Intelligence agencies: above the law?

The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday directed Punjab chief secretary to recover the 11 missing prisoners by November 10. The 11 prisoners were suspected terrorists who were arrested on allegations of attack on former president Pervez Musharraf, attacks on Kamra and Hamza Camps, GHQ, and possession of suicide jackets. They were acquitted by the Anti-Terrorist Court but were not released. The Lahore High Court (LHC) then ordered their release but they were then allegedly abducted by the intelligence agencies from Adiala Jail. The counsel for petitioners alleged that Adiala Jail Superintendent Saeedullah Gondal handed over the prisoners to the intelligence agencies but Punjab Prisons IG Kokab Nadeem Warraich told the apex court on Monday that Gondal was on leave at the time of abduction.

On Monday, Punjab Home Secretary Shahid Khan told the court that he was helpless in the recovery of the missing prisoners, to which Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry asked, “If you are helpless, then who will be responsible for the protection of ordinary people?” The chief justice has indeed raised a valid question. These 11 prisoners were freed by both the Anti-Terrorist Court and the LHC, yet the manner in which they were either abducted or ‘handed over’ to the intelligence agencies leads one to believe that these agencies are above the law. Neither do they care for the court’s verdict or the rule of law. If the intelligence agencies had any evidence of the involvement of these prisoners in the highly sensitive attacks they were accused to have carried out, the evidence should have been shared with the prosecution. Since the prosecution had little or no evidence against them, the courts set them free due to lack of evidence.

The SC is right in asking the concerned authorities to investigate the matter and recover the missing prisoners. But there is one thing that must be pointed out here. If indeed these 11 people are with the intelligence agencies, even the police or interior ministry will remain ‘helpless’ in recovering them. Our intelligence agencies are notorious for abducting, torturing and killing those they think are the state’s ‘enemies’. Nobody has dared to make the agencies accountable for their alleged crimes. Lack of transparency has made our agencies feel they are above the law. It is high time that the method in which our agencies conduct their ‘operations’ is exposed.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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