Open letter to interior minister
By Imtiaz Gul
Express Tribune, July 27, 2016
We keep hearing about the National Action Plan (NAP) as the antidote for terrorism, crime and poor law enforcement. We also realise the remarkable successes of Operation Zarb-e-Azb and the space it has created for civilian law enforcement in Pakistan, including in Fata. The operation has enabled the state to regain areas that were once notorious for being ‘no-go areas’. This has also been made possible due to countless intelligence-based operations — both in prevention and preemption of potential terrorist activities. Intelligence has indeed served as the bedrock of all counterterror (CT) activities and has caused a considerable drop in acts of terrorism.
But unfortunately, there is also a darker side to this picture — the deployment of intelligence in several CT preventive and preemptive operations have also been both questionable and counter-productive. In one recent case, a mobile phone dealer and franchise owner in Rawalpindi was picked up. He was quizzed, then an apology was made for the inadvertent detention and he was turned over to the FIA. The FIA was also handed a list of all the cash and kind seized from the shop.
And herewith began the torturous ordeal of the person in question. The FIA officials kept pressuring him to make a confession before he was to be presented before a judge. ‘Confession for what?’ he asked. ‘I never committed a crime and that is why I was passed on to you with an apology and all the seized materials’ he said. But, he recalled, the FIA officials kept pressing for a “confession”, which he soon realised was a ploy to extract money from him. Only after he coughed up over Rs300,000 did his torture stop and it was agreed that he would be presented before a court with a concocted charge-sheet.
Dear Minister, the FIA officials are now refusing to return the seized assets i.e., mobile phones and SIM cards worth a million rupees or so. Instead, despite the court orders, the officials are dithering and offering only insignificant items to the person in question. This is an ordeal of an innocent person. One wrong step by a law enforcement agency landed him at the doorstep of another. The latter has not only pocketed money for meting out ‘lenient treatment’, but has also entrapped him in unnecessary, endless litigation. Why should such a person trust the lofty rhetoric on the rule of law by the prime minister and his ministers, particularly on the achievements of the NAP, which is a commitment against terrorism, a reiteration to uphold the law?
Is the FIA — and other institutions — acting to enforce and protect fundamental rights while fighting terrorism and crime? Are you aware that a former FIA chief Muhammad Akbar Khan Hoti had initiated an inquiry against the ‘black sheep’ in his agency in December last year? He also had informed the media that a list of corrupt FIA officials had been prepared and sent to intelligence agencies. What happened to that?
Or is corruption and brazen abuse of power within law enforcement agencies taken for granted? How can a state defeat non-state actors and win against what it declares as an ‘existential threat’ if its institutions are besmirched by allegations of graft and non-professionalism? This is what those arrested on human smuggling charges have told the courts recently.
Mr Minister, besides corruption, your security institutions also reel from rampant nepotism. How can you defeat terrorists and prepare narratives against them if your own institutions hold CT and counter-radicalisation consultations with non-governmental funding? How can you elicit public support and play on its patriotism when actions of functionaries within prime security institutions are anchored in self-interest and nepotism?Where is the government’s own resolve and financial commitment to crafting a CT and counter-radicalisation strategy?Winning the trust of citizens and restoring their confidence in state institutions requires them to act in consonance with their constitutional obligations.
Why should citizens feel safe if state agencies don’t adhere to the rule of law, particularly when their functionaries assume the role of robber barons and ask for a price? This one instance — I’m sure hundreds, if not thousands of others, have endured similar fates at the hands of state agencies — underscores one bitter reality: functionaries within law enforcement agencies can play havoc with the lives of individuals in the name of fighting terror and crime. Why can’t you devise a mechanism that provides guarantees against mistreatment of detained individuals as well as against any kind of extortion by state functionaries?
Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies