Constitution, killings and the battle for dialogue, will Pakistan fall at the first hurdle?

(First published 2.10.2013)

“The first casualty of peace may be truth”

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Victims of bombings and a vigil for families of “enforced disappearances” Pakistan

At a time when the All Parties Commission, APC (government and opposition parties) voted for dialogue to end years of violence in Pakistan, all efforts must be made to secure a ceasefire date.

Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) responded positively which gave a sign of hope to end the killing on all sides. Spokesperson, Shahidullah Shahid told DAWN media that TTP welcomes suggestion from Pakistan’s clerics (Ulema) for a ceasefire though claimed it was the government launching the offensive against them so it should take the lead in stopping the war. They would then follow. However until there is a date agreed there are concerns that casualty figures will continue to rise day by day.

This is not a time to clampdown on freedom of speech, surely civilians have a right to be kept informed (at least in general terms) as to what is on the agenda for discussion from both government and militants. Closing down social media accounts connected to insurgents while other state elements with an alleged history of violence can tweet freely stinks of double standards.

It is very easy to polarize and demonize insurgents as being all bad versus good upstanding Pakistani state institutions but that would be to deny reality and bury heads in the sand. Let’s face it there are killings and unlawful actions on all sides, that is often part of the difficulties for those embarking on conflict resolution.

The aftermath of terrible bombings we see are visually very graphic and distressing with many civilian casualties and gain much media attention. (TTP have denied involvement in recent Peshawar bombings). Such appalling acts are to be condemned at the strongest level and all efforts made to find those responsible and hold them to account. To get an idea of the dreadful impact you can read this heartbreaking story of a grandfather who lost 15 members of his family with another 5 lying in hospital injured http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-24352693?ocid=socialflow_twitter_bbcworld

A man and a child flee the site of a blast in Peshawar, Pakistan

Peshawar bombing, image from Mohammad Sajjad (Associated Press) Sept 29th 2013

What’s needed now however is not more brutal violence to keep the cycle going but brutal honesty which can sometimes be more challenging.

Imran Khan has spoken of the need to work within the constitution of Pakistan, his interview on dialogue for peace can be viewed here http://www.zemtv.com/2013/10/01/off-the-record-exclusive-interview-of-imran-khan-1st-october-2013/ Taliban dismiss the Constitution, giving some reasons why in a statement at the end of this article.

This morning I was invited to make comment on the following post by Abdullah Khan, Director of the Conflict Monitoring Centre, Islamabad about that very Constitution. The following question was put to a group of people from diverse backgrounds:-

Question: If someone does not endorse or accept Pakistan’s constitution and parliamentary system of government, what will be his/her legal and constitutional position?
Will he/she remain a Pakistani citizen or not ?
Will this action of not accepting the constitution require a legal action against him/her?

These are important questions to consider and would take a committed ongoing process to answer fully. This was the opinion of Jamila Jahanoor Aslam an advocate at the Supreme Court with her own law firm, “anybody can approve or disapprove the constitution. it’s a matter of personal opinion and no action can be taken against this person unless he/she violates the articles, then they would be guilty of treason and legal action can be taken against the individual.”

One thought comes immediately to mind. Upholding the Constitution and working within the law starts at the top. States must lead by example not repeatedly violate their own laws. Once the line is crossed you have a problem as morally and legally the State does not have much of a leg to stand on when condemning the violence of others.

If you look back over on upholding the Constitution and laws of the country, legally you should prosecute EVERYONE that has violated the Constitution which could mean large numbers of people tied up in courts from all sides. When following the Constitution and law there would have to be no exemptions whether ordinary civilian, politician, insurgent, member of security services or armed forces.

Take cases of “enforced disappearances” as one example of violation of human rights law, here you see kidnapping, maybe even murder and little or no legal representation for those detained. Enforced Disappearances are well outside of the law and Constitution. How would that work in practice given some groups appear to be above the law and protected? Are there any other options which could be considered? Where might a Truth and Reconciliation process fit in to encompass such issues?

Is supporting the US to carry out drone strikes within the law and Constitution of Pakistan given that many of those killed are civilians or persons “alleged” to have committed crimes that have not gone through fair judicial process read Drones Now Haunt Nawaz Sharif  http://www.cmcpk.net/2013/10/drones-now-haunt-nawaz-sharif/

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Mullah Muhammad Sangeen of Afghan Taliban recently killed in drone strike

As I was pondering on these issues an an independent writer/researcher/human rights activist, a statement appeared posted on social media written by Umar Khalid Khursasani – the Leader of TTP in Mohmand Agency, FATA. Now some would say don’t publish this but I have never suffered from Ostrich syndrome and like to breath above the sand so I want to hear what is being said. Friends kindly translated and this is what they sent me:-

The following statement reads as follows:-

1. Named four individuals of their group that were arrested and were killed above the law and their bodies dumped in Rawir Roead, Laki Paharai. 10-15 days before they were killed, there were 3 other already arrested brothers and many are arrested without any trial.

(In response to TTP ceasefire appeal, government (allegedly) killed four Taliban prisoners in Karachi. One was Mqbool, Kifayat, Abdul Rahman near Shrab Goth Karachi and one was Muhammad Sami)

2. We praise the martyrdom of our brothers but we ask these so called journalists and scholars, that ask us to accept the law of Pakistan. Would we accept this law which kills others above the law without judicial process? Should we accept this law which has no rights for prisoners? If we cease-fire, they kill our arrested brothers and the talks get underway, some unknown hands kill innocent people and Christians in car-bomb blasts, to which TTP has no role.

3. From this we conclude that Government, Army and Intelligence Agencies don’t want to solve the problems.

4. We appreciate the efforts of Imran Khan and other political parties. We respect Imran Khan thinking for peace. Even though they are sincere in their efforts and we appreciate their positive thoughts but this country is under the control of enemies of Islam.

5. If this country remains under these enemies of Islam and if this the law of Pakistan, then we don’t accept it and we’ll continue to strive to free Pakistan from this so called Non-Islamic Law and save Pakistani people from the hands of these Intelligence Agencies and we’ll revenge the martyrdom of our deceased brothers.

Umar Khalid Khursanai.
TTP – Mohmond Agency.

So bearing in mind the above statement, these are the types of questions that are likely to arise and need to be addressed if Pakistan ever reaches the stage of dialogue. We should also remember that the killing of Major Sanaullah Niazi, Commander of Pakistani Army troops in Swat alongside others on the 15th September (claimed by Taliban Commander, Mullah Fazlullah) brought condemnation at a time when dialogue was being mooted by politicians in the media. Unless the behaviour of ALL sides is taken into consideration during any proposed dialogue, the battle for peace will probably be lost at the first hurdle.

Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad.  She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”.

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