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Pakistan: Political Parties in Karachi Ordered to Stop Association with Criminals

(Oct. 13, 2011) The Supreme Court of Pakistan issued a judgment on October 6, 2011, calling upon political parties to disassociate themselves from criminals responsible for recent violence in the city of Karachi, to whom the parties have provided financing as well as political support. (Suo Motu Case No. 16 of 2011 [Suo Motu Action regarding law and order situation in Karachi] & Constitution Petition No. 61 of 2011, Watan Party & another v. Federation of Pakistan & others (Oct. 6, 2011), Supreme Court of Pakistan website.) The ruling made a number of recommendations in connection with various aspects of the case; some of these are outlined below.

Political Parties and Criminal Groups

According to testimony by Major General Aijaz Ahmed Chaudhry, “the problem in Karachi is very serious, rather more serious than that of South Waziristan,” and “[t]here is polarization to an unprecedented level on the political, ethnic, and/or religious divides.” (Id.) In Chaudhry's view,

The problem can only be solved through application of special means as well as requesting political leadership to eliminate militancy from their wings. The political face of the city has been taken hostage by militant groups of political parties. Political parties are penetrated by the criminals under the garb of political groups who use party flags. The militants and criminals are taking refuge in the lap of political and ethnic parties which use the flags of these parties to commit illegal activities with impunity. (Id.)

The Court observed in connection with this issue:

… as per material brought before the Court, there are criminals who have succeeded in making their ways in political parties notwithstanding whether they are components or non-components of government, and are getting political and financial support allegedly from such parties, therefore, the political parties should denounce their affiliation with them in the interest of the country and democratic set up and they should not allow them to use their names as militant outfits of the political parties. Failure to do so may entail consequences of a penal nature against the party or person responsible, whether in office or not … . (Id.)

Need to Strengthen Law Enforcement and Protect Citizens' Rights

The Court also held that in order for the crisis in law and order to be resolved, the police force, as the principal law enforcement agency, must be de-politicized and strengthened. In order “to avoid political polarization and to break the cycle of ethnic strife and turf war,” the Court ruled, boundaries of administrative units like police stations should be altered “so that members of different communities may live together in peace and harmony,” and delimitation of different constituencies should be undertaken. (Id.)

The Court characterized the violence as representing “unimaginable brutalities, bloodshed, kidnapping and throwing away dead bodies and torsos in bags,” illustrated by, among other features, the deaths of 306 people in one month; the existence of torture cells; land grabs; the existence of a drug mafia; and the destruction of citizens' moveable and immovable property. (Id.) All of this

establishes that the Fundamental Rights of the citizens enshrined in Articles 9,14,15,18 and 24 of the Constitution have not been protected/enforced by the Provincial Government/Executive authority and this failure has made the lives and properties of the citizens insecure, inasmuch as Federal Government/Executive has also not protected Province of Sindh against internal disturbance, thus the government of Province of Sindh,on this account, too, failed to carry out functions in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution [Article 148(3)] … . (Id.)

The Court directed that a committee be established by the provincial government “to supervise and ensure that law enforcement agencies take action indiscriminately, across the board against the perpetrators involved in causing disturbances in Karachi.” (Id.) The committee is to be headed by the Chief Justice of Sindh High Court, assisted by the Chief Secretary of Sindh Province, and the heads of the security agencies, i.e., para-military organization chiefs and the Inspector-General of Police. (Id.) The Chief Justice is to convene a meeting at least once a month to review the implementation of the Court's decision, with a copy of the proceedings to be transmitted to the Registrar of the Supreme Court for the Court's perusal and for it to pass appropriate orders at a later stage if necessary. (Id.)

The Court further firmly directed, “there must be no 'NO GO AREAS' at all in Karachi,” and if any are found or credibly reported to the Court, “the Police and, if required by the Provincial Government, the Rangers shall take strong and decisive action to eliminate” them. (Id.)

Establishment of Investigative Agencies

The Court also ordered “an independent and a depoliticized investigation agency” to be organized to investigate cases “fairly, honestly and without being influenced in any manner.” It also emphasized that the prosecution agency and the provincial government must provide protection to witnesses so that they will not be afraid to testify. (Id.)

It also directed that a special joint unit be set up, comprising specialized officials and experts. It should have sufficient manpower for several teams, to make on-the-spot identification of illegal foreigners, who are to be dealt with according to law after being given a hearing and the opportunity to present proof of their citizenship. The exercise would conclude “preferably in one year.” (Id.)

Compensation for Victims

Given that some 1,310 innocent citizens have lost their lives in Karachi to date in the current year, while a good many others have been injured and/or lost valuable property, the Court ordered the provincial government to establish a commission to assess their losses and pay them compensation. (Id.)

Court Lacks Authority to Initiate Banning of a Political Party

The Court declined to ban any political party, in particular the MQM [Muttahida Quami Movement], against which most of the interveners had voiced complaints, stating that it was not within its jurisdiction to do so, given that article 17(2) of the Constitution guaranteed all citizens not in the service of Pakistan the right to form or be a member of a political party, subject to reasonable restrictions, and that article gives the federal government the responsibility to take action against any party that violates the article before referring the matter to the Supreme Court. (Id.) The Court stated it would

only review such issue at any other appropriate stage or proceeding if then necessary to determine whether the actions of any party are directly or indirectly prejudicial to the sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan within the meaning of the Article. The Court will remain, in appropriate proceedings, the ultimate arbiter of this question but will not allow any government to avoid its duty under the law and the Constitution … . (Id.; The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (as last amended with presidential approval on Jan. 1, 2011), PAKISTANI.ORG, [scroll down page to see chapter headings].)