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Opinion

January 13, 2015
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Justice delayed

Opinion

January 13, 2015

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Two news items caught my attention recently. One, an Argentinean court has ruled that an orangutan held in an Argentine zoo be freed and transferred to a sanctuary after recognising the ape as a ‘non-human person’ who cannot be unlawfully deprived of his freedom. And two, Romania has ordered legal changes to save an ailing Alsatian, a dog-hero who served in Afghanistan, from being put down because the state is not legally bound to take charge of retired military dogs.
Both cases involve animals; the first upholds their right to dignity and the second defends their right to life while acknowledging their heroism. The irony is not lost on me, just as it would not be lost on other Pakistanis watching politicians bicker over ways to counter terrorism as the lives of our children and the dignity of our nation hang in the balance.
The issue of military courts has been in the headlines since December 16 when TTP militants murdered more than 130 children in cold blood. The young souls have added to the statistics already comprising nearly 50,000 Pakistanis killed in terror attacks over the last decade. One does not have to be a legal genius to marvel at the murky process in Pakistan that has the temerity to call itself the ‘justice’ system.
Those of us who have had the misfortune to approach this system for getting justice are well aware of its corruption and long-winded procedures that protect the powerful at the cost of the weak. This system gets away with locking up people for decades without ever producing them before the court. The scourge of terrorism since 9/11 has further exposed its fundamental flaws.
The Anti Terrorism Act, 1997, for instance, has failed to deliver. One would like to know why. Perhaps those opposing the proposed military courts could provide satisfactory answers? After-all the critics mostly belong to the same group that opposed the Act and Anti-Terrorism Courts headed by civilian judges on the plea that completion of trial

within the stipulated seven days undermined natural justice.
To add insult to injury, appeals against ATC rulings took years to run the course. This emboldened the militants because the state came across as weak and unwilling to tackle militancy for the sake of short-sighted political or strategic reasons. Judicial dithering and state apathy translated into threats and attacks against the legal community involved in the cases. A vicious circle has thus been set in motion wherein justice is deliberately delayed to deny it to the victims because the judges face an existential threat from the perpetrators.
Is it then surprising that the Mumbai trial is progressing at a snail’s pace since 2009? The ATC needs to get on with it regardless of the progress on the Samjotha Express trial in India. It should reach a verdict for the sake of Pakistan and not India.
Of course we hastened to put a moratorium on capital punishment. There are many other human rights issues that the EU and the rest of the civilised world would like us to uphold – for instance, minority rights. One wonders why our governments have not been as energetic in addressing this very real problem.
Military courts are not the ultimate answer. Indeed in the past these have been used for political victimisation and in a functioning democracy there is no role for such an arrangement. My question then is: if the political elite realise the indispensability of a civilian anti-terrorism legal process, why was the legal system not made functional to address militancy that has been striking at the roots of our nationhood for years? Why were speedy decisions not taken – and implemented – to ensure speedy justice?
The PPP has so far been reluctant to provide constitutional cover to military courts. What exactly did they accomplish during their stint in office to reform or upgrade the judicial and law enforcement procedures to counter militancy? Why should ordinary people, who are the real victims of terrorism, believe that the politicians will deliver this time around? Nay, their opposition stems only from self-preservation and not constitutional considerations.
It is sad that while legal minds in other societies are not shy of extending rights to non-human living beings, we are still figuring out how to protect the lives and dignity of the people of Pakistan. It is sadder still that while we have elected civilian governments in office since 2008 it is the military that appears to have the will to dispense speedy justice.?
The writer is a post-doctoral researcher at Birmingham University.
Email: [email protected]

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