More Questions than Answers

Dharna Commission Report doesn’t address genuine concerns

The recent leak of a few excerpts from the three-member dharna commission report has ignited widespread debate across all forms of media. Although the report itself has not been officially released, the leaked or released parts suggested the exoneration of former ISI Director General from charges related to motivating, abetting, funding, and supporting the Tehreek-Labaik-Pakistan, and fixing the entire responsibility of mismanagement of the dharna to the civilian governments of Punjab and Centre.
These selected excerpts of the report have raised more questions than answers about the handling of the matter that was previously adjudicated by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in its landmark open judgment dated February 2019, authored by Mr Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court. In the light of this judgment, the commission was required to give its findings on multiple terms of references, including dilating upon the past events which fomented the sit-in, the sit-in itself, and the aftermath of the sit-in. It was also tasked with identifying all characters, actors, facilitators, and those who took unlawful decisions and those who executed them.

These are crucial questions that were discussed and raised by Supreme Court Judge Qazi Faez Isa in his landmark judgment. The full report of the commission must have examined all these points and provided its findings and recommendations. Until then, it is wise to refrain from focusing on only one or two terms of references, as they cannot reflect the full picture

The full report should have elaborated on who initiated the introduction of the amendment in the Election Act 2017, which replaced the declaration from “I solemnly swear…” with “I believe…”. It should have also investigated whether the bill was properly vetted by the relevant National Assembly or Senate Committee, and who were the end beneficiaries of this change. Furthermore, the report should have examined how and why the government and Parliament succumbed to pressure from a specific group and decided to roll back the amendment on 19 October 2017 and why despite the rollback, the TLP, a newly formed political party, continued its protest.
The commission was tasked with determining why TLP was allowed to occupy the Faizabad Interchange, which serves as the main entry-exit point between Islamabad and Rawalpindi, leading to the disruption of daily commuting for hundreds of thousands of vehicles. Specifically, the commission was to investigate why TLP demanded the removal of the Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, and subsequently called for the resignation of the government itself.
The commission was also expected to examine the constraints, impediments, and compulsion faced by the government, which has the police, Rangers, and the sixth largest army in the world at its disposal, to become hostage to the TLP, an unknown entity at the time. It was to inquire into why the government failed to enforce the law of the land and protect the fundamental rights of its citizens, allowing the mob to disrupt the functioning of the Supreme Court, preventing judges, litigants, deputy attorneys general, and counsels from attending court.
Furthermore, the commission was to investigate why the government failed to protect the public’s ability to commute, attend courts, schools, colleges, universities, and their places of work, as well as why it failed to ensure that patients, doctors, nurses, and ambulances could reach hospitals. The commission was also tasked with determining why the government was unable to prevent the spread of protests to other cities and towns, effectively leading to a nationwide lockdown. Lastly, the commission was to examine why relevant laws were not invoked when TLP was making hate speeches and inciting disaffection towards the Federal or Provincial Government, an offense of sedition punishable by imprisonment for life.
The commission was expected to inquire into why the TLP protestors were allowed to charge the police contingent, resulting in serious injuries to 173 officers. It should have investigated who trained them to cut the wires of all relevant cameras installed within the jurisdiction of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, as well as the cables of CCTV cameras around the sit-in places, which could have been used to monitor their activities.
Furthermore, the commission should have examined why the media provided unabated coverage to TLP and allowed anyone with grievances against the government to join in. It should have looked into why relevant parties did not stop their leaders, such as Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed (Chairman AML), Ejaz-ul-Haq (PML-Z), PTI Ulema Wing Islamabad, and Sheikh Hameed (PPP), from making inflammatory speeches.
The commission should have also questioned why PEMRA did not act to reign in unscrupulous talk-show hosts who allegedly incited and provoked citizens, contributing to the rise of the TLP from a little-known political party to a phenomenon. It should have investigated whether PEMRA took notice of covert censorship, such as advising self-censorship, suppressing independent viewpoints, broadcasting of the TLP’s hate mongering and abusive speeches, and the supply of food to protestors by some channels, as well as the stoppage and interruption of certain channels in the cantonment and defense housing authority areas.
Additionally, the commission should have explored why the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority did not invoke the Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, to stop the dissemination of hate speech and terrorism through electronic means.
Finally, the commission should have considered the theory that had the government called the Army in aid of civil administration under Article 245 of the Constitution much earlier, the TLP could have called off the sit-in, potentially saving the nation from mental, physical, and economic agonies.
The report was also expected to delve into the unanimous view of all intelligence agencies that the actual purpose of TLP, which provoked religious sentiment, stoked hatred, resorted to violence, and destroyed property worth Rs 163,952,000, bringing economic activities to a standstill and inflicting a daily loss of Rs 88,786,180,821 to the economy, was not out of love for our Holy Prophet (PBUH), but to maximize their political mileage by projecting themselves as defenders of the Muslim faith.
It should have addressed whether it was lawful for the election commission to register the TLP as a political party when it refused to provide sources of funding, allegedly from a foreign country in the Middle East, and was formed in a manner prejudicial to the sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan and had engaged in terrorism.
The report should have also examined the inability of the ISI to discover the source of livelihood, place of work, address, funding of TLP leadership, their tax profile, and bank accounts.
It should have highlighted the inability of the Attorney General of Pakistan to quote laws, rules or regulations governing the ISI, indicating that its mandate did not include indulging in politics or media management, whereas the UK, the USA, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and Norway have clear laws governing their intelligence agencies and have disclosed their respective mandates. The report should have also addressed the question of cash being handed over to TLP’s dharna participants by men in uniform.
These are crucial questions that were discussed and raised by Supreme Court Judge Qazi Faez Isa in his landmark judgment. The full report of the commission must have examined all these points and provided its findings and recommendations. Until then, it is wise to refrain from focusing on only one or two terms of references, as they cannot reflect the full picture.

Qamar Bashir
Qamar Bashir
The writer retired as Press Secretary the the President, and is former Press Minister at Embassy of Paikistan to France and former MD, Shalimar Recording & Broadcasting Company Limited

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