Express Tribune Editorials | July 10, 2020

Pending NAB cases

It took former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf no less than eight years to get an all-clear from an accountability court over charges of receiving kickbacks in a rental power agreement he okayed in April 2009 in his capacity as water and power minister. This is just one example of how cases have dragged on for years and years in the accountability courts — well, just like other trial courts — in the country. Court record shows that even cases that had been filed as far back in year 2000 have been pending with the accountability courts.

Under the National Accountability Ordinance 1999, corruption cases are supposed to be decided within a span of 30 days. However, due to a host of issues — like lack of judicial staff, untrained investigating officers, as well as political considerations — there have been inordinate delays in the settlement of the cases, mostly involving politicians and bureaucrats. No wonder, as many as 1,226 references are pending with a total of 25 accountability courts in the country — five of which have no presiding judge.

Thus, for a swift disposal of the mentioned cases, the Supreme Court has proposed another 120 accountability courts to be set up across the country. The proposal has come from a three-judge bench of the top court — headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed himself — that had taken up a suo motu case regarding delay in trials before the accountability courts. With the addition of 120, a total of 145 accountability courts would be dealing with 1,226 cases — meaning between eight and nine cases for one judge. This will help clear the backlog of the cases within three months, as directed by the Supreme Court.

 

That the dispensation of justice in Pakistan is notoriously slow is no overstatement. But while justice delayed is justice denied, justice rushed is justice crushed. We have seen concerns expressed by legal experts over the model courts that had been set up on the orders of Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, the former CJP, to deal with a huge pendency of cases in the lower courts. There is thus the need to ensure that the quality of judgment is not compromised in the rush to dispose of the pending cases.

 

UN report on Soleimani

Anew UN report says the US drone strike that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Qassem Soleimani in January was “unlawful”. Soleimani and a senior Iraqi commander were among the 10 people killed in the attack. The full report was regarding drone strikes in general and ways to make state parties accountable for their use, but almost half of it focused on the Soleimani attack. The report says the attack constituted an arbitrary killing for which the US is responsible under international human rights law. It also noted that the attack violated the sovereignty of Iraq, which apparently had no prior knowledge.

While some may compare the attack with the drone strikes in Pakistan or the killing of Osama bin Laden under former president Barack Obama, this last point is where the Soleimani attack differs. Regarding drone strikes, the targets were usually acknowledged as terrorists by both Pakistan and the US. There was also a general understanding that the US had some degree of permission from Pakistan to carry out those drone strikes. Similarly, in the case of bin Laden, the problem was not that America killed the world’s most wanted man. It was the fact that Pakistan had not given permission for the attack.

In the case of Soleimani, there was not just a permission issue, but the general was not even considered an enemy of Iraq. This was just a murder. That is also obvious from how Trump tried to paint Soleimani as the world’s most dangerous man. He lives in Obama’s shadow. He wanted to emulate his predecessor by killing a dangerous terrorist. When he couldn’t find one, he “fake newsed” his way to one. That is why, despite Trump claiming that Soleimani was planning an imminent attack against US interests, nobody could provide any evidence that this was the case.

In fact, the day Soleimani was killed, the Department of Homeland Security said that Iran presented “no specific, credible threats” against the US. Even Trump appointees weren’t willing to back him up.

 

Educational activities

It is a sign of the improving coronavirus situation in the country that the government has decided to reopen schools and colleges in the first week of September. The decision was taken in an online meeting on Wednesday presided over by Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood and attended by the education ministers of all the four provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and the Chairman of the Higher Education Commission. A final decision, however, rests with the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), which is the implementation arm of the National Coordination Committee chaired by the PM.

Educational institutions were closed in the country in mid-March as part of efforts to control the spread of the deadly virus. The education ministers’ meeting agreed that classes would resume in schools and colleges from the first week of September under strict SOPs. Universities would reopen from Sept 25. The reopening of institutions will depend on the Covid-19 situation. The education ministers’ moot has decided to arrange another two meetings to review the situation before finally deciding to reopen educational institutions.

In the meeting, the federal health secretary stressed that wearing of face masks and maintaining social distance should be ensured inside classrooms and on the campus. It was decided to call a meeting of all administrators and teachers of educational institutions after July 20 for the preparation of SOPs. A national SOP will be prepared in consultation with all the provinces and regions. Madrassas will send their own SOPs, which will be approved by the NCOC. The All-Pakistan Private Schools Association has demanded relief in utility bills saying most private schools in Punjab are housed in rented buildings. Let us be optimistic about the revival of educational activities in the country.


Published in Express Tribune, July 10, 2020

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