Faizabad sit-in was more due to lack of courage of conviction of the leaders handling the issue, says report

The Faizabad sit-in commission has given a clean chit to the country’s spy agencies as well as former spymaster Lt Gen (retd) Faiz Hameed, it emerged on Tuesday.

The commission observed that former high-ups of provincial and federal governments did not accuse the agencies or any other officials of extending facilitation to Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) protestors.

The commission further noted that no evidence was brought before the inquiry body.

However, the three-member inquiry commission has held the political leadership, including the then Punjab chief minister – incumbent Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif – among others, responsible for letting the TLP protestors enter the federal capital without any resistance due to fear of threats to their lives and “apprehension of losing their vote bank”.

“Since no one including the former Prime Minister, former Interior Minister, former law Minister, and former Chief Minister of Punjab, accused intelligence agencies or any other official of the agency for extending facilitation to the protestors nor other evidence was brought forward, therefore, the Commission could not connect any organization or state official in supporting TLP to organise the dharna.”

During the inquiry, the commission’s report read, Shahid Khaqan Abbassi, Ahsan Iqbal, Zahid Hamid, Shehbaz Sharif, and then Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief Aftab Sultan were asked specifically about the alleged role of agencies in facilitating the march.

“They all denied the role of any organ or person of the state to have indulged in such an activity,” the report stated.

“Commission observed that Lt Gen (R) Faiz Hameed, the then Maj Gen DG (C) ISI, on the behalf of security establishment had to sign the agreement as a mediator between two parties which was with the permission of DG ISI and COAS,” the report read, adding this was also concurred by then-interior minister Ahsan Iqbal and PM Abbasi.

The report further stated that the then interior minister told the commission that having no other alternative; the federal government had used the services of ISI in order to reach out to the leadership of TLP and finally signed an agreement upon which the protestors dispersed.

Based on the available record, the commission said, it appeared that the Faizabad sit-in was more due to lack of courage of conviction of the leader handling the issue and in particular the Punjab government, saying it is the reason both the provincial and federal governments dithered in tackling the issue at the initial stage.

The report also said that the record suggested different stances of the federal government and Punjab government to deal with the issue.

While ex-PM Abbasi initially persuaded the Punjab government to contain the protest within the limits of Punjab, ex-Punjab CM Shehbaz Sharif “advised to let them proceed to Islamabad”.

The commission was led by Syed Akhtar Ali Shah, a former civil servant, who also served as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s police chief. It included Tahir Alam Khan, a former IG of ICT, and Khushal Khan, an additional secretary at the Ministry of Interior.

The commission was tasked to identify those who planned, financed, and supported a sit-in at Islamabad’s Faizabad area six years ago—a dharna that had brought the little-known religious party TLP into the national spotlight.

 

The commission was also asked to recommend legal action against the planners and executors of the protest which disrupted lives in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad between November 6 and November 27, 2017. It was further asked to determine the role of the government high-ups.

In its report spread over 149 pages, 57 annexures & sub-annexures and one appendix, the commission has not only examined all relevant evidence related to the incident but described it to be an elaborate case study on the style of governance in Pakistan, mentioning the major fault lines and lack of courage of conviction of the leaders to deal with a major crisis in accordance with the rule of law.

The commission observed that the more one examined the crisis generated due to TLP’s sit-in, the clearer one can see how policy gaps propel such protests and how efficiency, effectiveness and rule of law, which are essential attributes of good governance, are missing from the scheme of things.

It noted that a lack of coordination between Rawalpindi Police and Islamabad Capital City Police was observed and, as a result, 277 people including police and Frontier Constabulary officials were injured, while seven others were killed in Rawalpindi.

The report added that the commission of inquiry found unanimity among the statements of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal, Shehbaz Sharif, Zahid Hamid; the then law minister, Aftab Sultan; the then DG IB, Fuad Asadullah; Director General IB, Azam Suleiman; the then Additional Chief Secretary Home, emphasizing to resolve the matter through negotiations and avoidance of use of force.

“All of them,” it stated, “who could be considered aggrieved, did not blame any organ of the state or official for facilitating the march”.

In February, the inquiry commission was constituted to enforce the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Faizabad Dharna case and requested a three-week extension to finalise its comprehensive report.

A senior government official disclosed to The Express Tribune that the commission sought additional time from the apex court due to the unavailability of key individuals whose statements are crucial to the investigation.

This marked the second extension requested by the commission. Last month, a three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa, granted a one-month extension for the inquiry’s completion.

Zero tolerance for extremism

The report noted that zero tolerance should be observed while dealing with violent extremism. In this context, it said, laws and policies are very clear, anti-terrorism laws and policies are in vogue, and the role of the law enforcing agencies at the federal and provincial levels are well defined, therefore, acting in unison, those must be implemented. The need is to act under the Constitution of Pakistan, the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, Anti Money Laundry Act, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, The Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulation, 2011 and the National Action Plan to counter terrorism and to maintain public order.

The commission observed that countering terror financing falls within the domain of all those organs of the state, fighting against terrorism. Since terrorism directly affects the security of the country and has been declared as an existentialist threat, therefore, choking of finances to terrorists is essential. All enforcing agencies including, intelligence agencies, may evolve a system where effective check is maintained.

“They have to work in unison,” the report recommended.

