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EDITORIALS

Violence in the House
People must punish the guilty MLAs
P
EOPLE are shocked at the ugly scenes in the Legislative Assemblies enacted by their representatives for the past two days. If it was the turn of UP on Tuesday, violence broke out at the premises of Andhra Pradesh Assembly on Wednesday.

SC pulls up CBI
Questions its seeking govt’s nod
T
HE Supreme Court has rightly pulled up the CBI for “acting at the behest” of the Centre in the disproportionate assets case against former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav and his relatives.

At flyers’ cost
Airlines getting away without punishment
M
AJOR airlines have hiked air fares, which they had reduced only a few weeks earlier. The flip-flop way they go about does not speak highly of their managements. The private and public operators have formed a cartel to jack up the fares violating the spirit of competition.



EARLIER STORIES

Deaths in custody
February 11, 2009
BJP in two minds
February 10, 2009
Nuke Khan is set free
February 9, 2009
To handcuff or not
February 8, 2009
Vanishing jobs
February 7, 2009
Resignation as a farce
February 6, 2009
Shorter the better
February 5, 2009
Trouble in EC
February 4, 2009
Terror networks intact
February 3, 2009
EC in crisis
February 2, 2009


ARTICLE

A Tribune Debate
CEC’s recommendation
Prevent the undermining of poll panel
by N. H. Hingorani
T
HE unseemly rift between the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), Mr N. Gopalaswami, and the Election Commissioner (EC), Mr Navin Chawla, has been hogging national attention for some time.

MIDDLE

An eye-opener
by Mohammad Imtiaz
D
URING childhood days, the word “school” sounded as “prison”, and the school bus seemed like a police van. I tried to make intelligent excuses to skip the school, but all proved foolish before the parents. They always had a solution for my fake headaches and other pains.

OPED

Democratic policing
Changes will make the police respect public liberty
by Swati Mehta
M
ANY lawyers across the country are protesting against the recent amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure that limit the discretion of the police to arrest people. As far back as 1976, the National Police Commission (NPC) had observed that about 60 per cent of the arrests are unnecessary from the point of view of crime prevention.

The lethal war on drugs
by Johann Hari
W
ITH the global economy collapsing all around us, the last issue President Barack Obama wants to talk about is the ongoing War on Drugs. But if he doesn’t – and fast – he may well have two collapsed and haemorrhaging countries on his hands. The first lies in the distant mountains of Afghanistan.

Inside Pakistan
Dr Q. Khan’s release: the game-plan
by Syed Nooruzzaman
T
HE court order declaring Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, known as the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, as a “free citizen” has led to interesting comments by the media, unlike what the government in Islamabad might have expected.





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Violence in the House
People must punish the guilty MLAs

PEOPLE are shocked at the ugly scenes in the Legislative Assemblies enacted by their representatives for the past two days. If it was the turn of UP on Tuesday, violence broke out at the premises of Andhra Pradesh Assembly on Wednesday. Displaying unprecedented behaviour, members in the Andhra House fought with marshals, and damaged windowpanes and flower-pots after the Speaker ordered suspension of 55 Opposition legislators for obstructing proceedings. They wanted discussion on allegations of financial irregularities indulged in by firms owned by the Chief Minister’s son. Whatever their demand, nothing can justify the manner in which they behaved. The Andhra incident reminds one of the pitched battles between the Treasury and Opposition benches in the UP Assembly in December 1993 and October 1997. Mikes and pieces of broken furniture were used as missiles to settle scores.

MLAs in UP have earned notoriety for indulging in what they did on Tuesday in the Assembly, where Opposition members, particularly those belonging to the Samajwadi Party and the Congress, did not allow the Governor, Mr T V Rajeshwar, to address the House on the opening day of its budget session. While the Congress legislators indulged in anti-government sloganeering, the SP MLAs heckled the Governor and threw paper balls at him. Their charge against the Governor was that he had been showing “softness” towards the Mayawati government, which they wanted to be dismissed. They seem to be in search of such pretexts to create disorder in the House.

Condemnation of the legislators’ action is not enough. The people who sent them to the House as their representatives must have taken note of their behaviour. Such elements, irrespective of the party they belong to, must be rejected by the voters in the coming elections. This will be the most appropriate punishment for them. The voters want their representatives to highlight their grievances by allowing peaceful conduct of the legislative business, and not by preventing the House to hold its sessions. The trouble, however, is that these days many of the people’s representatives have a shady past. They have only shown their class. The parties which gave them the ticket to contest the elections are also to blame for the shameful acts of these legislators. The party leaders have the responsibility to rein in their MLAs.

