Commissions galore

Whenever something goes seriously wrong in Pakistan, a favoured mechanism to defuse tensions and avoid embarrassing disclosures is to form a commission to ‘get to the bottom’ of things. After the May 2 incident, in which Osama bin Laden was killed by an elite team of US Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, the need for an unbiased and speedy investigation was felt by all quarters. That is why it is becoming harder and harder to believe that with such immense scrutiny of any such investigation, those at the helm of affairs have shown grave incompetence in the actual formation of the commission. First, a five-member commission was supposed to be headed by Supreme Court (SC) Justice Javed Iqbal but he agreed to accept only on the condition that Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry permit his appointment (the CJ was initially not consulted).Plenty of hullabaloo followed in which Asma Jahangir, the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, stated that a commission that bypassed the CJ violated established practice. Leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar, also had a bone to pick with the government as he claimed that, irrespective of the rules for selecting members of a commission and setting out the terms of reference, the opposition had not been consulted. He claimed that it had no say in who was to be appointed in this commission. Without such consultation, the commission does not have the blessings of the opposition.

In what can only be considered a belated afterthought, the CJ has been sent a formal letter by Federal Law and Justice Secretary Masood Chishti asking him to appoint a judicial head of the commission — something that should have been done ab initio so that the commission’s credibility would not be compromised. The May 2 commission is no laughing matter; it concerns the country’s sovereignty, the fact that the world’s most wanted terrorist had safe haven in our neck of the woods, and our fraught relationship with the US. To dilly-dally on this investigation is either to flaunt one’s incompetence or try to waste enough time to let tensions dilute somewhat.

And it is not just this commission. The inquiry into the brutal murder of journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad has also been handled in the same haphazard manner with the CJ only now being asked to appoint a judge to head it.Both these commissions have potential — the potential to unveil the truth about some powerful people and institutions’ alleged involvement. Either this lopsided attempt to form both commissions reeks of ill intent or is a ruse to defuse the situation without really doing anything. As far as Saleem Shahzad is concerned, his commission merely looks like a placebo to calm the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, which is up in arms against the murder of one of its own.

The whole point of commissions such as these should be to find out the truth without fear or favour. The May 2 commission is all about investigating whether an intelligence failure did transpire and our readiness to prevent/combat such a foreign raid. Chaudhry Nisar’s recommendation that the commission be constituted under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1956 is legitimate, as all its findings should be brought before parliament. So far, the government’s terms of reference are so weak that the commission is not allowed to summon any government official or get hold of sensitive documents. How any such inquiry can ever bring forth unbiased results is a moot point. The commission’s mandate must be delved into so that a timeframe and undeterred access to persons and documents is provided to its members. If there are skeletons rattling around in these cupboards, it would serve the overall interests of the country if these are brought out of the closet into the clear light of day. – Dailytimes