Amend PEMRA Act

In its recommendations, the commission said that there is a need to suitably amend the PEMRA Act, saying the composition of the Council of Complaints may be reconstituted. In addition, it said, the minimum punishment for broadcasting inflammatory material leading to violence or hatred may be suspension of license for a period of six months, a minimum fine of Rs10 million and a maximum of Rs50 million.

 

ICT be made province

The commission has recommended that the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) be given the status of a province with full administrative and financial authority with the objective of improving its effectiveness and efficiency.

Although Islamabad has CCTV, the Special Branch personnel covering events should be given video and audio recording devices as well as cameras. Also, Islamabad and Rawalpindi police should have a sufficient number of dedicated anti-riot units equipped with all necessities. For efficient and effective administration, it said, the chief commissioner Islamabad may also be bestowed with the powers of a chief secretary.

Only Police

The Commission observed that multiple forces doing the same job within the territorial jurisdiction nullify the concept of unity of command. Therefore, it said, “there must be one force that is the police, to deal with issues of law and order.”

The resources spent on others may be diverted to Islamabad police, it said, saying, Rangers and Frontier Constabulary have been raised for patrolling border areas. Therefore, it added, their use in urban areas may be avoided.

Action against protestors

The report added that the Punjab and Islamabad police should update the list of those involved in acts of terror and other crimes during the 21 days of the ‘dharna”. Although a period of six and half years had passed, it recommended, that the cases be re-opened. “The investigation of the cases should be processed and taken to a logical conclusion in accordance with the law,” it added.

Social media

Regarding the use of social media for illegal purposes, the commission said, laws and rules should be amended to also empower police to take cognizance of offence, in particular the simple nature of cybercrime.

It said that there may be a coordination unit of the Ministry of Interior, PEMRA, FIA, intelligence agencies and Islamabad police to monitor social media against injurious material in violation of law. On the same pattern, arrangements may be made in the provinces.

No involvement of army, agencies in public matters

The commission noted that the involvement of the army or its affiliated agency in pure civilian matters adversely affects the fair image of the institution. “Army is a sacred arm of the state, therefore to avoid criticism,” it said, “the institution may not be involved in public matters.”

It added that this task may be assigned to IB and civil administration, saying that the confidence level of the civilian set up will increase and political and other opinion leaders will take them seriously. The commission also recommended that the IB, being the erstwhile agency in coordination with civil administration and police, may be given the lead role in matters of internal security having repercussions on public order.

Action against Punjab govt

The report said that the Punjab government remained “evasive and weak”, saying that had they acted firmly at the beginning, the situation would not have come to such a pass. “Allowing them to proceed to Islamabad was not a proper decision,” it added.

“Punjab government’s role in keeping themselves away from the issue and letting the protesters of TLP enter Islamabad without any resistance due to fear of threats to their lives and apprehension of losing their vote bank could not be appreciated,” the commission stated. This was an omission of duty to enforce law, it said, thus misconduct. Therefore, it recommended that those found in omission may be taken to task.

Legislation for agencies

The Commission also observed that there is no statute to regulate the working of Intelligence agencies. Therefore, it said, necessary legislation followed by rules and standing operating procedures may be drafted.

NAP

The commission also observed omission to implement the National Action Plan (NAP), saying the solution lies in the implementation of NAP. “Omission in this regard would be considered as misconduct on part of the officials and violation of oath on part of other public office holders,” it stated.

SC may revisit Mustafa Impex judgment

The commission further observed that the prime minister and ministers do not have a clear and defined authority. Due to the Mustafa Impex case, it noted, the executive authority of the prime minister has further been diluted. Wherever the word government occurs, it said, the issue has to be referred to the cabinet for orders.

“This results in delay of decisions or indecision,” it said, “therefore, the judgement may be re-visited.”

Amend rules of business

Under the existing rules of business, it said, the federal secretary is the administrative head and the principal accounting officer. As such the minister does not have an effective authority. Therefore, rules of business may be amended suitably in order to give him or her the authority with an aim to make him or her responsible.

Solution to end faith-based violence

Unsurprisingly, the commission said that durable public order free from violent non-state actors is imperative for stability, progress and fulfilment of fundamental rights. The situation requires a holistic re-appraisal of the national policies.

“Mere firefighting here and there will not be enough,” it said, “an end to faith-based violence can only be achieved if comprehensive peace in the region is pursued as a strategic objective.”

Faizabad sit-in

The Faizabad sit-in refers to the protest in Faizabad, Rawalpindi in November 2017 by the activists and supporters of the TLP. The Supreme Court had taken suo motu notice of the sit-in on November 21, 2017, and a division bench led by Justice Qazi Faez Isa on February 6, 2019, pronounced its verdict, criticising the role of intelligence agencies in the saga.

Soon after assuming the office of the chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) in September this year, Justice Isa listed for hearing the petitions that had been filed against the February 2019 verdict. However, most of the petitioners withdrew their petitions as a three-member bench led by Justice Isa took up the case.

Later, the attorney general for Pakistan (AGP) informed the bench that the government had established a three-member commission of inquiry. This commission is tasked with identifying individuals responsible for planning, financing, and supporting the sit-in. Furthermore, it will recommend legal actions against those who both planned and executed the protest.

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