By Yasser Latif Hamdani
March 14, 2015
On 17 December 2014, the morning after Peshawar, Pakistan felt like a different country. After having ignored or treated with benign neglect or even appeased terrorists for a decade, the nation seemed alive to what was termed as an existential threat. The very next day, an anti-terrorism court let off Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi of the proscribed Lashkar-e-Taiba, on trial for Mumbai attacks, on bail. There was widespread outrage not just in India but in Pakistan as well. The idea of fighting terrorism seemed irreconcilable with the idea of allowing known terrorists go on bail.
Consequently, responding to international pressure and local public opinion, the Government of Pakistan on December 19 detained Lakhvi citing Section 3 of the Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance. This order itself was suspended by the Islamabad High Court ten days later. Then on January 7, the Supreme Court of Pakistan suspended Islamabad High Court’s interim order and asked the Islamabad High Court to re-hear the matter and decide the issue afresh.
Now a single bench of Justice Noorul Haq Qureshi has declared the detention order void. To suggest that Lakhvi’s freedom is not a threat to public at large is a perverse reading of facts and the law. That does not mean of course that Justice Qureshi is necessarily a terrorist sympathiser but – much like the judge in the anti-terrorism court who granted bail – he has to save his skin. Only a few days ago, did Qureshi’s division bench (which included Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui) uphold death penalty of Malik Mumtaz Qadri, the police guard who assassinated Governor Salmaan Taseer in 2011.
Qadri’s cause has been championed by the Bareilvi Sunni organisations who believe that Taseer had committed blasphemy by questioning the country’s controversial blasphemy laws. Had Qureshi ruled against Lakhvi too, it would be have been as good as painting a target on his head.
However, today’s order will likely be challenged and may well be overturned soon enough. Lakhvi will probably be behind bars sooner than later. The issue raises the broader question on whether the civilian judiciary is capable of even hearing matters pertaining to terrorism. The government, National Assembly and Pakistan’s military seem to think they are not.
This is why the 21st constitution amendment conferred military courts the jurisdiction over terrorism cases. Military courts are expected to rule where civilian courts are unwilling or unable to. This, however, has a drawback. Military courts may not be able to deliver a fair trial that Pakistan’s c on s t i tut ion promises. In any event, Lakhvi’s trial is not likely to be transferred to military courts, even if we assume that military courts would be willing to take it to its logical conclusion.
Ultimately, the Government of Pakistan must ensure that the people behind the Mumbai tragedy are effectively brought to justice in Pakistan. This is not merely a question of relations with our eastern neighbour but our very national honour and question of humanity is at stake. The blood of human beings whether spilt in Peshawar or Mumbai is the same. Pakistan must ensure that all terrorists, no matter who their victims, are brought to justice fairly and impartially.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a Lahore-based Attorney