What enquiry committees do

April 7, 2024

A committee constituted to probe the May 9 incidents has not released its findings to the public

What enquiry  committees do


arlier this year, the Cabinet Division formed a committee to investigate the May 9 riots that followed the arrest of former prime ministerImran Khan.

Some military installations had been attacked and there had been widespread demonstrations across the country. The committee, led by caretaker law minister Ahmed IrfanAslam, was tasked with identifying the masterminds, orchestrators, facilitators and executors of the violence. The investigation was aimed at assessing the immediate and lasting impacts of theincidents.The committee was to recommend measures to be taken to prevent such events from happening in the future.

The five-member committee included the minister for law and justice, the minister for interior, the minister for information and broadcasting and the minister for human rights, as well as co-opted member. The committee’s mandate was to examine the causes of the May 9 violence, fix responsibility, evaluate immediate and long-term implications of the violence, suggest preventive measures and recommend ways to strengthen the legal regime to deter future occurrences.

Investigation committees have a crucial role in governance and the administration of justice. Addressing issues of public concern, accountability and transparency is vital. The investigations help hold individuals and institutions to accountfor their actions, especially in cases involving misuse of power, corruption or negligence. By identifying culpability, the committees ensure that those responsible are held accountable. Publicly disclosure of the findings (where appropriate) adds transparency. In this was these committees can help buildpublic trust in governance processes.

Through their findings, these committees often highlight flaws in the existing systems, procedures and laws. Their recommendations can lead to crucial policy reforms, improvements in governance structures and the closing of gaps in the legal framework. By addressing public concerns and grievances through formal investigations, these committees can help restore or boost public confidence in the government. Seeing that grievances are taken seriously and investigated thoroughly can reinforce the social contract between the government and the citizens.

Investigation committees do not always look into specific incidents.Sometimes they provide recommendations to prevent undesirable occurrences in the future. Implementing these recommendations can help in improving safety, security and governance practices. The process allows the government and its agencies to learn from past mistakes. It provides an opportunity for self-assessment and improvement, which is crucial for effective functioning of the state.

Once the committees conclude their investigations, they submit their findings and recommendations to the authority that established the committee. The report might identify the causes, the parties to the conflict and suggest measures to prevent future occurrences of similar incidents. Depending on the sensitivity and implications of the findings, parts of the report may be made public. This disclosuresare aimed at informing the populace and stakeholders about the conclusions and the government’s stance on the matter. Recommendations from the committee can lead to changes in policies, regulations or the legal framework to address the issues identified in the report. This might include measures to strengthen security, reform laws or improve governance practices.

There have been several instances in the past where the findings of investigation committees have led to significant consequences, including policy changes, legal action and reforms.

If a committee identifies individuals or organisations responsible for some wrongdoing, the government may take legal or administrative action against them. This could range from prosecution and disciplinary action to reforms in institutional practices. The government may implement the committee’s recommendations on preventive measures to avoid the recurrence of similar incidents. This could involve enhancing security protocols, improving intelligence and information sharing and fostering better community relations. Findings might prompt legislative reviews or the introduction of new laws to strengthen the state’s response to similar challenges in the future.

New mechanisms are sometimes needed to oversee the implementation of the committee’s recommendations. Follow-up audits could be conducted to assess the effectiveness of the actions so taken. These steps are part of the broad efforts by the government to address the issues, improve governance and ensure accountability. Specific outcomes and actions taken will depend on the investigation’s findings, the political context and the government’s priorities.

There have been several instances in the past where the findings of investigation committees have led to significant consequences, including policy changes, legal action and reforms. For example, the Abbottabad Commission was established to investigate the circumstances surrounding the US Navy SEALs raid to killOsama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011. Although the report was not officially released, ‘leaks’ suggesting security lapses prompted discussions on improving coordination among military and intelligence agencies to bolsternational security mechanisms.

Following the 2016 Panama Papers leak, a Joint Investigation Team was formed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The findings of the JIT led to the disqualification of then prime ministerNawaz Sharif from holding public office. The case was marked by significant use of legal mechanisms against high-ranking officials.

In 2019, a counter-terrorism operation in Sahiwal resulted in the death of four people, including parents in front of their children. An inquiry committee was set up to investigate the operation. The findings led to the arrest and trial of several counterterrorism officials involved in the operation. The investigation also highlighted issues in law enforcement protocols and the need for reform in handling counter-terrorism operations.

In 2012, a devastating fire in a garments factory in Karachi resulted in the death of 260 workers. It was one of the deadliest industrial disasters in Pakistan. An investigation revealed gross negligence and violations of safety protocols. The tragedy led to calls for stricter industrial safety regulationsand the implementation of better emergency response mechanisms in factories across Pakistan.

These examples illustrate the range of outcomes that can follow investigation committees’ work in Pakistan. The effectiveness and the implementation of recommendations can vary, depending on the political will, public pressure and the socio-political context.

When committees are empowered to work independently and their recommendations are taken seriously, they can have a pivotal role in improving governance and strengthening democracy. Whether the entire report of the May 9 committee will be disclosed to the public remains to be seen. The findings shared so far have not been unexpected.

The writer is an advocate of the High Court, a founding partner at LexMercatoria, and a visiting teacher at Bahria University’s Law Department. She can be reached at  minahil.ali12@yahoo.com

What enquiry committees do