Former judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Javed Iqbal, had an interesting day with the Senate Standing Committee on Interior on December 19.
Justice Iqbal headed the Abbottabad Commission set up to investigate the US Navy Seals’ raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a compound cheek-by-jowl with the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul.
He is also the chairman of the Commission on Enforced Disappearances. There was an interesting exchange between Justice Iqbal and the members of the committee on the work of both commissions. As far as the Abbottabad Commission is concerned, Justice Iqbal told the committee that despite the passage of three years since the Commission’s report was submitted to the prime minister, it has yet to be made public or its recommendations implemented.
He pointed out that the shelving of commission reports after every important incident had left the impression that commissions are set up merely to ride out the immediate storm and their reports left to collect dust while the public forgets the issue. It turns out that one version of the Abbottabad Commission’s report was leaked by an international media organisation in 2013.
However, one commission member, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, told the Senate Committee on Defence in 2013 that the leaked report was a first draft and not the final version. Reportedly, the final copy was a watered down version of the leaked draft, which was highly critical of the armed forces, particularly the ISI, both for its failures and stymying the growth of civilian intelligence agencies. The final report also reportedly carried a 40-page strongly worded note of dissent by Qazi, as well as Justice Javed Iqbal’s observations on the note. Qazi and another commission member, Lieutenant General Nadeem Ahmed (retired), wrote separate first drafts in the light of differences that cropped up among the members over fixing responsibility.
It was left to Justice Iqbal to ‘reconcile’ the two drafts, but Qazi disagreed with the Justice over attempts to ‘play safe’, a disagreement that was reflected in Qazi’s dissenting note. The phrase “collective failure” was reportedly inserted in the report on Justice Iqbal’s suggestion since he did not want particular individuals or institutions blamed.
The attempt was to show that all institutions of the state shared the ignominy that culminated in the May 2, 2010 debacle. On the missing persons’ issue, Justice Iqbal stretched credulity to the breaking point by claiming there were only 96 such persons in Baluchistan, and most of them had fled to Afghanistan or Geneva. He pooh-poohed the figures of thousands of missing persons in Balochistan as “highly exaggerated”.
This assertion was based on the premise that the commission had repeatedly asked all stakeholders to submit lists of the names and addresses of the alleged thousands of missing persons but no such list was ever given to the commission from any quarter. To put icing on this cake, the then interior minister, Senator Rehman Malik, made the absurd statement that Indian RAW agents were killing and dumping the dead bodies of people all over the province to destabilise Pakistan while camouflaging themselves in the uniforms of the FC or law enforcement agencies. On the first count, Justice Iqbal was taken to task by the Baloch members of the committee by pointing out that even reporting a family member missing was not free of risk in Baluchistan.
Hence the absence of ‘lists’. Only Rehman Malik however can explain how bullet-riddled bodies dumped all over the province can be explained by the ‘uniform’ ploy, since the perpetrators of such extrajudicial killings don’t exactly hang around to have their bona fides checked.
In Pakistan, the routine has been that commission reports are seldom made public, let alone their recommendations implemented. The mother of such reports, the Hamoodur Rehman Commission report on the fall of Dhaka has still to officially see the light of day, and what little we know of it is through the good offices of a leak by Indian media some years ago.
Needless to say, when a commission report is suppressed, it is reasonable to assume that no lessons have been learnt, recommendations remain unimplemented, and we are condemned to repeat the same mistakes ad nauseam. It is time to reverse this opaqueness.
The public has the right to know what the findings of such reports are, and then to assess whether the authorities have carried out their recommendations in the interests of state and society.