Justice far and near - Ardeshir Cowasjee - October 3, 2010

Source : www.dawn.com

THE national mindset is not given to looking before it leaps, to thinking or to cogitation. Emotions overtake the process of reasoning and the ubiquitous issue of national `honour` and `pride` often defies logic.

Dr Aafia Siddiqui, US citizen, is a case in point where the truth has got lost somewhere along the way and is now unfathomable. The government of Pakistan has blown $2m defending someone who knackered her own defence. Her ranting in court sealed her fate as far as the jury was concerned.

Her family and supporters, and the political parties of the religious right, used her case to attack government authorities at home and in Washington, but provided no evidence to absolve her.

They found a controversial ex-congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, an Iranian-born wannabe human rights advocate, Tina Monshipour Foster and Yvonne Ridley, a British journalist who was converted to Islam by the Taliban, to support her case but none managed even one inch of sympathetic press coverage in US — and, what`s more, no major human rights organisation picked up the case.

Why were the international supporters of her case more intent on getting to Pakistan to register their protest than doing so in the States where Dr Siddiqui was imprisoned?

The verdict and sentencing passed by the US court may have been harsh but the comprehensive sentencing judgment goes a long way to explain the whys and wherefores. However, there are jurisdictional issues which need to be examined. For one, how does the US claim jurisdiction to try an alleged offence which did not take place within its territory? She was arrested by the Afghan National Police in Ghazni province in 2008 on charges of suspected terrorism.

The judgment makes a most illuminating read. The judge clearly states that he doesn`t realise why Dr Aafia was in Afghanistan, and we must all wonder, like him, as to what exactly she was doing there in the first place.

On her mental state, while saying that he believes that she is mentally fit to stand trial, he states that “this is most certainly a situation where the defendant`s political beliefs and perspectives blur the line between mental health issues and political advocacy” and “… while this court has found that she is competent, she is in fact suffering from mental illness and diminished capacity. And that has been supported by not only the psychologist we hired for the defence, but also her treating clinician….”

Sending someone like her to prison for a period of 86 years does not seem to be a balanced decision in any legal system. She has a right to appeal but so far has stated that she will not do so.

Such is life — the sane sit in our parliament cleared of their crimes and a mentally incapacitated woman is sentenced to 86 years in jail. Injustice is relatively easy to bear. It is justice that too often stings. And now, Aafia Siddiqui is being used by political parties and `civil society` to vent the anti-American sentiments that are a must if one is to attempt to prove patriotism.Meanwhile, let us return to Ranch Pakistan. In 2003, I wrote: “This nation is internationally deemed to be corrupt. Such is our destiny — we were born to be corrupt, and yet we persevere in `demanding` accountability. If this government adheres to the norm, it will keep its mouth firmly shut.”

The government today is not keeping its mouth firmly shut. Its utterances are as strange as those of Aafia Siddiqui. One Abdul Qayyum Jatoi, one of the uncountable ministers, has clarified articulately that corruption has been institutionalised (he is the second minister of this dispensation to do so), that it is a fundamental right of every person to be corrupt and that there should be no discrimination between the provinces in respect of corruption. The prime minister had little option but to call for and accept the man`s resignation.

The institutions of state, civil and military, and society as a whole seem to have accepted that corruption is a Pakistani way of life, that bereft of corruption little can function (indeed little does function). All attempts to combat corruption have failed.

Take the last 13 years as an example. Under the Ehtesab Act of 1997 millions of rupees were spent, people were harassed, settlements made and then the entire exercise was discredited as a political witch hunt. It was disbanded and re-branded as the National Accountability Act, and again millions more were spent, prosecutions undertaken, convictions obtained.

It all ended with the amoral and wicked piece of legislation, the National Reconciliation Ordinance, thrust upon the nation in the national interests of the US and the UK, and to preserve the presidency of Gen Pervez Musharraf, which it failed to do, but it did gift to Pakistan the personage of our present president who could in no way have been where he is without the NRO (and of course the tragic loss of his wife).

The Supreme Court has struck down the NRO and is now attempting to enforce the law as it should be enforced. The government is playing the usual cat-and-mouse games, deadlines come and go, crisis after crisis is averted, and the court maintains its composure. But one day there will have to be a reckoning. Justice will have to be seen to be done.

Corruption is a crime. It cannot be eradicated but systems can be put in place to control it. This will not happen until the people, not the Supreme Court, wish to make a change.


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