If anyone, whether a politician or a journalist, incites the army to indulge in politics, he or she commits a crime under section 131 and the government should exhibit zero tolerance for all those who overtly or covertly make such suggestions of mutiny
Dr Haider Shah
Ironically, just a day earlier he had declared that he wished peace and compassion for the protesting activists. Now he lay on the ground after becoming a target of an obnoxiously violent attack by a gang of hooligans wearing the badges of Tahirul Qadri’s organisation. When the young and charismatic Senior Superintendent Police (SSP) was being savagely beaten up with sticks, it was not a young police officer who was receiving the merciless thrashing. It was the state of Pakistan that lay lifeless in one of the most sensitive places of Islamabad.
Certain images become iconic for various phases in human history. For instance, a black and white image called the Warsaw ghetto uprising, showing terrified children and women while being supervised by Nazi soldiers, captures well the reign of terror that Hitler had unleashed in Europe. The 20 days of conspiracy-ridden lunacy in Islamabad is also best captured by a photograph in which a police constable lying half dead on the ground is being thrashed by rioters while army personnel can be seen unmoved in the background. And the lowest of the low had yet to come. A serving major of the army addressed the hooligans inside the PTV building as if they were kindergarten toddlers who had strayed into a neighbour’s garden.
A state is not an assemblage of institutions loosely bundled together. The organs of the state work in tandem to perform certain vital functions. Law enforcement is one such function where all uniformed organisations work in unison to implement the writ of the state. All law enforcement institutions, from the police to the army, are answerable to one authority: the prime minister. In the Iraq war days, a British general was asked by a journalist how he felt about going into the Iraq war as anti-war sentiment was quite strong in the country. “We only follow orders. We have been ordered to go to Iraq and we will do our best to perform well,” was his reply. There is thus no concept of neutrality for any law enforcement organ of the government. They can give their input to the government at the time of policy formulation but it is always the prime minister who has the last word.
Sometime back I wrote exclusively about the writ of the state. I had argued that while in the case of FATA and Karachi full-fledged operations had been launched to regain the writ of the state, establishing the same in our capital is just a matter of will and clarity of purpose. I had mentioned section 131 of the Pakistan Penal Code that makes abetting mutiny, or attempting to seduce a soldier, sailor or airman from allegiance to his duty, a crime punishable with imprisonment for life or for 10 years. If anyone, whether a politician or a journalist, incites the army to indulge in politics, he or she commits a crime under section 131 and the government should exhibit zero tolerance for all those who overtly or covertly make such suggestions of mutiny. Enough evidence is available to enable the state to establish its writ by putting such persons behind bars after registering cases under treason and mutiny related provisions of the law besides other breaches of criminal law.
In a functional state, violence is the exclusive prerogative of the state. At times, the state oversteps the ring fence of the law when it is practicing this prerogative. An innocent young Brazilian commuter was shot dead by the London police in a tube station as he was misidentified as a fleeing terrorist fugitive. The event caused great national and international uproar. In 2011, London experienced its worst law and order problem when, on August 6, a protest went berserk in Tottenham after protesters alleged that the police had shot dead an unarmed innocent local black youth, Mark Duggan. The police were slow in their reaction and their soft attitude was widely condemned by all shades of public opinion. The Metropolitan Police made amends for their poor handling of the rioters by assigning 450 detectives to hunt for rioters and looters. The list of photographed looters was made available on their website and many public places. Thousands of arrests were made and the courts that sat for extended hours were advised to give harsh sentences to the hooligans.
No doubt, the tragic incident in Model Town must be condemned and properly investigated but it is equally important that the blame be fairly apportioned. When a government department wants to dismantle construction on government land, it cannot be resisted by use of force. If government officials were believed to be acting unlawfully, the aggrieved could have gone to court for a judicial review and the illegality could have been rectified in a lawful way. Citizens in their individual capacity cannot take the law into their own hands and hand out punishments themselves. The Supreme Court (SC) has even prohibited jirgas (tribal courts) and local panchayats from using judicial functions as only the state has the exclusive right over this function. We as citizens can use public opinion channels to put a restraint on excessive and unfair use of force by the state but we cannot take the law into our own hands to settle scores.
The state has been severely whacked before the full glare of the cameras. Parliament can salvage its wounded pride by passing a special law dictating to the courts how to punish the culprits expeditiously and overwhelmingly.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org