Just a day after removing Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani from power, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is taking on what may be his greatest challenge yet: the might of the military.
The chief justice set aside June 20 to hear cases related to the 138 people from Balochistan that the Supreme Court has determined are missing. The obvious implication here is that most, if not all, of these people have been picked by up the paramilitary forces operating in Balochistan or the intelligence agencies. To that end, the CJ has also summoned Obaidullah Khattak, the IG of the Frontier Corps, to appear in court to explain himself. While the CJ’s intentions are good and he is to be lauded for taking up the cause of Balochistan, it is unlikely that even he will be able to hold the military accountable for its actions in the province.
To even begin to have a chance of success, the CJ will have to take the same tack with the military as he did with the civilian leadership. After years of denial, it is unlikely that the FC will suddenly admit to a policy of illegal kidnappings. Thus, after Khattak has issued the standard denial in court, the Supreme Court should go one step further and summon the director-general of the ISI and other intelligence agencies. If even that fails to yield results, then the next option should be to make the chief of army staff appear in court. And, if as is likely, all of them end up stonewalling, then the Supreme Court would be well within its right to hold accountable the military leadership in this particular case.
While the military may be the chief obstacle to any settlement of the Balochistan issue, there are other actors in the province who also need to be tackled. The Supreme Court is devoting a day to Balochistan just a few days after a bus in Quetta was attacked that seemed to be targeting members of the Shia Hazara community. Hundreds of Hazaras have been killed in the last few years and the militant groups thought to be responsible have escaped any action. Along with the cases of the missing people, the chief justice should devote equal attention to the plight of unprotected minorities in Balochistan.