Defaming The Army: Rawalpindi Strikes Back

After having repeatedly warned the public “not to drag Pakistan armed forces and their leadership in [the] ongoing political discourse in the country,” Rawalpindi finally got down to walking its talk with military precision by ‘taking-on’ a prominent and ‘marked’ [but soft] target. On May 26, it filed an FIR against lawyer and rights activist Ms Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir for making a “derogatory and hateful” statement against the Pakistan army on May 21. The charges levelled by the army against here were under Pakistan Penal Code [PPC] sections 138 [Abetment of act of insubordination by soldier, sailor or airman] and 505 [Statements conducing to public mischief].

Prominence came Ms Imaan’s way not merely since she is the daughter of Pakistan’s former human rights minister Shireen Mazari but more so because of her courageous work as a social and political rights activist. She became a ‘marked’ person for Pakistan army in 2017, when in a self-recorded video, she said “Shame on the [Pakistan] army that finances the activities of the terrorists, who have burnt down Islamabad and have plans to burn the entire country.” With the Islamabad Bar Association condemning her “for levelling false allegations against the Army and its officers” in the instant case without even any investigation, Ms Imaan was left out in the cold and hence became a ‘soft’ target.

Even though her May 21 anti-army comments pale in comparison with what she had said in 2017, yet Rawalpindi took no action then, obviously since her mother was a senior member of Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf party, whose leader Imran Khan had been shortlisted by the Pakistan army as its ‘selected’ prime ministerial candidate. However, with an ousted Khan turning against his ‘selector’, Rawalpindi has killed two birds with just one FIR- it has sent out a clear message to its detractors to ‘behave’ or face legal proceedings, as well as made it clear to PTI activists to end exposing Rawalpindi’s dubious role in the country’s polity or else suffer Imaan’s fate!

Despite the menacing content of the army’s FIR in which Ms Imaan was accused of having “… abused the senior military leadership of the Pakistan Army” and that “Such statements, [were] made with the intent to cause and create unrest and chaos in the Pakistan Army which is also leading to the punishable offence,” Ms Imaan refused to be cowed down. Instead, she made some very compelling arguments against the army’s FIR, which she aptly trashed as “baseless and an abuse of legal process.” Some examples:

· “In view of the statements of relevant police officials and the information shared by my mother before her disappearance. Any statement made by myself on the day of my mother’s unlawful arrest voicing my reasonable suspicion cannot be categorized as an attempt to “aiding/abetting an act of insubordination by officers/soldiers of Pakistan Army.”

· “At no point in any statement, did I encourage soldiers in the Pakistan Army to mutiny against the senior leadership of the Armed Forces, nor did I provide any means of assistance for them to do so.”

“It is ludicrous to allege that at the time of my mother’s disappearance I intended to cause mutiny, my only concern at the time was to ensure my mother’s safe return and to ensure that a lawful and efficient inquiry is conducted in the matter of her illegal and suspicious arrest.”

· “It was and is my right to name the suspects based on the information I had. My only intent at the time was to ensure that individuals who I reasonably believed to be behind her illegal arrest are investigated.”

Most importantly, by stating that the content of the FIR lodged by the army reveals no intent to commit the said offence, nor does it cite any statements made by her that incite officers/soldiers of the Pakistan Army to commit insubordination, the gritty Ms Imaan delivered a coup de grace the army’s FIR!

However, in an unexpected turn of events, Ms Imaan decided to “regret” her May 21 utterance and Islamabad High Court [IHC] dismissed the case against her. While Pakistan army’s top brass must be celebrating her “regret” expressed for what it feels is a “derogatory and hateful” statement, this whole incident is actually a humungous embarrassment for Rawalpindi for two reasons. One, if Ms Imaan had made the purported statements “with the intent to cause and create unrest and chaos in the Pakistan Army,” [as mentioned in the army’s FIR], then being a premeditated act, it is tantamount to sedition, which has serious national security implications and hence, can’t be condoned by a mere apology.

Secondly, in its report on this development, ‘Dawn’ mentions that “IHC Chief Justice [CJ] Athar Minallah, who heard the petition, remarked during the hearing that [Imaan] Mazari-Hazir was “a respectable officer of the court” and should not have uttered the words even under “normal circumstances.” This observation merits greater deliberation.

By saying that the words that Ms Imaan used shouldn’t have been uttered “even under normal circumstances” the honourable IHC CJ has admitted for the second time that the arrest of Shireen Mazari was done under abnormal circumstances. [The first occasion was while ordering her release, when IHC CJ Minallah reportedly remarked that what happened to Shireen Mazari was unfortunate].

The logical inference from these statements is that there were indeed very serious irregularities in actions of law enforcing agencies during Shireen Mazari’s arrest. Hence as a daughter and an advocate well-versed with the law and legal procedures, Ms Imaan had all the reasons [and the right] to question the ‘arrest’ of her mother and in exercising her right to freedom of expression, had articulated her suspicions. From the haste with which IHC dismissed this case, it’s evident that the judiciary has bailed out the army from getting cornered for “abuse of legal process” as sagaciously opined by Ms Imaan.

Reacting to the IHC CJ’s observation that “If the petitioner asks for forgiveness, what is left in the case?” the army’s Judge Advocate General [JAG] counsel made two points. One, that Ms Imaan hadn’t mentioned the word ‘forgiveness’ in her reply, and two, “If she has to apologise, she should do so in front of the media.” By and not insisting that given the seriousness charges levelled against her in the FIR, she should be brought to book and not allowed to get away with a mere regret, and wanting Ms Imaan to issue an apology before the media, it’s absolutely clear that for Pakistan army this case was nothing more than a public relations exercise to refurbish its deteriorating image!

So, despite her expression of ‘regret’, ultimately, it’s advocate Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir who has won hands down!