KARACHI: It is generally believed that observance of merciless discipline and accountability are the hallmark of our armed forces. No doubt there are lots of reasons for this belief, but the unpardonable lapse of security of Mehran Base in Karachi, and now the verdict of the Court Martial has shaken this belief and disappointed us.
After the lapse of about a year, the verdict of Court Martial was announced by spokesmen of Pakistan Navy on Monday. Only one commodore and two commanders of Pakistan Navy are penalised by the Court Martial for the devastating attack on Mehran Base of the Navy located next to the runway of the Pakistan Air Force in Karachi. This gruesome attack on Mehran Base resulted in loss of invaluable lives of several naval officers and other security agencies, by handful of about 12 terrorists.
Commodore Irfanul Haq, the chief spokesman of Pakistan Navy, on the pretext of confidentiality, refused to disclose the names or sentences, if any, awarded to the naval officers against whom the Court Martial proceedings were conducted. The reports in national media, however, disclose some sort of a mild penalty was given by the Court Martial to only three concerned officers of Pak Navy. None of them were awarded any rigorous imprisonment.
The number of officers tried by the Court Martial has also not been disclosed. Nor it is known if anybody has been acquitted or whether all the concerned officers named in the first report of investigation were court martialed or not. The courts of armed forces are known for their unparalleled speedy justice. Strangely in this case, the Court Martial prolonged the trial and after lapse of several months, if not a year, awarded such penalty which appears to be negligible keeping in view the gravity of the disaster and security lapse. I wonder why?
The negligible penalty can only be justified, if the accused did not have any major role or responsibility for such a great national disaster. If this was the case, then why were they penalised at all. And who on the earth were responsible for such a blatant security lapse. The investigators, prosecutors and the court should have identified and prosecuted such personnel of Pak Navy and Pak Air Force for such indefensible disaster of Mehran Base. Why was this exercise not carried out? These pertinent questions arising from the verdict of the Court Martial, creates doubts in the mind of the people about the degree of discipline or accountability being presently observed in our armed forces. I am sure all will agree that none of the personnel of the arm forces should give rise to such doubts by any of their act or omission.
It may also be noted that despite the reports appearing in the media that the security lapse had occurred both at the end of the officers responsible for the security at the Air Base and Naval Base. But none of the concerned officers of Pakistan Air Force were tried by the court nor top brass of Pak Navy was made accountable for this inexcusable security lapse. The gravity of this lapse had warranted that the naval chief should have been made to resign or sacked. Instead, to our horror, the naval chief was conferred one of the highest awards early this year by our president. It can only happen in Pakistan, unfortunately. No wonder that our critiques in the world embarrass us by calling Pakistan, a ‘Banana Republic’.
There is no tenable reason or justification for maintaining secrecy even in the accountability and judicial process in such incidents of national tragedy, which are also reported all over the world. Not only several of our brave naval officers were martyred but national assets of billions of rupees were also destroyed in this incident. It is in our national interest to always show zero tolerance to such blatant security failure of any officer, howsoever, high ranking he may be and none should escape severe punishment for such criminal negligence. There is no exercise of complete secrecy about the vital facts and information relating to the affairs and functioning of our armed forces. I fully agree that national interest must not be compromised or exposed by disclosure of any information, which may harm our armed forces and the country.
Nevertheless, I have noted that in today’s age of global information technology, more facts are known to our adversaries rather than the people of Pakistan. It is high time that the top brass of our armed forces should realise that policy of maintaining secrecy on all issues even in processes of all trial and accountability of our soldiers may proved to be counterproductive. It neither meets ends of justice nor satisfies the people at large about the fairness of trail and accountability.
Only a transparent process of trial and accountability without any favour or fear will give confidence to the people that no civilian or members of armed forces is above the law or shall go unpunished for their dastardly acts. It is therefore, necessary that like the Judicial Commission investigating the most embarrassing incident of violation of our sovereignty in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011, the Mehran Base disaster and national tragedy must also be investigated by an independent Judicial Commission. The Mehran Base destruction was not just a loss of our Pak Navy. It was a national loss and it is in our national interest to ensure that none goes unpunished and such dastardly incidents do not occur in the future.
(The writer is a former Senator, Attorney General and Federal Minister for Law, Justice, Parliamentary Affairs & Human Rights. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)