Having obtained consensus from all the political parties for a dialogue with those terrorists who are misusing religion as a platform, the Sharif government turned its attention to the militant-infested important city of Karachi.
Law and order being a provincial subject, the federal government cannot deal directly with the problem without sending the provincial government packing. Despite the obvious and glaring deficiencies in good governance in Sindh this can compromise what passes by the name of democracy in a coup-prone country like Pakistan. They have opted instead to encourage and support the provincial government in doing its constitutional duty in hunting down target killers and other criminals. With many of them members of the ruling party, this will take some doing.
The constant drumbeat was that the Civil Armed Forces (CAF) in the form of the Rangers and the local Sindh police were rendered powerless because of the existing laws. The PML-Ns Zahid Hamid was commissioned to make the LEAs effective by giving them additional powers, duplicating those given to the army when operating under Article 245 of the constitution. In short, give the LEAs all the trappings of Article 245 without having the army to enforce Article 245.
Zahid Hamid consulted a whole range of legal counsel, both in Karachi and the rest of the country, before coming up with the amendments to the existing laws that give the LEAs powers far beyond their normal mandate and are time-limited so as not to be misused in the future. The LEAs carry an unsavoury reputation on exercising restraint. Any misuse of such powers will seriously endanger safety of the citizens. Without oversight ensuring public safety during the operations by an effective check and balance mechanism, the long suffering public that already remain at the mercy of the militants, could also become legally hostage to the LEAs. Call it the Public Safety Commission (PSC).
The PSC will essentially function as an independent forum for citizens seeking administrative relief against the misuse of draconian powers under the garb of operations against terrorists and/or criminals, to ensure transparency and accountability in arrests and/or investigation of cases and to monitor (i) time-bound measurable performances through extortion, bhatta and/or land grabbing, target killing and kidnapping for ransom, sectarian atrocities, recovery of bombs, explosives and weapons; (ii) providing benchmarks for detection, investigation and disposal of cases through policy recommendations; and (iii) eliminating fraud and chancery at polling booths during elections.
The PSC should comprise five members, with one member nominated as chairman. The PSC Secretariat be established immediately and headed by a secretary with requisite infrastructure and budgetary support by the provincial government, preferably located in a suitable government building.
The members of the PSC should be citizens of Pakistan of impeccable integrity, be income tax assessed and of proven professional competence in such fields as social work, law, administration, education, corporate sector, government (preferably law enforcement).
They must not be activists of any political party, hold any representative office or have been public servants in the six months immediately preceding such appointment, suffer from physical or mental incapacity or illness, have been declared bankrupt, loan defaulters or tax evaders, held an office of profit in the service of any entity controlled by the government or controlling share or interest, been dismissed, removed or compulsorily retired from the service of Pakistan on grounds of corruption or any other form of misconduct, convicted of a criminal offence; or involved in activities prejudicial to the ideology and integrity of Pakistan, its people and society as such.
Board members should serve a minimum of two years, extendable on a yearly basis. They cannot be removed except if they resigns or are disqualified for any misconduct, which is to be decided by the majority of the remaining members of the board collectively.
The functions of the PSC should be to (a) probe into any complaint of illegal detention or abuse of authority by any member of the LEAs; (b) provide relief to victims of misuse of powers by LEAs and victims of crime and/or terrorism ;(c) recommend compensation thereof; (d) make recommendations to the government for improvement of law and order and reduction in crime; (e) facilitate real-time and effective coordination among the LEAs; (f) recommend law reforms procedural reforms relating to the police, prosecution, prisons and probation services; (g) submit an annual report to the federal government that shall include its own performance during the year and a report on matters concerning general law and order in the province or any other point considered relevant to the PSC or referred to the it by the government.
As for the conduct of business, the PSC shall notify rules for conduct of business with a minimum of three members and may probe any case either filed before it or at its own or on a reference from the government and/or any LEA. The PSC may publish its report and recommendations as per rules. The provincial government shall depute and/or appoint such officers as recommended by the PSC to assist in the smooth functioning and operations of the PSC Secretariat and to monitor implementation of its decisions.
The powers of the PSC should include earmarking cases of public importance and seeking report of investigation from the inquiry officer or supervisory officer before the submission of report under Section 173 of CrPC to the cour. The PSC, for all legal and operational matters, would exercise powers equivalent to the provincial ombudsman. The decisions of the members of the PSC will always be construed to have been taken or done in good faith, in the best public interest and not be called into question by any court of law.
The president on his own volition, or the recommendation of the federal interior minister, may remove a PSC member from office if he or she (a) ceases to be a Pakistani citizen; (b) suffers from physical or mental incapacity or illness; (c) is guilty of misconduct; (d) on the basis of conflict of interest; (e) is convicted of a criminal offence; (f) is declared bankrupt, or a loan and tax defaulter; (g) is involved in activities prejudicial to the ideology, interest, security and integrity of Pakistan, its people and society; (h) brings the PSC into disrepute; and (j) fails to attend three consecutive regular meetings without any reasonable cause.
There must be a legal basis for ensuring the safety and security of the citizens of the country because of the specially-crafted laws that give the LEAs draconian powers. To prevent superior courts being clogged with cases of human rights abuse, it is imperative to have a duly legislated overnight mechanism in the form of a PSC.
(With acknowledgment and profound gratitude for the contribution by Jameel Yousuf, prominent businessman and former chairman, CPLC).
The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: [email protected]