By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal
The narrative and counter narrative about Ex-Adiala eleven is turning rather mysterious. They certainly were not the members of a squad that had won some sports world cup for Pakistan They were hardened terrorists playing ‘catch me if you can’ with our judicial system.’ They were involved in high profile terrorist act like attacks on General Headquarters (GHQ), Hamza Camp, Minhas air base etc. They were undergoing a court martial under the Army Act on the charges of attacking the military establishments.
Bringing even ordinary criminals to justice is an uphill task in our country; systems and structures are inclined to support the criminal. Under these circumstances, convicting and sentencing an indicted terrorist is an almost impossible task. Contributory reasons are many; some of these are lack of appropriately equipped forensic laboratories, unsatisfactory protection for prosecution witnesses and judges and the prevalent corrupt culture in our investigating agencies. Prosecution often fails to make a worthwhile case against the accused.
Even under these circumstances, extra-judicial killing is not an option nor would any sane person support that. Supreme Court has done a commendable job by taking notice of the four deaths. Hence, for the time being, it is not logical to presume that the four criminals did not die of natural causes. Hopefully, a judicial probe would ascertain the facts. Probably, the four dead bodies would be exhumed for forensic focused autopsies. Therefore, frenzy of extra judicial killing is premature and uncalled for.
Though charges of extrajudicial killings levelled by the heirs of dead terrorists while they were undergoing a trial appear grave on the face of it, a deeper scrutiny indicates that those who want to make the process of trial controversial to save the remaining terrorists from punishment have fabricated the story.
Investigating agencies have already informed the Supreme Court that four out of 11 prisoners who disappeared from Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi, and later apprehended from tribal area had died in custody, but of natural causes. Keeping in view the history of these prisoners, it would be a grave security risk to produce them before the court in line with any specified schedule. Moreover, four other prisoners are in a critical health condition and are under treatment in the LRH; travelling may aggravate their illness. As an alternative, the court may consider appointing its representative to visit the places of internment to ascertain the personal safety of the prisoners.
Supreme Court is hearing a petition by Rohaifa, the mother of three out of the eleven accused. She has pleaded that her sons, Abdus Saboor, Syed Abdul Basit and Syed Abdul Majid and the eight other people had been kept in illegal confinement by intelligence agencies. Her son Saboor, aged 29, was one of the four who died in custody. She has requested the court to determine whether the deceased and surviving detainees, including her sons, who are civilian, were subject to the Army Act. Though the question of applicability of the Army Act in this specific case would be adjudged by the court, Army & Air Force Acts and the Naval Ordinance do have provisions whereby civilians can by tired by a court martial, if they commit an offence against these forces.
Mothers narrative is bound to be emotional, her stance is: “If they are subject to the Army Act then the court should declare that their arrest and detention and the proceedings of trial have not been done in a lawful manner and, therefore, they should be set free in the interest of justice.” She has petitioned the court for provision of ‘due process of law’ to her three sons Syed Abdus Saboor, Syed Abdul Basit and Syed Abdul Majid. However, keeping in view the gravity of the offenses, undue swaying towards a typical mother’s narrative, whose one son has died and other two are on the edge, would not be in the interest of public safety. Sanity demands that let the process of law take its due course.
If the four prisoners were murdered, then this is a grave issue. The matter is of public importance. This raises apprehension about the remaining detainees as well. It must be found out how the four youngsters died. However, until then speculative narratives should not mislead the public.
Speculation also has it that the custodians of the dead prisoners left their bodies on the roadside after the LRH refused to accept them one after the other. If true, this represents a sad state of affairs. However, the document issued by the LHR does not corroborate this stance.
Alternative narrative has it that during 2007-08, these terrorists had attacked GHQ, Hamza Camp and Mihas air Base. Eleven suspects were apprehended after establishing their involvement. During the process of apprehension, lethal weapons, mines and explosives were recovered from their possession. They were acquitted by ATC Rawalpindi. Later, they were interned under section 16 of the MPO. However, Rawalpindi Bench of Lahore HC declared their detention illegal and ordered their release.
On the day of release from jail, the accomplices of these terrorist (under the guise of intelligence agencies) took them to the safe heavens in FATA. To cover up this, families of these people submitted a writ petition to the SC of Pakistan declaring them as missing persons. Under direction of the SC, intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies apprehended 20 suspects including these eleven. During their stay in FATA, these prisoners fell ill. They were treated in CMH and LRH Peshawar. Despite best medi-care, four of them died on different dates in the LRH Peshawar. Hospital officials handed over their bodies to the families with full respect according to Islamic rites. Each family’s permission was sought for autopsy, all four families declined.
While the case is subjudice at the highest level, and the true narrative would emerge in due course, media ethics demand that speculative trial of the Army and the ISI on this issue must be put on hold. The campaign against these national institutions, which have rendered tremendous services in eradicating the menace of terrorism, neither is in the national interests nor is supportive to the maintenance of high morale of those who put their life in line to protect the public safety.