar gesture in respect of Jinnah House in Mumbai?

 

Kuldip Nayer also tells us how a group of Indian peace activists recently crossed the border to join their Pakistani counterparts for a vigil at Lahore’s Shadman Chowk commemorating the sacrifice of Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru and Sukh Dev, the three leftist revolutionaries who were hanged by the British on March 23, 1931. This vigil, according to Nayer, marked “a poignant moment” moving many hearts in the two countries while Indian and Pakistani voices mingled together shouting “Bhagat Singh zindabad”, “Inquilab zindabad”.

“Bhagat Singh zindabad” is understandable but “Inquilab zindabad” slogans at Shadman Chowk sound alarming. Coming from the “hearts” of a group of ideologically-motivated individuals from both sides of the border, these slogans raise serious questions on the motives of the so-called “peace activists.” Bhagat Singh’s “creedless” Inquilab was centred solely on a socialist republic in India. What kind of Inquilab our “peace activists” now want and where? Wouldn’t Bhagat Singh have revolted today against his fellow-Sikh prime minster’s capitalism-led high-growth policies in India?

Had Bhagat Singh been practicing his revolutionary zeal today, wouldn’t he have faced the same fate as he met on March 23, 1931? What would have been his stance on Kashmiri freedom struggle or even on Sikhs’ separatist movements? Wasn’t Maqbool Butt, a Kashmiri freedom fighter fuelled by the same fire that once ignited Bhagat Singh’s heart to openly revolt against the British Raj? Today, isn’t there zero tolerance for militancy or violence of any sorts? Aren’t we gullibly paving the way for glorification of terrorist killers who in their minds also have a ‘cause’ of their own no matter how misguided?

Those of us familiar with the history of the sub-continent and the circumstances that eventually led to India’s division know the answers to these questions. They understand why having lived together for centuries, we stand poles apart in our attitudes to life and history with a different worldview altogether. Are we also obliged to have the same view of history as that from across the border? Wouldn’t that be a trespass attempt into our history? Kuldip Nayer shouldn’t be surprised if the people in Pakistan do not know much about Bhagat Singh and as an independent nation have their own sense of history.

And no one has the right to distort Pakistan’s history, not even editorially, as a local English daily has  recently sought to do by suggesting that “without people like Bhagat Singh, Jinnah would never have had the opportunity” to pressure the British.” This is an insult to the Quaid. We respect Bhagat Singh but it is absolutely nobody’s business to cast down our Quaid’s historic role and stature. Yes, our history did not begin and end with the formation of the Muslim League or even with the invasion by Muhammad Bin Qasim. But it also didn’t begin or end with Bhagat Singh whose only connection to Lahore was his “vengeance” killing of ASP Saunders and Constable Chanan Singh at local police headquarters for which after due trial he was hanged in this very city.

And here we do no talk of a bomb factory that Bhagat Singh and his militant comrades had established in Lahore for their bombing attacks in Delhi’s Central Legislature and many other places in Punjab. Nobody, not even the Quaid, Gandhi or Nehru approved of his “bomb philosophy.” But let us not rake up history. We still respect Bhagat Singh. If we truly want to honour our iconic heroes, cosmetic renaming of streets or squares and symbolic vigils in their memory will not do. We can honour them only by holding on to what they really stood for.

Peace and communal harmony, not outdated ‘revolutionary’ philosophies would have been their clarion call today. They would have wanted people-centred growth and a society free of corruption and exploitation by the feudal- political elites. They would have expected us to address the root causes of India-Pakistan conflicts. And we in Pakistan can truly honour our national heroes by preserving the sovereign freedom, dignity and values that they bequeathed to us as an independent nation.

 

 

The writer is a former foreign secretary

In defence of General Kayani

By Asad Munir

The army and its agencies have been playing a political role since 1958, if not before that. It has not even been five years since the last military ruler relinquished power. In the country’s 65 years of history, the army has directly ruled for more than 33 years and indirectly, maybe more. It has been formulating or influencing the making of foreign policies related to certain countries since independence. To expect that the army should now withdraw from the political scene is desirable but not practical. It is rather a wish based on idealism. To compare our army chief with those of other democratic countries is also unrealistic. Comparing the army with other institutions of the state and arguing that they chose the profession of soldiering and that they are being paid for their job may not be a very rational approach, keeping the nature of their task in view. The mere fact that General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s statement kept all media amply focused demonstrates that the army is still considered by all to be a major player in our politics, even if it is undesirable.

