'Pearl Shah' - Being more loyal than the King
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It's odd, even painful, to learn that Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has announced the government will challenge the Sindh High Court’s decision of commuting Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh’s death penalty to seven-year imprisonment.
Sheikh was the prime accuse in the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 in Karachi. He was convicted and sentenced to death along with three others - Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib and Sheikh Adil – who received life imprisonment.
One could understand the reaction of the United States Administration because Pearl was their citizen. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo termed the Thursday judgment as ‘affront’ saying that the US would never forget Daniel Pearl and continue to demand justice for him in the heinous crime.
To please the American Administration, the Sindh Government too decided not to stand behind to prove its loyalty to the Super Power and rearrested all the four convicts by invoking Maintenance of Public Order law and sent them to jail again for 90 days.
An even more awkward thing is that the Ministry of Interior has directed the Sindh Administration to apply maximum resources for filing an appeal in the Supreme Court.
One wonders why the then federal government did not apply a similar approach in the case of Pakistani national Aafia Siddiqui - who was sentenced to 86 years in imprisonment on the flimsy allegation that she attempted to kill American soldiers, nationals and employees in Afghanistan.
Initially, she was accused of pointing a gun at the American troops but later she was also charged with firing two bullets. She was sentenced for an unbelievingly long period of time even though, according to Americans’ own claims, no one was injured in the stated episode.
World’s most respected Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) protested her arrest and sentencing by the US court on frivolous charges but to no avail.
One could ask Shah Mehmood Qureshi if he had taken up the case of ill-fated Aafia Siddiqui with the similar zeal and eagerness. Sir, you have been the Foreign Minister for two years in PTI Government and you held the same position from 31 March 2009 to February 2011 in the Pakistan people’s Party Government while Yousaf Raza Gillani was the Prime Minister and Asif Ali Zardari was the President. During these so many years, when did you take any meaningful step to secure the release of a daughter of Pakistan and end her suffering?
Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf government, especially Prime Minister Imran Khan himself, keep chanting slogans of judiciary’s independence. But several of their moves and actions during their nearly two-year rule have in fact been contrary to it. The acts of undermining the judiciary for the sake of PTI’s own objectives could be listed here as a ready reference but the mention of a few glaring examples would suffice.
The filing of Presidential reference against the most reputed Supreme Court Judge, Qazi Faiz Isa is probably the worst example of damaging the judiciary by any regime. Another example is a similar reference against former Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry that resulted in a popular movement led by the lawyers’ community.
Reference against Qazi Isa was filed by the PTI Government since he pronounced judgment in two important cases that did not suit the ruling elite. The first was his verdict in the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case and the second was Faizabad Dharna case. No one could object to the nature of the judgments in those cases as they were based on facts and penned while taking ground realities into consideration.
Besides being insidious in character, the reference against Justice Isa was so unpopular that a large number of PTI ministers and members of Parliament expressed their displeasure to President Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Yet another example of PTI’s efforts to undermine judiciary is the removal of Judge Masood Arshad of Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF), who was stopped from hearing the case against Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Rana Sanaullah Khan. He was repatriated to the Lahore High Court through an unprecedented WhatsApp message, in a callous way of interfering in the dispensation of justice.
A large number of retired judges and senior lawyers criticised the government action against the sitting judge which it took sensing that he may grant bail to the PML-N leader. As a result of this, it emerged that a notification from the Ministry of Law and Justice, dated August 26, had recalled three accountability judges - Masood, judge Mushtaq Ilahi, and judge Muhammad Naeem Arshad.
Naeem Arshad was the duty judge hearing the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case against opposition leader Maryam Nawaz and her cousin Yousuf Abbas, the Ramzan Sugar Mills case against Shehbaz Sharif, and money laundering cases against Hamza Shahbaz and Salman Shehbaz.
Moreover, the manner in which the PTI Government has used the controversial National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to settle political scores has also undermined the status of judiciary in the country. The oft-repeated slogan of accountability by Imran Khan has proved hollow since NAB has not initiated any action against the black sheep in PTI ranks.