Judging the overzealous

November 15, 2020

An inquiry, a judgement and a witch-hunt

Dear All,

Last week the military’s press relations wing announced that, following an enquiry by the institution, three officers involved in the abduction of the Sindh Police chief had been removed and would be investigated for acting “rather overzealously”. In the incident referred to, a heavy contingent of military vehicles and troops had arrived at the IG Sindh’s residence in the middle of the night and insisted that the police chief go with them. The aim was to force him to register a case against, and order the arrest of, an opposition politician who also happens to be the son in law of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The charge, as you may recall, was the heinous crime of… raising slogans at the mausoleum of the nation’s founding father.

The military enquiry seems to have found that it was the ‘overzealousness’ of certain officers which was the reason for the incident. It doesn’t, however, seem to make very much of the fact that this was a situation which could have resulted in a very serious confrontation between army troops and members of the Police’s Rapid Response Force which had been called in as additional protection for the police chief. The ISPR statement seems to imply that these well-intentioned officers were pushed into acting ‘overzealously’ because of ‘public pressure’… In other words, they went just a little too far, overstepped the mark ever so slightly… The use of the word ‘overzealous’ is fascinating as this implies that it’s okay to be a zealot, but just not go beyond that. Which then raises the interesting question: Were the officers involved in the handling/management of a sit-in, aimed at undermining the elected government in 2017, zealous or overzealous?

That sit-in, by a rabid religious group, lasted for almost three weeks and when it was ended uniformed military officers were seen handing out envelopes containing money (‘to cover the fare home’) to these protestors and talking to them in a fairly paternal manner. This was blatant yet when this point was alluded to in a subsequent Supreme Court judgement, the institution declared war on the man who had written the judgement and then began the process of discrediting, destroying, threatening and intimidating him — a process that is still ongoing. First, a reference was filed by the government (via the president) accusing Justice Qazi Faez Isa of ‘misconduct’ on the basis of having undeclared property abroad, then a concerted smear campaign followed and even after the reference was quashed by the Supreme Court, the campaign of intimidation continues.

A few weeks ago, the judge’s wife wrote to the president of Pakistan detailing the various faces of this harassment. These include endless ‘inquiries, investigations’ by government agencies against her and a campaign of incitement to violence against her husband. She described how a cleric in Rawalpindi had called for the killing of Justice Isa and talked about this in graphic detail yet instead of being promptly prosecuted for hate speech or incitement to violence, the man is free and seems to enjoy both protection and patronage. It is unclear if Mrs Isa ever received a reply from the president but it is unlikely given that, according to her Justice Isa, a judge of the Supreme Court, had written to the president three times about the matter and not received any sort of reply.

“Mrs Isa who is the owner of the properties around which this defamation campaign was pinned has provided the authorities with a complete money trail and all her financial records.” She has been a highly paid professional for decades and is the daughter of well-off parents, and she has made clear that she has always filed her tax returns. And Justice Isa, before he became a judge, worked for some 27 years as a very highly paid lawyer so it is hardly surprising if his wife was able to buy some property years ago… His problems seemed to all have begun when he wrote the judgment in the Faizabad case, a judgment which simply recommended that action should be taken by the Defence Ministry and Service chiefs to initiate action against personnel who might — well, might have acted in a “rather overzealous” manner (I would have suggested you read the judgment yourself but alas, it has been mysteriously ‘disappeared’ from the website).

The witch hunt continues and the media is mostly too afraid to report on this. But recently two Supreme Court justices made public their dissenting notes in the Supreme Court decision on the reference against their fellow judge. Even though the bench of 10 judges had quashed the case and deemed it mala fide of law, seven judges decided the matter should be forwarded to the tax authorities. The dissenting notes make clear that Justices Baqar, Shah and Afridi considered the latter recommendation both incorrect and unnecessary. Both notes make clear their view that the case was tainted in that it was being driven by the government machinery as a targetted campaign against a judge and Justice Shah goes as far as to comment that it seems clear that Justice Isa and his family had been the subject of covert surveillance by intelligence operatives — which was in itself illegal.

Covert surveillance of a judge? Harassment and character assassination? Perhaps, it’s just that somebody, somewhere, decided to go ahead with all this in what might be termed a “rather overzealous” manner.

Best wishes,

Umber Khairi

Judging the overzealous