The Interior Ministry, and in particular the (worthy?) Minister, has filed objections before the honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan, against observations made by Justice Faez Isa in his report concerning the August 2016 terrorist attacks on lawyers in Quetta. Without mincing too many words, the reply submitted on behalf of Ch. Nisar and his Ministry term Justice Isa’s report as ‘unnecessary, uncalled for and violative of natural justice’.

In no uncertain terms, this places the Interior Minister at loggerheads with a judge of the honourable Supreme Court (who will be Chief Justice in a few years).

Before delving into the substance of the objections raised by the Interior Minister, it is important to briefly recap the observations made by Justice Isa in his Quetta Commission Report (the Report).

On the orders of the honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan, in Suo Motu Case No.16 of 2016, Justice Isa’s Commission inquired into the terrorist attack that claimed the lives of more than 75 innocent souls (mostly lawyers) in Quetta. The resulting report read as a damning indictment of the law enforcement apparatus, and in particular NACTA and the Interior Minister. To this, the Report made five important disclosures: 1) there was no comprehensive list of proscribed organisations, available to public, which provided details about the activities of the said organisations, or why these had been proscribed; 2) outfits that had repeatedly claimed responsibility for terrorist acts across Pakistan, including Jamat-ul-Ahrar and Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ), had not been included in the list of proscribed organisations, under section 11B of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997; 3) even when certain factions within the bureaucracy (e.g. Chief Secretary of Balochistan) had recommended that the concerned organisations be included in the list of banned outfits, the incumbent Federal Government had resisted doing so, hiding behind needless red-tape of ‘consultation’ between different agencies and departments; 4) the Federal Minister for Interior, Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan, had repeatedly and consistently resisted banning militant organisations of a specific sectarian bent; and 5) unforgivably, even after the occurrence of repeated terrorist attacks, the Federal Minister for Interior had met with Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, leader of several banned militant outfits (including SSP, Millat-e-Islamia and ASWJ), at the plush premises of Punjab House, Islamabad, and “heard his demands”.

The Report concluded with 26 finding and 18 recommendations. And some of them relate directly to the Minister of Interior.

In particular, the Report observed that that the Interior Minister (as the official primarily responsible for internal security in Pakistan) had, inter alia, “displayed little sense of ministerial responsibility”, “called only one meeting of the Executive Committee of NACTA in over three and a half years”, “violated the decisions of the Executive Committee of NACTA”, “met the head of a proscribed organisation, widely reported in the media with his photograph, but still denied doing so”, “accepted the demands of the proscribed organisation regarding CNICs”, “inexplicably delayed in proscribing terrorist organisations”, and “not proscribed a well known terrorist organisation”.

Since publication of this Report, the Interior Minister has spent a considerable amount of time and effort trying to refute the claims made therein. To this end, the Interior Minister has tried to explained that the October 21, 2016 meeting, held at Punjab House in Islamabad, in which the Minister met with, inter alia, Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi (leader of three banned organisations — Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan, Millat-i-Islamia and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ)), was actually a meeting with a delegation of Difa-e-Pakistan Council, which is not a proscribed organisation. Further, the Minister claims that the ATA does not prohibit pubic functionaries from meeting individuals who are on the Fourth Schedule, in case they are seeking lawful redressal of their grievances.

Sounds great! Would the worthy Minister also clarify whether he intends to make Punjab House premises available for all criminals and murders to express their grievances? Because PPC also does not prohibit the Minister from meeting child molesters, rapists, and dacoits, in order to redress their “lawful” grievances. And, in this case, will the Minister also meet with the families of victims who lost their lives in attacks carried out by organisations/supporters of Maulana Ludhianvi? Can a red carpet be rolled out for them too? Or are the Shias who lost their lives in Quetta (and kept coffins waiting on the road, in order to have their ‘lawful’ demands heard) just on the wrong side of the “1,300 year old war”, as far as the Minister is concerned?

Also, the worthy Minister, in his objections filed before the honourable Supreme Court, claims that he did not grant permission or NOC to the ASWJ rally held at Hockey Ground in G-6 Aabpara on October 28, 2016; instead, such matters fall within the domain of Islamabad Capital Territory administration, and the Interior Ministry does not exercise any control over the same. This is even better news! In that case, can the worthy Minister please explain his personal involvement on the night that PTI supporters landed in ICT, in 2014? Why did the Minister not let ICT administration do their job, instead of personally surveying all arrangements? And in case the ICT administration is independent in its decision-making, taking no directions form the Interior Minister, can the worthy Minister also explain who changed the police and district administration in ICT during PTI’s rally? Can he point out why Mohamamd Ali Nekokara was not allowed to act independently, when he refused to obey orders issued by the Interior Minister? Why was he dismissed from service, and humiliated by the government? Or is independence of ICT administration only in force when the Federal Government wants to isolate itself from responsibility, while implicitly supporting the causes of banned outfits such as ASWJ?

In a press conference, some days back, the worthy Interior Minister asked if it was “illegal” to suggest that separate laws should be framed to deal with groups that have been proscribed on “sectarian basis”. Let us end the suspense for him: yes, Minister Sb., it is! Such legislation, which discriminates between ‘good terrorist’ and ‘bad terrorist’, would violate Article 25 of the Constitution. Why should an organisation that kills innocent people in the name of religion (e.g. TTP) be any different from one that kills in the name of Sunni-ism or anti-Ahmedi-ism (ASWJ, SSP, LeJ, etc.)? What part of the Constitution (since the honourable Minister is fond of quoting the law) allows the Interior Ministry to differentiate between the value and virtue of different human lives? What section of the law deems the killing of Shias or other minorities as a different or lesser crime?

These are unprecedented times; and we are in the midst of fighting an existential battle against extremism in this land. The worthy Interior Minister should do us all a favour by either joining hands against the forces of evil, or getting out of the way so that someone else can do the job.