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SC pulls up CBI
Questions its seeking govt’s nod

THE Supreme Court has rightly pulled up the CBI for “acting at the behest” of the Centre in the disproportionate assets case against former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav and his relatives. The Bench consisting of Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice Cyriac Joseph questioned its rationale in seeking the Union Law Ministry’s opinion about withdrawal of its earlier application seeking to file the report on inquiry to the court. “Why did you file the interim application on the opinion of the Central government? It is incomprehensible”, the Bench observed. In the past few weeks, the CBI has been under flak for hushing up the case because of the new political equations between the Congress and the Samajwadi Party. The CBI’s decision to replace Mr Gopal Subramanium with Mr Mohan Parasaran as the counsel and then withdraw the application after taking the Law Ministry’s opinion are being viewed as the agency’s attempt to bury the assets case.

The CBI’s role once again raises questions about its independent and impartial character. On January 6, the Bench observed that it did not want the CBI to act as the government’s handmaiden. It had earlier rejected the Yadavs’ plea that the PIL filed by Mr Chaturvedi, a Congress activist, was “motivated”. While ordering a CBI probe, it ruled that an inquiry should not be shut out at the threshold only because a political opponent of a person raises an allegation of commission of offence. Subsequently, the Yadavs’ review petition could not be adjudicated after Justice A.R. Lakshmanan recused himself from hearing the case following an anonymous letter to him questioning his integrity.

Unfortunately, successive governments at the Centre have not implemented the Supreme Court’s order giving more autonomy to the CBI. In a key judgement delivered on December 18, 1997, the Bench consisting of Chief Justice J.S. Verma, Justice S.P. Bharucha and Justice S.C. Sen ruled that the CBI should operate under the superintendence of the Central Vigilance Commission (with due statutory status). It had also mandated the creation of a prosecution agency similar to that of the United Kingdom’s Director of Prosecutions which will, among others, fix responsibility on individual officers in cases where poor investigation leads to acquittals. Corruption in high places can be tackled effectively only when the CBI becomes truly autonomous from political influence.

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At flyers’ cost
Airlines getting away without punishment

MAJOR airlines have hiked air fares, which they had reduced only a few weeks earlier. The flip-flop way they go about does not speak highly of their managements. The private and public operators have formed a cartel to jack up the fares violating the spirit of competition. The gimmicks to lure flyers like offering air travel at Re 1 or Rs 99 too stand scrapped. The carriers claim there have been few takers for the promotional fares they had launched in mid-January and that the existing fares were unsustainable. Air fares should not change so frequently. Low fares may, perhaps, in the course of time bring back customers, who are opting for train travel in view of the economic squeeze. But high fares will definitely impel more of them to switch to trains.

The government had lowered the air fuel prices on the understanding that the benefit would be passed on to the customer and that the move would perk up the aviation sector. The managements have not just grabbed the cake but eaten it too, leaving the air passenger high and dry. The managements, actually, are making travellers pay for the follies they committed when the going was good. They had undertaken mindless expansion and placed orders for aircraft, regardless of the level of debt and little realising that a boom could well be followed by a bust.

Market forces often penalise reckless ambition and ensure that only the fittest survive. But the government, playing its usual protectionist role, has extended them a lifeline with taxpayers’ money so that they do not lay off staff in an election year. Instead of forcing air travellers to bear the burden of airlines’ inefficiency, the government should open up aviation to foreign investment so that bigger airlines can pump in money and expertise or take over the unviable ones and offer the flying community services at reasonable rates.

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Thought for the Day

Older men declare war. But it is youth who must fight and die.

— Herbert Hoover

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A Tribune Debate
CEC’s recommendation
Prevent the undermining of poll panel
by N. H. Hingorani

THE unseemly rift between the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), Mr N. Gopalaswami, and the Election Commissioner (EC), Mr Navin Chawla, has been hogging national attention for some time. The controversy has snowballed into a political issue with the UPA government imputing motives to the CEC for his recommendation to the President to remove the EC as also its propriety so close to the general election, and the BJP demanding the removal of the EC, lined up to be the next CEC.

The legality of the action of the CEC, a holder of a constitutional office, must necessarily be tested only on the touchstone of the Constitution. The very opening words of the Preamble of the Constitution emphasise the democratic character of the parliamentary system of government. Free and fair elections have been held by the Supreme Court to be part of the basic structure of the Constitution. Article 324 of the Constitution provides for the setting up of the Election Commission and vests the superintendence, direction and control of elections in the commission.

Article 324 (5) of the Constitution mandates that the CEC shall not be removed from his office except in the like manner and on the like grounds as a Supreme Court judge. Such protection is, however, not available to an EC in respect of whom Article 324 (5) merely provides that he or she shall not be removed except on the recommendation of the CEC.

The issue, therefore, boils down to the question: at whose instance can the CEC make the recommendation for the removal of the EC? The government and the EC argue that someone (read the President or the government) should first seek the recommendation of the CEC before he can give such recommendation. The BJP and the CEC contend that the CEC has suo motu powers to make a recommendation on his own.

It will be instructive to refer to the 1965 decision of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in Brundaban’s case, which related to the matter as to who can raise a question as to the disqualification of a sitting member of the state legislature which, in terms of Article 192 of the Constitution, is to be decided by the state’s Governor. Article 192 (1) of the Constitution simply states that if any such question arises, it shall be referred for a decision to the Governor. The contention raised before the Supreme Court was that “there should be some referring authority which makes the reference of the question to the Governor for his decision” which, “by necessary implication”, would be the Speaker of the legislative assembly and not an “ordinary citizen”.

The Supreme Court disagreed. The court took the view that Article 192 (1) of the Constitution simply requires the question to arise and that “how it arises, by whom it is raised, in what circumstances it is raised, are not relevant for the purpose of application of this clause”.

On a parity of reasoning, Article 324 (5) of the Constitution simply talks about the recommendation of the CEC to remove the EC. How the recommendation came to be made, at whose instance it was made and in what circumstances it was made are not relevant for the purpose of application of Article 324 (5). In other words, there is nothing in Article 324 (5) of the Constitution to limit the power of the CEC to make a suo motu recommendation for the removal of an EC.

This view of the matter is also consistent with the intention of the framers of the Constitution to exclude executive interference in matters relating to elections so as to strengthen the independence, impartiality and credibility of the Election Commission. Take a situation where an EC is found guilty of, say, partisanship, corruption or moral turpitude. Surely the express constitutional power of the CEC to make a recommendation to remove the EC cannot be held hostage to the expedience of the executive to first seek such recommendation. It would clearly be destructive of the rule of law to reduce the CEC to a silent spectator.

As far as the present controversy is concerned, 205 Members of Parliament had in the past given a memorandum to the Central Government for the removal of the EC. The BJP had even moved the apex court in this regard. The CEC had before him the material against the EC. The CEC undoubtedly had the constitutional power to make a recommendation for the removal of the EC.

The timing of the recommendation so close to the general election is, of course, inconvenient. But then, it has been suggested that the CEC made the recommendation to pre-empt the appointment of a tainted EC as the next CEC, who would then enjoy the constitutional protection against his removal except in the like manner and on the like grounds as a Supreme Court judge. That, experience tells us, is such a cumbersome process that it virtually becomes impossible to remove a judge, and similarly a CEC.

Such a prospect adds to the urgency to have the current controversy settled as soon as possible. The casualty, otherwise, would be the Election Commission as an institution and the democratic polity as a whole.

The writer is Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India. The previous articles on the subject were by B.G. Verghese (Feb 9) and by Ramaswamy R. Iyer (Feb 11).

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An eye-opener
by Mohammad Imtiaz

DURING childhood days, the word “school” sounded as “prison”, and the school bus seemed like a police van.

I tried to make intelligent excuses to skip the school, but all proved foolish before the parents. They always had a solution for my fake headaches and other pains.

While crossing the mini gate of the school, I said to my uncle, who was taking me there, “See, gate is shut. It means school is closed today.” “Don’t worry! If main gate is closed, I will get you back,” he replied calmly. And obviously, the gate was open.

But one day, I decided not to go to school come what may. I made a well-thought-out plan: How could mummy send her dearest thing to school while his eyes were not well?

“Lucky, get up! It’s time for school, my son.” She picked me in her lap and went to the bathroom. My eyes were closed. She put off my clothes, bathed me; but I didn’t open the eyes.

“Open your eyes, my boy,” she asked me, not giving much attention.

“I don’t know what has happened to my eyes! They are not opening.”

“Open, open, naughty! You can’t have an off today.”

But I was firm in my decision.

“What has happened to his eyes?” uncles and aunts got worried. Now mummy realised something wrong had happened to her dearest one, “We should get him to the doctor.” “I think, we should call the doctor here only,” someone suggested. A wave of worry ran through the house.

The matter attracted the attention of daddy, who was getting ready to go for his duty.

“I know what has happened to his eyes,” He said, and a strong slap landed on my left cheek. My eyes were open and I could see the ghost-like figure of daddy standing before me.

After some time, I was waiting for the school bus.

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Democratic policing
Changes will make the police respect public liberty
by Swati Mehta

MANY lawyers across the country are protesting against the recent amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure that limit the discretion of the police to arrest people. As far back as 1976, the National Police Commission (NPC) had observed that about 60 per cent of the arrests are unnecessary from the point of view of crime prevention.

The NPC also estimated that 43.2 per cent of the expenditure in the jails was over such prisoners as in the ultimate analysis need not have been arrested at all. Both the NPC and the Law Commission have suggested amending the law relating to arrest.

The recent Cr.P.C. amendments are based entirely on the recommendations of the Law Commission. Prior to the amendment, the police could arrest any person who “has been concerned in” any cognizable offence.

The Law Commission correctly observed that the expression “concerned in” “is ambiguous and vague - and vagueness or ambiguity is not permitted when…dealing with the liberty of a citizen….”

Those opposed to the amendments argue that the police is now prohibited from arresting any person who is alleged to have committed an offence punishable with imprisonment up to seven years and this will lead to major law and order problems.

This is incorrect. The recently amended law dealing with arrests merely requires the police to exercise its erstwhile extremely wide powers of arrest judiciously.

The new law envisages two situations where arrest may be required. First, if the offence is committed in the presence of a police officer. In this case, the power of the officer to arrest is unrestricted, irrespective of the quantum of the prescribed punishment.

In the second situation, the officer may receive information from a third party that a particular person has committed an offence.

It is in such a case, that the police is now required to identify whether the offence is punishable with imprisonment up to a maximum of seven years.

Where the prescribed period of punishment is more than seven years, the police can arrest the suspect so long as two conditions are satisfied. The information that the suspect has committed an offence is “credible” and on the basis of that information, the police has a “reason to believe” that the suspect has committed the offence.

Where the maximum period of prescribed imprisonment is seven years or less, the police can arrest only if three pre-conditions are satisfied. The first two conditions are the same as above.

In addition, the officer can arrest only if he is “satisfied” that an arrest is “necessary” for any of the reasons laid down in law.

The reasons range from preventing the suspect from committing any further offence, or from tampering with evidence, or influencing witnesses to the necessity of arrest for the proper investigation of the offence, ensuring the suspect’s presence in court, and even for ensuring the suspect’s safety. A further condition is that the police officer must record the reasons for arrest in writing.

The amended law allows the police to issue a “notice of appearance” to a suspect instead of arresting him. The suspect is required to comply with the terms of the notice and cooperate with the investigation.

A refusal to comply empowers the police to arrest the person. Indeed, the person may be arrested despite compliance with the notice for reasons to be recorded. Clearly, there is no bar against arresting suspects.

The law rightly requires that the power of arrest should not be extremely wide, unguided and arbitrary. Once the conditions laid down in law are satisfied, police can make arrests.

One of the concerns being voiced is that abusive the husbands can now behave with impunity, given that they cannot be arrested.

Even a cursory glance at the law indicates this is not true. The police can arrest an abusive husband to prevent him from committing any further offence or to prevent him from threatening the woman “so as to dissuade” her “from disclosing …facts to the court or the police officer”.

Interestingly, the Law Commission had also considered “the argument that there must be fear of the police in the public (for an efficient discharge of the functions of the police to maintain law and order)” and dismissed it as “a hangover of the colonial past, where it suited the colonial power to have a (lower) bureaucracy alienated from people but loyal to its masters.”

“In a democratic society, the police should also be imbued with the democratic spirit and a spirit of service towards the people….”

The amended law of arrest is a laudable attempt on the part of the government to imbibe the police with this “democratic spirit” by respecting liberty of the people.

The amended law of arrest does much to encourage democratic policing. It clarifies that no police officer can arrest except in accordance with the law and that arrests in case of non-cognizable offences can only be made under a warrant or order of a magistrate.

