Missing poet Ahmed Farhad Shah’s case: Will country be run by spy agencies or law, asks IHC

Awais Yousafzai
Tuesday, May 21, 2024

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has asked the federal government whether the intelligence agencies will run this country or it will be governed in accordance with the law.

During the hearing of a petition on Monday against the alleged enforced disappearance of Kashmiri poet and journalist Ahmed Farhad Shah, Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani ordered the interior and defence secretaries to appear in person before the court at 3pm on Tuesday (today).

The high court also directed the police investigation officer to record the statement of the sector commander of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and submit a report. Justice Kayani asked if the ISI sector commander lives on the moon, what his status is and if he is not a Grade 18 officer.

Addressing a defence ministry representative who appeared in the court, the judge told him to let the sector commander remain in his limits and not to serve him, as the country could run without him. The court then inquired whether the intelligence agencies would run the country or it would be governed in accordance with the law.

The representative of the ministry of defence told the IHC that missing poet Ahmed Farhad Shah was not in custody of the ISI. He said the ISI had been accused of kidnapping the missing person, but the agency had denied his arrest or detention.

Justice Kayani observed that the matter was now out of the jurisdiction of the ISI and the MI and they were merely telling the court about their failure. The court directed the interior and defence secretaries to appear in person and file their statements.

The court further observed that it will pass an order, and then this matter will go beyond the kidnapping of a person. It said this is not a simple matter and it will set a precedent. The court also observed that on the one hand they were sending messages and on the other they were saying that the person was not in their custody.

The IHC judge said both secretaries of interior and defence would appear before the court now, and then the court would summon the prime minister and the federal cabinet members.Additional Attorney General Munawar Iqbal Duggal said an FIR of the incident had been registered and police were investigating the matter.

Justice Kayani observed that it was no favour if the FIR had been registered as law enforcement agencies’ personnel had failed to recover the missing person.The court directed the investigation officer to record the statement of the ISI sector commander. The additional attorney general said that the kidnapping case had been registered about the disappearance of poet Ahmed Farhad and police were investigating. He said that it has been decided in the Shahnaz Bibi case that courts will not interfere in the investigation process. He said the government would provide assistance to the court in this matter.

Earlier, the counsel for the petitioner Iman Mazari submitted that the wife of the missing person had been offered that Ahmed Farhad would be released if she withdrew the petition, letting go of the allegation of kidnapping.

The high court remarked that this was an obstruction in the dispensation of justice, and the ISI DG should be told that the missing person should be recovered. It said a miscellaneous application had been filed and asked what was in it.

The IHC was informed that on May 17, the petitioner received a call from her husband’s WhatsApp number, and there were voices of two more people who were pressurizing her. It was submitted that the persons were saying that the missing person would be released on Saturday if the petition was withdrawn. They asked her to give a statement before the court that her spouse had not been kidnapped and he had left house on his own. The court was informed that the petitioner was pressurized and three drafts had been shared. The counsel said that it was a case of an enforced disappearance.

The IHC said intelligence agencies should get rid of the label of kidnappers and recover the missing person. It directed the investigation officer to record the statements of the DG ISI and the sector commander. It inquired whether Ahmed Farhad was a terrorist, or he had come from India or he had been involved in a kidnapping for ransom.

The representative of the defence ministry replied this was not the case and he sought time to file a report. The court inquired why time was required merely for asking whether the missing person was kept in the safe houses of Kashmir or Bajaur.

It also inquired the defence ministry’s representative whether he himself had ever been kidnapped. The representative replied in the negative.At this, the court observed that only those who are kidnapped can understand the plight of kidnapping, and directed the defence ministry’s representative to submit a reply by 3pm.

The IHC judge wondered why it would take time to contact the ISI officials, and asked if their offices were on the moon. The assistant advocate general submitted that the entire institution could not be blamed. The court asked the counsel to tell if there is someone who is their spokesperson. It observed that government officials had to change the opinion prevailing about their organisation. The front face of the state is the police, not unknown persons, it said.

Separately, speaking at a press conference in Islamabad, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said the judiciary is respectable but it does not have the mandate of dragging senior military and government officials to the court in the case of a missing poet.

He was speaking soon after Justice Kayani had made some remarks against security agencies and said the authorities had failed to recover missing Ahmed Farhad Shah.

During the hearing of the case, the judge not only made remarks against military officials, but also warned that the court would summon the prime minister and his cabinet if the poet was not recovered.

“This is not the mandate of the court; the court is a platform for providing justice in line with the law and Constitution,” Tarar said during the press conference.

He noted that when a “habeas petition” is filed, the court seeks answers, and it is the government’s job to ensure that it responds “with all seriousness”.“If the issue isn’t resolved, then the law that’s been applicable for the past 50 years [...] that the matter is then handed over to the police and an FIR is lodged to ensure the person’s recovery.”

Tarar said the case of Shah’s disappearance is sub judice and he did not want to speak much on it, but he said the court’s remarks “hurt” him.Terming the remarks “inappropriate”, the law minister said they could spread “unrest”. He said a representative of the defence ministry had already informed the court that the poet was not in their custody.

“It is not the court’s mandate to say that these issues will not be resolved like this. The institutions also informed the court that they are ready to assist the police in any way possible,” he said.

The law minister mentioned that media channels, citing the judge, reported that he would summon the prime minister and his cabinet. “This undermines the sanctity of parliament.”