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There will be consequences

 

By Imtiaz Gul

The Friday Times, June 27, 2014

 

The biggest casualty in the recent violence is the rule of law.
What distinguishes Dr Tahirul Qadri from the militants operating out of the mountainous Waziristan region if viewed against the backdrop of the violence and lawlessness accompanying Qadri’s arrival on June 24th? Not much indeed because both:

a) reject the current political edifice and demand a revamp of the system according to their interpretation of welfare state,

b) question the legitimacy of the ruling elites and also doubt their commitment to people’s welfare,

c) act as self-proclaimed reformers of the society.

TTP’s foot-soldiers snipe and ambush security forces and people at large, while Qadri’s boys beat up the police in front of cameras. The TTP is being hunted by the army these days, while Qadri keeps projecting the armed forces as his only “credible interlocutors.” Both Qadri and TTP – and by implication their foot soldiers – treat law as rubbish.

There is a bigger concern – how expedient military and civilian rulers responded to challenges raised by the TTP and mavericks like Qadri by bending and breaking the law for the opposition to save their own skin.

What is the consequence? The erosion of the rule of law with every passing day. TV screens, for instance, were awash with images of baton-armed Qadri boys pouncing upon policemen in Lahore and Rawalpindi. Nearly three dozen landed in hospital. And the next day, the provincial government ordered the release of all the arrested hooligans, even including those who were subjecting law-enforcers to violence.

More importantly, diversion of the Emirates flight from Islamabad to Lahore exposed the panic as well as the sheer incompetence of the ruling clique. Little did they realize the damage accruing from this very act.

Secondly, by allowing Qadri to hold other passengers on board for several hours, the politicians and law enforcers trampled national international laws on civil aviation. What Qadri did amounted to an unruly conduct on board and for that there are very very clear regulations. The Tokyo Convention of 1963, for example, makes it unlawful to commit “acts which, whether or not they are offences [against the penal law of a State], may or do jeopardize the safety of the aircraft or of persons or property therein or which jeopardize good order and discipline on board.” The Tokyo Convention also vests authority in the Pilot in Command (PIC). Article 10 of the Tokyo Convention is of specific interest to crew members because it grants them immunity from subsequent legal proceedings for actions taken against a perpetrator. Also, the Clause 2 of the Iata Unruly Passenger Prevention and Management (December 2012 v) defines as “unruly” passengers who refuse “to follow a lawful instruction given by the aircraft commander, or on behalf of the aircraft commander by a crew member, for the purpose of ensuring the safety of the aircraft or of any person or property on board or for the purpose of maintaining good order and discipline on board.

The United Kingdom follows very strict disciplinary and safety guidelines on board. The UK “Guide To Handling Disruptive Passengers”, for instance, defines a disruptive passenger as: “Any passenger who, on an aircraft, carries out any action or pursues a course of conduct which is unlawful according to United Kingdom legislation or which may amount to an offence under the Air Navigation Order.”

It also lists three categories of such behavior:

Category 1: Aggressive or abusive but possible to influence. Compliance after staff intervention. Category2: Aggressive and not easily influenced. The passenger refuses to follow the instructions of staff and thus interferes with and hinders them in their duties.

Category 3: Physical violence, threats and other punishable behaviour.

Mr Qadri’s conduct fits the second category, and national or international airline/passenger safety regulations are not different either.

The pilot possesses magisterial powers under sections 113 and 118 of the Civil Aviation rules and could have requested Pakistani law enforcement agencies to expel Qadri. Some may argue that the refusal to disembark does not constitute a terrorist crime, yet it was quite obvious that his “unruly” behavior would have invoked direct intervention by the security forces elsewhere.

His refusal may have stemmed from the plane’s forced diversion but this effect does not entitle an individual Qadri to flout other laws. Nor does the forced diversion legitimize an offence that Qadri was reacting to.

As for the airline, it can petition the International Civil Aviation Organisation or the Airlines Operative Committee or even approach the International Court of Justice for damages for the forced diversion.

The entire episode in fact entails severe legal and political implications for a state which is already bruised and battered because of scant regard for the rule of law, as well as institutional violations of the law.

Firstly, the reluctance to forcibly (which would have been legitimate any way) evict Qadri from the foreign carrier, reflected extremely poor management of the event. How can a government allow images of a maverick from inside an aircraft go across the globe with him demanding the army be sent for talks with him. Why couldn’t have the government totally isolate Qadri by activating electronic signal jammers and keeping the plane off the media?

Secondly, why should the government accord a VIP status to an irrationally behaving individual when that person is grossly inconveniencing more than a hundred others; Sharif brothers and his ministers keep telling us they are struggling to improve the image of the country. Well, you don’t rehabilitate the image by allowing a person to stay put in a foreign airliner and then according him a VIP status by dispatching two governors to him, and also allowing the media to give him a grand reception.

Thirdly, what is the purpose and utility of PEMRA? What is the entity for if it cannot bar transmission of images that are a) extremely provocative for the national audience, and b) severely detrimental to the international image of the country.

Fourth, is the national media just a mirror of what is happening around or does it embody some sense of responsibility too? Is it permissible to go in a mindless pursuit of a person who probably considers himself the Pakistani equivalent of Fidel Castro – who keeps ranting on and on for hours, totally oblivious to whether he makes sense or not.

Fifth, the biggest casualty of the Qadri episode is the rule of law. The rulers first bent the law to go after “encroachments” around Qadri’s house and Minhajul Quran (ignoring thereby that encroachments have been common to their own houses in Model Town and Raiwind). The violent reaction by PAT supporters and the torturing of law enforcement personnel on June 24 also constitute major offenses. Letting all of them, including Qadri, get away with the offenses would amount to total disregard for, and the erosion of, the rule of law. And that is why this country would continue bleeding, primarily for the self-serving, whimsical attitude of civilian and military rulersz.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk