IN recent days, Punjab has emerged as a territory occupied by a brutal police force. The response to a series of custodial deaths has either been outright ridiculous — as in the case of banning smartphones to prevent any unwanted footage from escaping premises that are manned by policemen — or confused and disorderly. The latest gory chapter began with the appearance of Salahuddin Ayubi, the ‘ordinary Pakistani’ who was nabbed while allegedly attempting to steal from an ATM machine and who later died while under police interrogation. Given the impunity with which the law enforcers operate, it is no surprise that others have since also made the list of victims of police brutality. The custodial deaths have caused a stir, with many demanding police reforms in a country where accountability is still selective and where the institutions supposedly meant to monitor excesses against the people are either completely ignored or woefully underutilised. In this regard, the National Human Rights Commission, which has been dysfunctional for many months now, is a case in point. The IG Punjab is scheduled to appear before the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights today, amid apprehensions that this opportunity for lawmakers to propose improvements may be lost because of the existing polarisation in parliament. It is apparent that the PPP-proposed Torture, Custodial Death and Custodial Rape (Prevention and Punishment) Bill, 2015, did not catch the fancy of a divided National Assembly, which failed to pass the piece of legislation in the stipulated 90 days. But lawyers say that the laws are very much there. There are sufficient legal provisions in place, not least courtesy of Police Order 2002, which governs the workings of the force in Punjab. And a basic on-the-spot remedy recalls that a magistrate can be asked to investigate custodial deaths under the Code of Criminal Procedure.
The government of Punjab has moved towards establishing some kind of a larger board, comprising people from various walks of life, to oversee police functioning. Also, as opposed to a system where the violation of rules is an ailment exclusively afflicting low-ranking policemen, senior members in the hierarchy have now been warned that it is they who will be held responsible for any excesses committed under their watch.
These may all be useful ways of dealing with an increasingly desperate situation, and the suggestion that everyone should be bound by the existing laws makes eminent sense. But what is also needed is for both the people and the authorities to avoid the strange logic that accepts, justifies and condones brutal and illegal police violence in all its manifestations inside the thanas, the improvised lockups and indeed in public spaces. The job of clearing the mess has to begin somewhere. Why not begin at the place where it hurts and bleeds the most — ie right at the top?
BENJAMIN Netanyahu is known for his contempt of the Palestinians and their rights, and he has done everything possible during his various stints as Israeli prime minister to ensure the Palestinians never get a viable state of their own. Yet another reminder of this came on Tuesday when the Israeli leader pledged to annex the Jordan Valley and other parts of the occupied West Bank — areas considered Arab land by the international community — if voted to power again in next week’s general election. Though never a supporter of peace, and always a proponent of crushing Palestinian rights, it seems Mr Netanyahu is stooping to new depths to capture the hard right’s votes in Israel. He had previously promised to annex all Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Moreover, the Israeli prime minister’s reckless behaviour has been duly rewarded by his country’s biggest benefactor, the US; in March Donald Trump recognised the occupied Golan Heights — seized by Tel Aviv from Syria in 1967 — as ‘Israeli territory’, again flying in the face of world opinion. Knowing that the US will protect them from all opprobrium, Mr Netanyahu and other members of the Israeli right know that they can get away with anything, and that nothing will be done practically to uphold the Palestinians’ rights.
While there have been many parallels drawn between the Israeli treatment of Palestinians and India’s brutalities unleashed on the people of India-held Kashmir, here, too, both states seem to be following the same playbook. Narendra Modi had also promised to scrap Kashmiri autonomy as part of his election campaign, and delivered on it; now it seems that Netanyahu has copied his ally in New Delhi. There has been a strong reaction to Israel’s ominous plans. The UN has said the proposed move would be “devastating” as far as peace prospects go, while Palestinian leaders have said the move would “bury chances of peace” and amounts to a “declaration of war against the Palestinian people’s rights”. The largely feeble Arab League has also slammed the move. However, the question remains: will opposition to this illegality remain restricted to issuing thunderous statements? Or will anything practical be done to protect Palestinian rights? If history is any judge, Israel is likely to get away with its crimes, backed by the US, and inflict more ignominies upon the Arabs. If the world community is serious about upholding the principles of fundamental rights, then Israel must be stopped from grabbing more Arab land.
THE abrupt pullout of leading Sri Lankan cricketers from the upcoming tour of Pakistan is a setback for the Pakistan Cricket Board as well as home fans who had been looking forward to the Islanders’ visit for the six limited-over games to be played in Karachi and Lahore. The players reportedly expressed security concerns as the main reason for their decision. Clearly, the memories of the terrorist incident of 2009, when the Sri Lankan team’s bus was attacked in Lahore, are still fresh in their minds. This is a pity because the security situation here has improved significantly over the past years, and bomb blasts and other terrorist incidents are no longer common occurrences; indeed, the Sri Lankan cricket authorities should have stressed this point to the reluctant players. In this country, meanwhile, there is a feeling among many former cricketers that the PCB did not play its cards right either, and that the board should have set its own conditions instead of agreeing to a depleted touring team. Whether or not one agrees with that view, it is hoped that when the touring side returns to Sri Lanka, it is able to convince those who chose to stay away that they made the wrong decision.
Though major foreign teams have shunned tours to this country in the past decade, Pakistan’s status as a major cricketing nation has not been altered in any way. Pakistan Super League, which ranked as the second most popular T20 league after the Indian Premier League, has attracted leading foreign players to the country in the past two years, including the Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans and the West Indians who have praised the foolproof security arrangements. In 2020, the entire PSL is to be relocated to Pakistan, which will give a big boost to this country’s sporting image. Meanwhile, the PCB should, with the help of the government and its security apparatus, successfully demonstrate to cricket-playing nations that Pakistan is a safe ground for all teams.