May 232008

Unless Al Qaeda were to apply for membership of the UN, which I have a feeling it is unlikely to do anytime in the near future, the argument of Al Qaeda’s involvement cannot be used to invoke the UN or create a legal symbiosis between the Hariri and Bhutto cases

Logic was banished from the proceedings of the press conference Thursday by the ministers of law and foreign affairs. The meet was convened to inform the media that the Pakistan People’s Party has prepared a letter of request to be presented to the United Nations Secretary General for constituting a Commission to investigate the December 27 assassination of Ms Benazir Bhutto.

One of the points the critics of the move, foremost among them this scribe, had raised was the inadmissibility of the analogy with the Commission constituted to investigate the assassination of Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri.

This is what I wrote in an April 9 article in this page:

“The reference to Mr Rafik Hariri’s assassination as the precedent for taking Ms Bhutto’s case to the UN is deeply flawed. When Mr Hariri was killed, the Lebanese government and anti-Syria politicians and groups in Lebanon pointed an accusing finger at Damascus. Syria has traditionally played an interventionist role in Lebanese affairs and it was alleged that Mr Hariri was removed from the scene by Syria since he was becoming vocal on the issue of pushing Syrian troops out of Lebanon.

“That being the case, and the fact that Lebanon possibly could not invoke the operation of its domestic law against Syria, and also because the UN took note of Syria’s likely involvement, the Security Council passed a resolution setting up a commission to inquire into Mr Hariri’s assassination.

“No such situation obtains in the case of Ms Bhutto. There is no involvement of a third State party. What has happened comes squarely within the operation of Pakistan’s domestic law.” (Ejaz Haider, “(UN)intended pitfalls”)

The PPP has since tried to rebut this argument by referring to the involvement of Al Qaeda which it says is an international terrorist group and beyond the operation of Pakistan’s domestic law.

Smart? No. In fact it is a bogus argument in the extreme. Consider.

The United Nations in its capacity as the world body deals with States, not non-State actors. This is why Syria submitted to the UNSC resolution(s) constituting a Commission of Inquiry and giving the Commission a wide mandate. This is also why, when the PPP was not the government, it couldn’t even petition the UN on this count.

Unless Al Qaeda were to apply for membership of the UN, which I have a feeling it is unlikely to do anytime in the near future, the argument of Al Qaeda’s involvement cannot be used to invoke the UN or create a legal symbiosis between the Hariri and Bhutto cases.

The PPP knows this argument doesn’t hold water which is why both Mr Farooq Naik and Mr Shah Mahmood Qureshi had to turn logic over its head several times during the course of the press conference.

They began by referring to Baitullah Mehsud’s alleged involvement and his connections with Al Qaeda. This fact incidentally has been determined by investigations conducted by the caretaker government. But they needed an argument to blunt objections raised by the critics who have refused to accept the precedent of the Hariri Commission as the basis for a similar commission for Ms Bhutto. So they presented the Al Qaeda angle.

Of course, they needed to then move the goalpost because one of the ostensible reasons they are making the demand for the involvement of the UN is that they have no faith in the investigations conducted so far.

Thus, having talked Al Qaeda, they then went on to say that Mr Mehsud is merely one of the suspects and, as both ministers put it, he has denied any involvement in Ms Bhutto’s assassination!

Mr Naik then expelled another logical absurdity (words to the effect): we want to give all suspects the chance to clear their names and that is only possible through impartial investigations!

I have been told Mr Mehsud is preparing to depose before the UN Commission to clear his name and may well even get other top Al Qaeda leaders to do the same. Who are these gentlemen kidding?

First they invoke Al Qaeda to claim involvement of a third party (please remember, not a State party) to argue that the issue lies beyond the operation of Pakistan’s domestic law and to justify the UN’s involvement; then they give Mr Mehsud the benefit of the doubt because they have to cast doubts at the intentions of the caretaker government. In doing so they go completely non sequitur and keep smiling; I would at least look dour, if nothing else.

Do they realise that if they invoke Al Qaeda to justify intervention in this case, this precedent may also be used to justify military intervention into Pakistani territory because the terrorist group lies outside the jurisdiction of Pakistan and its activities and operational area remain fluid? An operation beginning elsewhere could bring the world into the tribal areas; or the execution of an operation elsewhere could be traced back to Pakistan.

Mr Qureshi was at pains to inform us that the terms of reference of the Commission will be set by Pakistan: we are invoking the UN only for this purpose (Ms Bhutto’s assassination) and nothing else. Perhaps. But terrorists – those who lie outside Pakistan’s jurisdiction – operate at multiple levels and the UN has an operational resolution on terrorism under chapter seven of the UNSC. Why would it stop at only investigating Ms Bhutto’s assassination when other linkages can be found? Are we being assured that the Commission will only quiz Mr Mehsud and/or other Al Qaeda leaders over Ms Bhutto’s assassination and for nothing else?

Clearly, the only way Mr Mehsud can clear his name is to get himself captured. Unless he was to do it voluntarily, how would the UN Commission perform that task: would it ask the US-NATO-ISAF troops to do it or would it ask the Pakistani security forces to perform that task? If it’s the former, then a legal intervention requested by the government would lead to a logical incursion into Pakistani territory by foreign troops. And if it is to be done by the Pakistani troops then why do we need the UN Commission to investigate Mr Mehsud. Why can’t that task be performed by our agencies – unless the PPP government suspects those agencies and wants the UN to give it a mechanism to monitor them?

I have only taken up one aspect; there are others that I have discussed in my previous articles and also on television. I am told our permanent representative at the UN, Ambassador Munir Akram has opposed it. I am not surprised; our former foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan has had to quit before his contract was over. And the FO in general remains opposed to this move.

The least we can do is to have a debate on this. I invite the two ministers to have one with me on my tv programme because what they plan to do is going to massively redound to Pakistan’s disadvantage.

Ejaz Haider is Consulting Editor of The Friday Times and Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times. He can be reached at\05\23\story_23-5-2008_pg3_2

 Posted by at 2:04 pm

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