Courage… like faith, hope, and love, cannot be defined through the use of mere diction. It cannot be described with any exactitude. It exists outside the gates of language – at least my limited understanding of language – in the sphere of human spirit. Courage is born out the wedlock between faith and love. It travels in the company of hope. And it sleeps under the sky of passion.
Courage cannot always be constrained within our arbitrary barriers of law. It cannot always be measured on the scale of logical choices. It can often be dismissed as foolish languishes of a yearning soul. And those of us, who have the privilege of witnessing courage in our time, frequently do nothing to apply its lessons to our otherwise ordinary lives.
A person of courage, by its very construct, is condemned to live a solitary life in our shackled society. Death, and its promise of ‘la-mehdoodiyat’ (unrestraint truth), is perhaps the only worthy abode of a courageous life.
And so let it be with Chaudhry Aslam.
This brave individual – until a few days ago, serving as the tip of the sword in Karachi’s fight against militancy – was no stranger to peril. His colleagues in Sindh Police recall him as an intrepid soul. They claim that his life had been targeted by different terrorist groups, for almost a dozen time; but that Chaudhry Aslam would only recall the times that he had suffered some irreparable loss – the death of his accompanying constables, or the destruction of his residence.
Some years back, when his house was targeted and destroyed by TTP in a terrorist attack, a defiant Chaudhry Aslam appeared before the media channels and thundered, “They have put their hand in the Lion’s mouth. Now just watch what I do to them.” If he was flustered or scared, there was no way of telling the same from his persona. In the days and months that followed, this crumpled Shalwar Kameez wearing SP remained true to his words. His team, under Chaudhry Aslam’s command, apprehended several terrorists, foiling their murderous intentions, and risking their own life at each turn of the way.
Chaudhry Aslam’s counter-terrorism methods were frequently considered extreme – at least, when measured against the modern standards of criminal jurisprudence and human rights law. Having done counter-terrorism for over three decades, Chaudhry Aslam ascribed to the philosophy that a terrorist is a terrorist, and that he must be ‘eliminated’, even if a conviction cannot be procured under our porous evidence law regime. Having faced the business end of an AK-47 numerous times, justice, in his mind, was a simple mathematical equation of saving lives. If killing a terrorist suspect (even without court conviction) saved innocent lives, Chaudhry Aslam had no trouble pulling the trigger. And he slept in peace, in the faith… nay, the knowledge… that he had done the right thing! Knowing well that the comrades of a terrorist suspect that he had killed, would come back with a vengeance to equal the score.
And who was he taking this risk for? According to his own statements: “This is my city! I will not rest till I wipe out these terrorists from Karachi.”
This brand of meting-out justice summarily, is the very definition of extra-judicial killings. For the record, as a lawyer and believer in our justice system, I oppose all such acts. They militate against the fabric of our law, and demean us as a democratic society that is constructed around our Constitutional paradigm. Allowing security forces to execute suspected militants would make them a law unto themselves, unrestrained by any judicial oversight, and make a mockery of our justice system. And it is only through the passionate implementation of the justice system, that we can ever hope to stay loyal to our democratic ideals, and achieve a sustainable and virtuous peace in the process.
If Chaudhry Aslam could read this, he would laugh. He would tell me that I am just a kid, who does not understand how the real world works. In pursuit of ‘law and order’, the imperative to maintain ‘order’ trumps the nuances of following the ‘law’. The faceless enemy that we are fighting in the streets of Karachi, or in the remote areas of FATA, relies upon our implementation of the law – and lack of convictions therein – to murder with impunity. He would tell me that, in the past, almost all the terrorist suspects that his colleagues have presented before the courts, have been freed by our judicial system. He would then say that, to make matters worse, these terrorist suspects, once freed, have come back to target and kill all such police officers who apprehended or investigated them.
And then he would say (as he did during a 2012 press conference), that he would be able to answer Allah for his ‘illegal’ actions and methods of killing these terrorists. How will the lawyers and judges answer Allah for their actions of freeing the murderers?
What finally happens beyond this veil of life, is anyone guess. Chaudhry Aslam has cross over to the other side, accompanied by his actions and intentions. We, however, still have to grapple with ours.
There can be no denying the fact that our criminal justice system is broken. It has a weak anti-terrorism law, that neither protects the victims of terrorism, nor those who are fighting the war against terror. We have an evidence standard and Penal Code that is stuck in the colonial era; under which outdated requirements (such as ocular evidence) are necessary for conviction of terrorists. We have a court structure that is sclerotic in its pace, and feeble in its resolve. And we have a legal culture that celebrates the lawyers who challenge all modern legislative evolutions on the touchstone or Article 2A and Article 227 of the Constitution (all laws must conform the injunctions of Islam).
Hard as it is for a lawyer to accept, Chaudhry Aslam had point. His methods, as abhorrent to law as they might seem, were driven by a more brute (perhaps more honest) morality. His courage stemmed from an unshakable belief that the powers of ‘haq’ will inevitably prevail of those of ‘batil’.
As he is laid to rest, in the very soil of the place that he called “my city”, are we just going to sit, impotently, and let the TTP have the last laugh? Or can this episode jolt us out of our pitiful slumber, to enact a legal regime that convicts the terrorists, and protects our people?

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.

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