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IHC threatens government authorities with contempt charges over non-compliance

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News Analysis |

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) Justice Shaukat Siddiqui resumed the hearing of a case on Friday related to the dharna (sit-in) at Faizabad Interchange in the capital last year. Justice Siddiqui was vexed over the non-submission of Raja Zafarul Haq’s Committee Report regarding the Election Act 2017. The IHC had also summoned interior and defense secretaries to submit their responses.

“Despite their differences, the government and defence seem to be on the same page when it comes to not submitting the report,” he remarked after the defence secretary failed to submit a report about the agreement between the protestors and the government to end the dharna. Justice Siddiqui also inquired from the defence secretary why the name of the army chief was mentioned in the agreement.

Experts believe it is very unlikely that contempt cases will actually be filed against government officials but the threat made forced them to act on the government’s orders.

“The concerned officials will be charged with contempt of court if they do not submit the report,” Justice Siddiqui warned interior and defence secretary if they failed to submit the reports. Deputy Attorney General Arshad Kiyani informed the court that the Raja Zafarul Haq report was missing the signature of one member so it could not be submitted in it.

The court instructed the defence secretary to resubmit the report regarding the agreement between protestors and the government. Justice Siddiqui was incensed that the judiciary was ridiculed, the Supreme Court of Pakistan was abused at Faizabad by the protestors and yet the government signed an agreement with them. The Director General of Intelligence Bureau (DG-IB) Aftab Sultan was also present in the court during the hearing.

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The court inquired him about the audio recording that went viral on social media. The DG-IB replied that they lacked the technology to identify the voice and when Justice Siddiqui asked him whether he knew about any other Pakistani institution that could recognize it, he responded that he was not aware if they were. “What kind of intelligence chief are you if you are unaware of something so publicly known?”

The reluctance of the government and intelligence agencies to share the Zafarul Haq report and the report regarding the agreement with the protestors adds more suspicion to the case.

Justice Siddiqui remarked at the DG-IB’s statement. Justice Siddiqui vowed that he will not allow the matter to be swept under the carpet. Tehreek-e-Labbaik supporters took to the streets and blocked the Faizabad interchange on 6th November 2017, after the government failed to meet their demands. They wanted the Law Minister Zahid Hamid to resign for an amendment in a clause pertaining to Khatam-e-Nabuwat.

The government failed to satisfy the protesters demands even after repeated attempts. The protest got out of hand for the civilian government to handle after a botched police operation. The government invoked Article 245 of the Constitution, and called the military for help. The military refused to use force against the protesters. Later, Law Minister Zahid Hamid had to resign to end the twenty-two day long sit-in.

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The Faizabad dharna and its ending is considered an enigma by political and media experts. The twenty-two day long sit-in ended abruptly when the army stepped in which made many political analysts speculate that the army might have a hand in it. There were media reports stating that the dharna might be facilitated by forces within the PML-N to weaken the central government and help Shehbaz Sharif to become the chief of the party.

The concerned officials will be charged with contempt of court if they do not submit the report,” Justice Siddiqui warned interior and defence secretary if they failed to submit the reports.

The reluctance of the government and intelligence agencies to share the Zafarul Haq report and the report regarding the agreement with the protestors adds more suspicion to the case. Media analysts believe that attempts are being made to bury the case since media circles are no longer talking about it and it is not brought up in political discussions.

The case in IHC is the only remaining forum where the issue is still being discussed and still the authorities are not giving anything to the IHC. Experts believe it is very unlikely that contempt cases will actually be filed against government officials but the threat made forced them to act on the government’s orders.