Pakistani intelligence agencies in
the dock By Amir Mir
ISLAMABAD - The Inter-Services
Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's premier spy agency
that is often described by its critics as a state
within the state, is once again in the dock along
with Military Intelligence (MI), as the Supreme
Court of Pakistan has reprimanded the directors
general of the two spy agencies for the custodial
killings of four civilians.
It has ordered
them to immediately produce seven remaining
suspects who are being grilled for their alleged
role in several acts of terrorism, especially the
2009 fidayeen (suicide) attack on the
General Headquarters (GHQ) of the army in the
garrison city of Rawalpindi.
comes as a secret North Atlantic Treaty
Organization report accuses the Pakistani
intelligence agency of directly helping the
Taliban in Afghanistan and knowing where its
senior leaders are
hiding, according to the BBC. The report "fully
exposes for the first time" the relationship
between the Taliban and the ISI, the BBC's
correspondent in Kabul said.
court issued its orders while hearing a petition
filed by a woman, Ruhifa Majid, whose three sons
had been picked up by the ISI for their alleged
role in different acts of terrorism, including a
rocket attack on the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex
in Kamra, anti-aircraft shots fired at a plane
carrying former president Pervez Musharraf,
suicide attacks on the bus of an intelligence
agency in Rawalpindi, a bomb attack on the
Rawalpindi Parade Lane mosque and attacks on
different military installations, killing a number
of senior army personnel besides the 2009
fidayeen attack targeting the GHQ building.
All the 11 accused had been picked up by
the intelligence agencies after being acquitted of
the terrorism charges by an anti-terrorism court
in Rawalpindi, with four of them having already
been killed in custody.
According to the
petition, Ruhifa's three sons - Syed Abdus Saboor,
Syed Abdul Basit and Syed Abdul Majid - and eight
other civilians had been kept illegally by the ISI
since May 29, 2010, and four of them had already
died in mysterious circumstances, including her
son Abdus Saboor, who died on January 21, 2012.
The other dead were Mohammad Amir (died on August
15, 2011), Tehseen Ullah (December 17, 2011), and
Saeed Arbab (December 18, 2011).
bodies were found either outside the Lady Reading
Hospital, Peshawar, or outside the Haji camp in
Peshawar. The seven detainees who are still alive
include Syed Abdul Basit, Syed Abdul Majid, Dr
Niaz Ahmad, Mazharul Haq, Shafiqur Rehman, Gul
Roze and Mohammad Shafiq.
On January 6,
2012, Ruhifa filed a petition in the Supreme
Court, challenging the trial of her three sons
under the Army Act 1952 despite their having been
acquitted by the anti-terrorism court.
Expressing dismay over the failure of
Pakistan's highest court to provide justice to her
under-detention sons, she made a heartrending
appeal to the chief justice to order the
intelligence agencies to kill her sons immediately
and hand over their dead bodies to their hapless
Her "wish" came true hardly two
weeks later when an unknown caller asked her to
collect the body of one of the sons, Syed Abdus
Saboor. The caller initially asked her to go to
the Lady Reading Hospital, but later told her that
she would find the body in an ambulance parked
near the Haji camp in Peshawar. The body was
finally found on a roadside on the Grand Trunk
Road close to the Haji camp. By that time, the
cell phone of the caller had been switched off.
Once again knocking at the doors of the
Supreme Court, Ruhifa reminded the chief justice
through another petition that Syed Abdus Saboor
was tortured to death by the intelligence agencies
despite their knowledge that a petition about his
recovery was still pending with none other than
the Supreme Court.
She regretted that the
country's highest court was dealing with matters
"more important than the life of a citizen" when
her son was being tortured to death. The chief
justice subsequently summoned the director
generals of the ISI and MI to explain on January
30 the custodial deaths of the four civilians
under interrogation, besides producing the
remaining seven accused.
As the case
hearing began on January 30, the counsel for the
two intelligence agencies appeared on behalf of
their (ISI and MI) director generals and confirmed
to the apex court that four of the 11 prisoners
had died, adding that the remainder of the
prisoners could not be produced before the court.
The counsel contended that the prisoners
were no longer in the custody of intelligence
agencies and had been handed over to the
provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
province, which should be asked to produce the
prisoners. "We don't know where they are, but you
had taken away these 11 prisoners of Adiala Jail
from the court, so you will produce them," the
Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry told the
counsel for the agencies. He added:
No one is above the law. The
country's prime minister has come to this court
and you are saying they cannot be produced. The
Supreme Court of Pakistan is directing you to
produce them because apparently there is a
breach of Article 9 of the constitution
[security of persons] as no one is above the
constitution. Lift them through a helicopter
whatsoever and produce them before the court on
February 9, 2012. If someone is stopping you
from producing them, give us in writing and we
will see who is opposing their production.
The counsel for the spy agencies,
Raja Irshad, was left with no option but to assure
the court that the prisoners would be produced in
whichever state they were in.
court also directed Raja to file a reply to
allegations leveled against his clients
(respondents) pertaining to their involvement in
the custodial killings of the four detainees.
Justice Khilji Arif Hussain noted that four
prisoners had been killed and their bodies thrown
on the road.
The apex court noted that on
January 6, 2011, a statement was filed before it
that 11 persons, initially confined in Adiala
Jail, Rawalpindi, were taken into custody for the
purpose of trial under the Pakistan Army Act 1952.
When Justice Khilji Arif Hussain asked under what
law the prisoners were killed and left by a
roadside by the intelligence agencies, the counsel
for MI and ISI said these were wild allegations.
The shadowy role of the intelligence
agencies has been a cause of concern for decades,
given their reputation for being cumbersome
coupled with the impression given by their
high-ups that they are not answerable to any other
institution of the state, except for the army.
