Dr Ammar Ali Jan, an academic in Lahore, was taken away at 4am on Saturday morning by a police team, including plainclothes person, who broke into his home without court warrants. His ‘crime’ was to attend a protest against the extrajudicial killing of Ibrahim Arman Loni, another academic, in Loralai district of Balochistan. The country’s constitution neither recognises protest as a crime nor condones extrajudicial killings by state personnel. To the contrary, protest is granted as a fundamental right in our constitution, and extrajudicial killing is among the most serious crimes. That what is written in the supreme text of the land is not how state personnel responsible for law and order and internal security act on the ground is an alarming thought, and citizens concerned with the sanctity of the constitution have been raising voice against the impunity enjoyed by such personnel for quite some time. However, such is the insulated nature of the highest executive and judicial offices in Islamabad that violations and excesses committed by their subordinates on an almost everyday basis doesn’t invoke any substantive action.
Thus, the first order of business for those at the helms in Islamabad should be to come clean to the Pakistani electorate. For this, they must be reminded that they cannot claim to be upholding the oath of their offices, while condoning violations of their subordinates at the same time. The two cannot carry on together, and as harsh as it may sound, the frequency of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, crackdown on peaceful protests, and muzzling of people’s right to speech suggests that at the moment none of the higher ups in Islamabad are truly upholding oaths of their offices.
The FIR registered against Dr Jan was such a hurried affair that it referred to laws about which state personnel couldn’t bring up any evidence in front of the sessions court that granted the academic’s plea for a bail. Alongside, the FIR also mentioned a colonial era law, introduced to deny the people their fundamental rights in the name of public order. Back then, it was an order imposed by an illegitimate regime. Today, we recognise the legitimacy of our state institutions on grounds that they will uphold the law, since the law reflects the will of our people. The only kind of order worth imposing, and guarding, is the order that flows from such democratically enacted laws. The Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) Ordinance that gets invoked at the whim of a commissioner, another legacy of the colonial times, does not stand for such a public order, and there must be no room for it in our statute books. The Parliament must, therefore, take cognisance and immediately repeal it as well as other colonial legacies in our law books.
The executive and the judicial authorities, meanwhile, should wake up to the crisis of legitimacy that keeps getting worse by day. The peaceful and law-abiding academics, intellectuals and dissenters in general will only strengthen the state and its contract with the people. The state must shun paranoia, and enable these critical voices in their endeavours.