EDITORIAL: Speak with one voice!
The interior minister, Mr Faisal Saleh Hayat, and the information minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, have apparently issued two contradictory statements over the arrest of Al Qaeda member Ahmad Khalfan Ghailani from Gujrat on 25 July. One Urdu newspaper has stated that in an interview Mr Hayat even complained that Sheikh Rashid was giving out “unauthorised information” because he was “fond of talking and getting himself photographed and did not think of Pakistan”. As if this wasn’t a ridiculous statement, the episode was made to look even more laughable when most newspapers carried their contradictory statements together. Sheikh Rashid was reported as saying that a computer engineer had been caught along with the arch wanted terrorist, Ghailani, and had revealed intricate plans of an impending attack in Washington and New York. The United States was placed under ‘high alert’ as a result of the information received from Pakistan.
There is obviously a gap of communication here. Mr Hayat formerly belonged to the PPP and was not infrequently a target for the acerbic barbs of the PML stalwart Sheikh Rashid. Now they are both in the same government but the old reflexes have not gone. The information minister is in charge of communicating with the press and one supposes that this includes the sensitive area of espionage and terrorism. The interior minister sits on top of the hard information that the press wants to get at but has to communicate only that which doesn’t jeopardise the on-going investigations. Had there been good coordination between the two ministers, the disclosure of information on the arrest of Ghailani and his companions in Gujrat would have been more guarded.
There is however the bigger picture into which the dispute here doesn’t fit very well. The international TV channels, while reporting the ‘high alert’, showed a caption about Pakistan unearthing new information about Al Qaeda’s coming attacks. Two newspapers in the United States actually printed the name of the computer expert caught in Gujrat: Muhammad Naeem Nur Khan, a hard core Al Qaeda member who took guerrilla training in Al Qaeda camps and was the main expert in charge of running the coded network of information run by the organisation. What sort of information was obtained from the possession of this man was also revealed in the newspapers: according to one intelligence expert, the quantum and quality of the revelations was unprecedented in history. Information Minister Sheikh Rashid had not revealed the name of the computer engineer, but it was there in the newspapers nonetheless. The real scoop happened in the United States, making our little inter-ministerial dispute quite redundant.
Yet cooperation between the two ministries handling information relating to terrorism is urgently required. There is no argument over the need to guard new information to save the ongoing investigation from running aground. But beyond our cautions, there is the factor of the United States where revelation of what we consider sensitive has become routine. Newspapers in Washington in particular and The New York Times in general speak on the basis of their past coverage of Al Qaeda. There are undoubtedly ‘leaks’ too that occur from inside the official intelligence network. Not surprisingly the Pakistani press has got used to watching these newspapers carefully. Much that has been revealed in Washington has been found to be correct.
This cuts two ways. It hamstrings whatever we may be pursuing with the arrested agents, but it also erodes the deniability of Al Qaeda’s presence in Pakistan. Pakistan’s vernacular press began by denying the existence of the terrorist organisation. The reflex was inherited from the days when Pakistan was supportive of the Taliban government in Afghanistan and was not hostile towards Osama bin Laden. Then, under external pressure, the agents of Al Qaeda began to be arrested inside Pakistan after 2001. The government accepted the pressure but the vernacular media in general resented it, denying terrorist connections of those arrested. In 2004, however, things are different in Pakistan. We know now who Ramzi bin al-Shibh was; and when it came to denying Nek Muhammad this year, we found it difficult to do so. The best course therefore would be to speak with one voice through one spokesman on all official matters related to giving information to the media and the public about Al-Qaeda terrorism. *
EDITORIAL #2: Federal Shariat Court is right!
According to a brief report from a session of the Federal Shariat Court in Lahore, a woman accused of immorality under the Hudood Ordinance was allowed bail by the honourable judges. The woman had already been convicted at the lower courts and was serving a five-year jail sentence. After the court found the grounds for her conviction insufficient, it let her off on bail without meeting the possible requirement of hearing the aggrieved party, namely the husband. The Court was of the opinion that it was within its charter to waive the conditionality and grant bail.
Let’s face the truth about Hudood. The official record says that there are thousands of women rotting in jail together with their children because someone or the other simply accused them of immorality under Hudood. It is also an official statistic that over 90 per cent of these women are not finally convicted. In many cases, the lower courts are liable to convict them while the higher courts are keen to acquit them. Thus most women suffer enormously pending the case proceedings and also while waiting for the appellate courts with their huge backlogs to hear them out. This is nothing but misogyny at the state level.
The Federal Shariat Court has handed down a just and good decision. Most probably the woman has already suffered enough humiliation on the basis of a false accusation under Hudood to merit exemption from further incarceration. This is the sort of judgment that does the FSC and government of Pakistan proud. *