To discourage illegal arrest and detention, and check custodial torture or extra judicial killings, the law mandates that the arresting officer must “bear an accurate, visible and clear identification of his name”.

He must “prepare a memorandum of arrest”, which must be “attested by at least one witness” and “countersigned by the person arrested”.

To ensure that families can locate the arrested person and assure themselves of his well-being, the law requires the state government to establish a police control room in every district and at the state level.

The district control room will display the names and addresses of an arrested person, and the name and designation of an officer who made the arrest.

The state-level control room will “maintain a database for the information of the general public”.

The new law guarantees a right to the arrested person to meet a lawyer of his choice during the interrogation. These are all very important safeguards which must be welcomed.

Indeed, the Supreme Court had mandated the police to follow these safeguards through its guidelines in the D.K. Basu case, but these were not being enforced.

The legislature has decided to step in and check police excesses during arrest. There may well be valid concerns about the various other provisions that the new law amends, but arrest provisions certainly do not deserve the flak they are getting.

There can be no argument in a democratic society that the power of the police to arrest people must be exercised within the strict parameters laid down clearly in the law. Those critiquing the provisions would be well advised to read them closely.

The writer is a consultant with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

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The lethal war on drugs
by Johann Hari

WITH the global economy collapsing all around us, the last issue President Barack Obama wants to talk about is the ongoing War on Drugs. But if he doesn’t – and fast – he may well have two collapsed and haemorrhaging countries on his hands. The first lies in the distant mountains of Afghanistan. The second is right next door, on the other side of the Rio Grande.

Here’s a starter for 10 about where this war has led us. Where in the world are you most likely to be beheaded? Where are the severed craniums of police officers being found week after week in the streets, pinned to bloody notes that tell their colleagues, “this is so that you learn respect”?

Where are hand grenades being tossed into crowds to intimidate the public into shutting up? Which country was just named by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff as the most likely after Pakistan to suffer a “rapid and sudden collapse”?

Most of us would guess Iraq. The answer is Mexico. The death toll in Tijuana today is higher than in Baghdad. The story of how this came to happen is the story of this war – and why it will have to end, soon.

When you criminalise a drug for which there is a large market, it doesn’t disappear. The trade is simply transferred from chemists and doctors to gangs. In order to protect their patch and their supply routes, these gangs tool up – and kill anyone who gets in their way.

You can see this any day on the streets of London or Los Angeles, where teen gangs stab or shoot each other for control of the 3,000 per cent profit margins on offer. Now imagine this process on a countrywide scale, and you have Mexico and Afghanistan today.

Why Mexico? Why now? In the past decade, the US has spent a fortune spraying carcinogenic chemicals over Colombia’s coca-growing areas, so the drug trade has simply shifted to Mexico. It’s known as the “balloon effect”: press down in one place, and the air rushes to another.

The cartels offer Mexican police and politicians a choice: plato o plomo. Silver or lead. Take a bribe, or take a bullet. Juan Camilo Mourino, the Interior Secretary, admits the cartels have so corrupted the police they can’t guarantee the safety of the public any more. So the US is trying to militarise the attack on the cartels in Mexico, offering tanks, helicopters and hard cash.

The same process has happened in Afghanistan. After the toppling of the Taliban, the country’s bitterly poor farmers turned to the only cash crop that earns them enough to keep their kids alive: opium.

It now makes up 50 per cent of the country’s GDP. The drug cartels have a bigger budget than the elected government, so they have left the young parliament, police force and army riddled with corruption and virtually useless. The US reacted by declaring “war on opium”.

The German magazine Der Spiegel revealed that the NATO commander has ordered his troops to “kill all opium dealers”. Seeing their main crop destroyed and their families killed, many have turned back to the Taliban in rage.

What is the alternative? Terry Nelson was one of America’s leading federal agents tackling drug cartels for over 30 years. He discovered the hard way that the current tactics are useless. “Busting top traffickers doesn’t work, since others just do battle to replace them,” he explains.

But there is another way: “Legalising and regulating drugs will stop drug market violence by putting major cartels out of business. It’s the one sure-fire way to bankrupt them, but when will our leaders talk about it?”

Of course, the day after legalisation, a majority of gangsters will not suddenly join the Hare Krishnas and open organic food shops. But their profit margins will collapse as their customers go to off-licences and chemists, so the incentives for staying in crime will largely end.

We don’t have to speculate about this. When alcohol was legalised, the murder-rate fell off a cliff – and continued to drop for the next 10 years. (Rates of alcoholism, revealingly, remained the same.) No, Obama doesn’t want to spend his political capital on this. He is the third consecutive US President to have used drugs in his youth, but he knows this is a difficult issue, where he could be tarred by his opponents as “soft on crime”.

Yet remember: opinions are febrile in a depression. At the birth of the last great downturn, support for alcohol prohibition was high; within five years, it was gone.

The Harvard economist Professor Jeffrey Miron has calculated that drug prohibition costs the US government $44.1bn per year – and legalisation would raise another $32.7bn on top of that in taxes if drugs were taxed like alcohol. (All this money would, in a sane world, be shifted to drug treatment.)

Can the US afford to force this failing policy on the world – especially when it guarantees the collapse both of the country they are occupying and their own neighbour? Drug addiction is always a tragedy for the addict – but drug prohibition spreads the tragedy across the globe.

We still have a chance to take drugs back into the legal regulated economy, before it’s too late for Mexico and Afghanistan and graveyards-full of more stabbed kids on the streets of Britain. Obama – and the rest of us – have to choose: controlled regulation or violent prohibition? Healthcare or warfare?

— By arrangement with The Independent

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Inside Pakistan
Dr Q. Khan’s release: the game-plan
by Syed Nooruzzaman

THE court order declaring Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, known as the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, as a “free citizen” has led to interesting comments by the media, unlike what the government in Islamabad might have expected. Some of the English language dailies have expressed the view that the Pakistan government has only added to its problems by reaching a “secret agreement” with the irresponsible nuclear scientist. But the government is believed to have taken the step as part of a political game-plan.

As Daily Times points out, “One can say that today two deposed personalities, Dr Khan and Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, ride the crest of public acclaim; and the government may have ‘freed’ Dr Khan to reduce the pressure Justice Chaudhry may bring on it with his Long March.”

The paper adds that both personalities are “being used as pawns by the politicians in their internecine battles”. Whatever the Asif Zardari regime’s calculations, “Dr Khan’s release is not going to blunt the edge of general disapproval of the PPP government. Dr Khan says he will spend the rest of his life spreading education in the country, but what he might actually spread is more trouble for the government through carefully structured statements in the Press.”

There are reports that the government is not allowing free movement to Dr Khan after the court verdict drew adverse comment from the West, particularly the US. What is the new scheme of Islamabad may be known in the coming few days.

Detention camps

Are there secret torture cells and detention camps maintained by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies? Going by what Mrs Amina Masood Janjua, Chairperson of the Defence of Human Rights, Pakistan, says, such camps may be a reality. Handling of a case relating to thousands of missing persons was one of the factors that had led to Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry being deposed during the regime of Gen Pervez Musharraf.

In an open letter addressed to the US Special Representative to Pakistan-Afghanistan, Mr Richard Holbrooke, carried in The News (Feb 11), Mrs Janjua points out: “Since 9/11, violation of domestic and international law has been legitimised under the aegis of the US-led war on terror. As a consequence of this, even within Pakistan many people have been picked up and detained in secret detention camps and torture cells run by the intelligence agencies.

“These illegal detention facilities were monitored, controlled and financed by elements that are part of the US government. It is my humble appeal to you to take interest in this matter so that the fate of our loved ones who are rotting in these cells for years without end may change for the better.”

Mrs Janjua’s husband is also one of those rotting in these secret camps for four years, though “he has not been charged for any crime and his family has not been allowed any contact with him”.

The feared Long March

The coming few days are crucial for the PML(N)-led government in Pakistan’s Punjab province. PML(N) leader Nawaz Sharif’s decision to take part in the agitation for judicial independence has reportedly disturbed the PPP leadership so much so that it is looking for a possible alliance with the PML(Q), once patronised by Gen Pervez Musharraf (retd), according to The Frontier Post. This indicates that the PPP may think of withdrawing from the coalition government in the province.

Whether the PML(N)-led government survives after the lawyers’ Long March remains to be seen. But all this is bound to add to the already tense relationship between the two principal political parties in Pakistan.

Deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry told in Lahore on February 8 that “a strong bar, backing of political parties and support of the common people” were necessary for ensuring the independence of the judiciary, according to a report in The News. When he said this he was obviously referring to the support he had been getting from Mr Sharif’s party. The former Prime Minister is unlikely to change his stand on the judicial issue as it has led to a considerable increase in his popularity.

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