When General Kayani took command of the army, about 19 administrative units of Fata and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa were completely or partially under the control of Taliban. Now, there are two. The army is fighting the longest war in its history, in which it has lost about 5,000 soldiers and over 800 have been rendered disabled for life. It is a war not owned by many Pakistanis. No previous chief has commanded an army in such difficult times as General Kayani. No army chief has seen beheadings of his soldiers with their sacrifices not recognised by the nation. General Kayani shoulders the difficult task to motivate them, keep them committed to their goals and prevent any division in the rank and files of the army. Since 2008, many in this country have been inviting General Kayani to intervene in political affairs and get rid of this government. However, he has refused and also convinced his corps commanders that they should not do so. He is probably the first chief who has admitted that the army has committed mistakes; all other chiefs have justified army takeovers, citing different reasons. He is trying to change the course and avoid mistakes of the past, and yet no chief during his service was criticised the way General Kayani has been. The army as an institution is being blamed for acts committed by past generals. The perception that the chief is the sole decision-making authority may not be true in all cases. There are nine corps commanders having their own opinions but the chief faces the brunt of the negative onslaught by the media, also with the responsibility of responding and pacifying those under his command.

Why is the army different from other institutions that are ridiculed by the media? Soldiers do not put their lives at stake only for money; there are additional factors which motivate them to fight, such as pride, honour, ghairat, patriotism, belief in a cause, recognition, comradeship and unit cohesion, etc. High morale matters to them. Unit cohesion is the trust between leaders and the led. Creating an impression that the army has good junior officers and soldiers but that senior officers have always let them down is undermining this very basic concept. The army traditionally does not support individuals, be it the ex-army chief, which is why General (retd) Pervez Musharraf is not in the country, for which he may not be very pleased with General Kayani. To blame the institution as a whole for the wrongdoing of some individuals affects the morale of the troops.

The Afghan Taliban captured Kabul in 1996 and Islamists took control of Timbuktu in April 2012. In both cases, their armies had disintegrated. We face serious threat from the Taliban; they want to take over this country through armed jihad. The army is the institution preventing them from fulfilling their evil designs. Do not demoralise the troops by criticising the army as an institution; focus on individual culprits. God forbid, if there is a division in the army, it will lead to anarchy and consequently, no other institution of the state will survive.

The writer is a retired brigadier who has served in senior intelligence postings in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata.

This is a cross post from: http://tribune.com.pk/story/462231/in-defence-of-general-kayani/

Book Review:A Comparative Analysis of Media and Media Laws in Pakistan

This is a Pakpotpourri Exclusive

Review by Brig ( Retd) Farooq Hameed Khan ( defence/ security analyst/ columnist)  

Author : Yasmeen Aftab Ali, Masters in Mass Communications/Law, teaches in Beaconhouse National University, Lahore

Published by Sang-e- Meel Publications, Lahore- Pakistan

Ms Yasmeen Aftab Ali’s ‘Comparative analysis of Media and Media Laws in Pakistan’ is designed as a hand book to serve students of Mass communication for better  understanding concepts and laws related to this field . It deliberates upon the social responsibility of media in Pakistan and suggests steps to overcome problems faced by our media.

Starting from clarifying the concept of freedom of information / access to information, and Article 19 of Constitution ( freedom of speech and expression), the book covers various aspects of Defamation Ordinance 2002, PEMRA Ordinance 2002/ Amended 2007, Electronic Crimes Ordinance 2008, Cyber Law, Code of Conduct for Media Broadcasters/ Cable TV operators and PFUJ’s Code of Conduct. Comparative laws in other countries have also been discussed.

The author states that main crux of any medium of communication should be its Editorial policy, which in Pakistan is decided by the medium owner.  The Editorial policy must be based on impartiality, fairness, accuracy and editorial integrity. A case study of BBC’s revised Editorial guidelines/values is presented as a convincing model for Pakistani media owners.

