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Pakistan: DG ISPR’s warning and the way forward

Lt Gen Salman Fayyaz who has been dismissed from service (Photo: Twitter)

Apart from disclosing that the Army’s accountability process against its own officers and other ranks, for lapses or dereliction of duty during the country-wide violence on May 09, 2023 was proceeding apace, Director General, Inter Services Public Relations, Maj Gen Ahmed Sharif Chaudhry’s press conference of June 26 (Islamabad) conveyed a firm message to Pakistan’s higher Judiciary that military courts were there to stay and had been dealing with culpability of civilians in the past as well.

Three army officers, including a lieutenant general, were sacked from their jobs as a part of this “self-accountability process”. These include Lt.Gen Salman Fayyaz Ghani, then IV Corps Commander, Lahore, his Chief of Staff and several other senior officers. Disciplinary proceedings against three major generals and seven brigadiers have been completed. Among those arrested were a granddaughter of a retired four-star general (noted fashion designer, Ms. Khadija Shah), son-in-law of a retired four-star star general (Rizwan son-in-law of Gen Yousuf) wife of a retired three-star general (Shabnam Jehangir), wife and son-in-law of a retired two-star general (Rubina Jameel and Mehboob), all of whom “are facing this process of accountability due to irrefutable evidence.” These penalties showed that accountability in the Pakistan Army was carried out without discrimination, irrespective of rank or social status.

The DG, ISPR emphasized, investigations held until now had proven that the events of May 9 had been planned for several months, creating a conducive environment first and instigating people against the army. A diabolical narrative `based on lies and exaggeration’ was spread on social media inside and outside the country. Confirming what had already been pointed out by Army Chief Gen Asim Munir at the recently concluded 81 st Formation Commanders’ conference (Rawalpindi, June 07) about `tightening the noose around the planners and masterminds’, Maj Gen Sharif added that the authorities had obtained clear evidence against those involved.


Interestingly enough, some of the Army officers disciplined have had stellar professional reputations and high connections within Pakistan’s well entrenched civil- military elite. Among the Brigadiers penalized or transferred under a cloud is Brig Mehr Omar Khan, Baloch Regiment, Commanding Officer of Pakistan’s notorious “coup brigade”, the 111 Brigade, Rawalpindi, which used to report directly to the Army Chief. Brigadiers commanding 111 Brigade have usually had a smooth ride to three star status. He had taken part, while a Major, in a highly aspired for training program for Pakistani officers at the US West Point Academy. He ran a high profile Twitter account on social media, following among others, the Indian Prime Minister.

Lt. Gen Salman Fayyaz Ghani, erstwhile IV Corps Commander, Lahore, now dismissed, was also highly connected. His father retired as a Brigadier. Ironically enough, his father in law, Captain (retd) Naved Rasul Mirza had to quit the Army in disrepute, after being involved in the Attock Conspiracy Case of March, 1973 (where the Judge in military court trial was Maj Gen Zia ul Haq). Now living in Lahore, he is the uncle (“Mamoo”) of Chief Justice Bandial’s wife.

Talking about trials under the Army Act, Maj-Gen Sharif said standing military courts were functioning in which “trial of 102 miscreants is underway and this process will continue”. In response to a question, the DG ISPR said the suspects being tried in military courts had complete legal rights, including the right of appeal in high courts and the Supreme Court. These suspects would be penalised according to their crime, adding that the “Pakistan Army has resolved time and again that the Constitution is sacred for us and a reflection of nation’s wishes”. In particular, these actions were necessary as there was tremendous pressure from families of Army martyrs who had not taken kindly to the desecration of monuments for the `shuhada’ by the violent mobs of Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf (PTI) on May 09.

This `warning’  from the DG (ISPR) comes in the wake of three lawyers’ petitions filed before Pakistan’s Supreme Court challenging the trial of civilians in military courts. These petitions were expeditiously rushed through the Supreme Court case roster and put up for hearings after senior lawyers Aitzaz Ahsan, Latif Khosa (former Punjab Governor) and another counsel, representing former Chief Justice (CJ) Khwaja met  CJ Umar Ata Bandial in his chamber (June 19).

In an apparently clever tactical move aimed to somehow patch up divisions within the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Bandial constituted a nine-member bench to hear the petitions on the trial of civilians in military courts, this time including long ignored senior judges, now CJ designate Qazi Faiz Isa and the next senior judge, Justice Sardar Tariq Masood.

However, this move boomeranged as Qazi Faiz Isa did not join this bench, pointing out that he did not consider it a bench at all, as the CJ had avoided issuing a verdict on the Supreme Court Practice and Procedure Bill, 2023, which had taken away the CJ’s unilateral discretion to constitute new benches. “If I hear the cases now, I will violate my constitutional and legal position,” said Justice Isa, adding that the chief justice had put him in a state of uncertainty, which could only be resolved if a decision is made regarding the petitions against this law or the stay order is withdrawn.

In a 30 page note put up on the Supreme Court’s official website (which was quickly removed from there), Qazi Faiz Isa clarified, he was not recusing himself from hearing pleas against the trial of civilians in military courts. He expressed concern “that the chief justice has involved his colleagues in an unnecessary conflict for no reason. An embarrassed Bandial had to reconstitute this bench twice, as Justices Sardar Tariq Masood and Mansoor Ali Shah also desisted from taking part. On June 27, another judge, Justice Yahya Afridi withdrew, demanding a full court. This forced CJ Bandial to defer further hearings in the case till mid-July,`23.

These developments occur in the backdrop of an interesting conclave of civilian politicians taking place in Dubai during the Eid ul Azha holidays. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has come there from London,  to be joined by his daughter, Maryam Nawaz. People’s Party leaders, Asif Zardari and Foreign Minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari are slated to meet them. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, now in London after attending the Paris Club financial conclave, may also join. Meetings there may dwell on the composition of ensuing caretaker regimes, as the term of the current National Assembly ends on August 13 or earlier.

CJ Bandial’s intention to issue a quick verdict against trial of civilians in military courts, before the imminent summer recess of the Supreme Court, thereby providing respite from arrest or disqualification to beleaguered former Prime Minister Imran Khan, seems foiled for now. His own retirement looms on September 16.  Whether any new stratagem is devised to intensify the existing confrontation between the Judiciary and the Executive in Pakistan, extending to the senior military leadership as well, remains to be seen.

Also Read: Pakistan’s massive military purge may still be a job half done