The last time the apex court summoned the
ISI and the MI chiefs (on November 25, 2010) in
the same case to ascertain if the 11 missing
prisoners of the Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi
(including the sons of Ruhifa) were in their
custody, both simply refused to appear, saying
neither they nor any other official of the
intelligence agencies could be made respondents in
any constitutional petitions.
The ISI and
the MI chiefs also maintained that the petitions
filed by the legal heirs of the missing prisoners
or other missing persons were not sustainable in
the apex court.
Chaudhry ruled on November
26, 2010, that the apex court had the authority
under the 1973 constitution to serve notices on
the secret agencies because no one was above the
law. The ISI and the MI chiefs deemed it fit to
submit a reply (through the attorney general) with
the Supreme Court, stating that the missing
prisoners of Adiala Jail were not in the custody
of either of the two agencies.
the spy masters were seemingly not telling the
truth, given the fact that when Ruhifa had first
petitioned the Lahore High Court for the release
of her sons, she was told that they and eight
others were booked under the Anti Terrorism Act
1997. But Ruhifa pleaded that her sons used to
publish religious literature in Urdu Bazaar,
Lahore, and went missing in November 2007 after
they were taken to a police station.
the 11 missing persons (who were arrested almost
two years before the GHQ fidayeen attack in
Rawalpindi) were eventually acquitted of all
charges by an anti-terrorist court in Rawalpindi
in all the cases on April 8, 2010. Yet, before
they could be released, the intelligence agencies
made the Punjab home department extend their
detention another 90 days from May 6 under the
Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance.
a habeas corpus petition, the Rawalpindi bench of
the Lahore High Court later that month set aside
the detention orders. But the next day, as their
relatives reached Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi on May
29, 2010 to receive their loved ones, jail
superintendent Saeedulllah Gondal forcibly handed
them over to intelligence agencies instead.
When asked by the Supreme Court, which was
responding to an approach from the relatives, ISI
and MI chiefs first denied (on November 26, 2010)
having any clue about the whereabouts of the 11.
On December 9, however, they conceded that the
detainees were in their custody.
reply, submitted on their behalf on June 2, 2011,
by the attorney-general, the intelligence agency
chiefs said the detainees were formally arrested
in the first week of April 2011 in a case
registered under Section 2 (1) (d) of the Pakistan
Army Act, 1952.
The bodies of four of the
detainees were eventually found in Peshawar
between August 15, 2011 and January 21, 2012.
Conspicuously, the first, the body of
Mohammad Amir was found on August 15, just two
days after a military trial court in Rawalpindi
sentenced to death a former army soldier over the
2009 GHQ attack - the same case under which 11
civilians were under detention.
Aqeel, alias Dr Usman, a former soldier of the
army's medical corps, was given the death sentence
while another retired soldier, Imran Siddiq, was
handed life imprisonment. Three others - Khaliqur
Rehman, Mohammad Usman and Wajid Mehmood were
given life terms while two more, Mohammad Adnan
and Tahir Shafiq, got eight and seven years jail
Mohammad Aqeel had
been caught injured during the October 2009 attack
on the GHQ. Eleven soldiers had lost their lives
in that embarrassing fidayeen attack,
carried out by 10 heavily armed militants in
suicide vests who stormed the GHQ, and kept
hostage dozens of senior military officers for
almost 24 hours.
Having received Abdus
Saboor's body on January 21, 2012, his mother once
again petitioned the Supreme Court, saying that
all the four deceased have been tortured to death
in the custody of the spy agencies. She asked the
apex court to ensure the provision of due process
of law to her two remaining sons - Abdul Basit and
Abdul Majid, who are still being held by the
The petitioner also requested
the apex court to seek a report on the causes of
deaths of the detainees and the record of
proceedings against the survivors. Invoking
article 184(3) of the constitution, she had
pleaded in her petition, "The matter is of public
importance and there is apprehension of deaths of
the remaining surviving detainees."
According to the Human Rights Commission
of Pakistan (HRCP) annual report for 2011,
extra-judicial killings and enforced
disappearances remained rampant in 2010 and 2011,
particularly in Balochistan, and created an
extremely high-risk environment for defenders of
human rights in Pakistan:
Judicial process in front of both
the Supreme Court and high courts continued to
be unnecessarily lengthy, contributing to a
feeling of impunity. A high number of cases of
enforced disappearances remained unresolved in
2010-2011. Everyone is aware of the nature of
strategic and security difficulties that
Pakistan is currently faced with. There is a
tendency to overlook the hard action taken by
the state agencies under these conditions.
But it seems that this tendency is
proving dangerous for the durability of the
system under which the state of Pakistan
functions. Therefore, all the state institutions
must be made to remember all the time that they
have to function within their laid down
parameters as per the law of the
The plight of the families of
the four men killed and the others believed to be
alive, at least for now, is similar to hundreds of
others who have been devastated by disappearances
enforced by agents of the state across Pakistan,
according to HRCP chairperson Zohra Yusuf, who
said in a statement that charges of involvement in
acts of terrorism, irrespective of their veracity,
do not deprive those accused of their right to due
process under the law.
In the commission's
opinion, Yusuf said, instances such as the missing
11 offer opportunities for the state to
distinguish itself by showing deference to the
rule of law. "It is exceedingly unfortunate to
find yet more evidence that that opinion is not
always shared by agents of the state," Yusuf said
in the statement.
Amir Mir is a
senior Pakistani journalist and the author of
several books on the subject of militant Islam and
terrorism, the latest being The Bhutto murder
trail: From Waziristan to GHQ.
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