She refers to determination by the media itself, to analyze the impact of news on a society. Media must rise above ‘Me First’ tendency in breaking news which may be less than accurate.

The author admits that it took a dictator General Pervez Musharraf who allowed private television channels and radio stations, a phenomenon that changed forever the face of communication in Pakistan. But she fails to mention that a major private TV channel was kept off air for many weeks in 2007 on account of its criticism of Musharraf ‘s policies.

While discussing the electronic media, the author highlights two important roles for this medium of mass communication.  ie educate the masses as well as improve standards of information. Yasmeen Aftab blames the electronic media in particular for the ‘ratings’ syndrome that gives rise to sensational reporting.

She is of the view that with proliferation of more and more channels, there is a competition to survive by aiming for higher viewership /ratings  and attracting more advertisers. In this race the original objective of educating the viewers has truly suffered. Sensationalism has taken the place of objective reporting on many occasions while informing the public on ongoing issues.

The author discusses two recent episodes which brought into question the credibility of certain media anchors including  the leakage of the off- air video footage of  Bahria Town  business tycoon’s  apparently ‘ fixed’ interview and a  female talk show host chasing couples shown ‘dating’ in Karachi park. Both anchors were fired after public hue and cry, but were later on hired by other TV channels.

Some pertinent  questions on the role of anchors have been raised. Can an anchorperson or moderator be an expert and knowledgeable in diverse subjects ranging from politics, to law, to economics? Can he/ she ask focused questions if his/ her knowledge of subject matter is shallow? Does it lead to formation of an educated, well informed public opinion?

The author summarizes current problems of electronic media to include high level of inaccuracies, untrained staff, focus on first to report and converting non issues into issues. Tv talk shows often deal with petty bickering; screaming matches between opponents invited, leading to colorful exchange of abuses rather than policy matters or constructive discussions.

Whereas the author has highlighted inadequacy of current media laws/ organizations she has suggested improvements to enhance their effectiveness. Her eleven suggestions for PEMRA and six questions for PFUJ seem logical and practicable and merit serious consideration by these organizations.

It would have been interesting for the readers had the book contained details including implications of recently formed Press Council of Pakistan. This is an autonomous and independent apex body which would issue and monitor good standards of media ethics/ practice in the country.

While the author has paid tribute to journalists who faced public lashings, detentions and threats, the book should have open heartedly acknowledged the role of media in supporting  cause of rule of law, democracy and good governance/ anti corruption in the country. In the absence of strong accountability mechanism, the media exposed mega corruption scams in state owned enterprises like Steel Mills, PIA, NICL and Pakistan Railways. Media exposed the exploiters and fought for rights of the impoverished and exploited.

The book highlights issues related to media ethics, responsibility and public accountability of media men. Though beyond the scope of the syllabi for which this handbook is intended, an analysis of equally important matters linked to journalists’ rights including their protection and welfare would have added to the variety of  issues elaborated by author.

Are journalists provided adequate security while covering terrorism related events? Have state/ media group owners ensured the welfare of families of journalists who died in line of duty? Who is responsible for the deaths of journalists who committed suicide due to non payment of their monthly dues? Have the killers of journalists been brought to justice?

Pakistan’s media is a power to reckon with and is now the fourth pillar of state. Media shapes public opinion , more so the electronic media. The spontaneous impact of the video, whether fake or genuine that showed flogging of a Swat girl by Taliban and her cries, turned public opinion  in favor of decisive military operation against Swat Taliban.  Images of the critically injured Malala Yusafzai on domestic/ international media led to widespread condemnation with calls for military operation in North Waziristan.

This book, perhaps the first ever in recent years on media’s dynamics in general with reference to Pakistan’s context in particular is a bold attempt to state the truth in a candid and forthright manner duly backed by authentic references. But it is time for Pakistanis to know the truth.

It is a ‘must read’ for all including civil society, students / researchers of Mass Communication, journalistic community, media owners and media  regulators. The book is likely to generate a vigorous and healthy debate in Pakistani media and civil society in coming days.

One of Yasmeen Aftab’s concluding comments is thought provoking – ‘We need an independent press, without pre censorship, but we need rules that makes a socially irresponsible journalist pay. Literally. Without the media realizing its first and last responsibility lies to the society, it defeats the purpose of its very creation.’