Pakistan lawyer challenges powerful army

By Shahzeb Jillani
South Asia Editor, BBC World Service

Image caption,
Inam-ul-Rahiem represents "missing persons" allegedly being held by intelligence agencies

A retired military lawyer in Pakistan has accused the country's intelligence agencies of assaulting him and his son to force him to abandon legal challenges against the military.

Col Inam-ul-Rahiem told the BBC he fears for his life after his 19-year-old son was beaten up and his car set ablaze by armed men on Saturday.

The alleged incident happened near the army headquarters in Rawalpindi.

The Pakistani army denies the allegations, calling them "baseless".

'Army message'

For the past five years, Col Rahiem has been challenging the army over charges of enforced disappearances.

He represents dozens of so-called missing persons who, their families say, are being held by the intelligence agencies.

The alleged assault on his son came three days after an attack on Col Rahiem left with him with injuries to his face, head and upper body.

That attack also took place yards away from the offices of Pakistan's Military Intelligence (MI) in Rawalpindi.

In both cases, the colonel says, they were stopped by unidentified men in cars and beaten without provocation.

But when he went to the police to report the attack, they refused to register his case, he says.

"The attacks were a message to dissuade me from pursuing court cases against the illegal actions of the army leadership," Col Rahiem told the BBC.

"I have reasons to believe the assaults were carried out by agents of the military intelligence on the orders of the army chief."

Pakistan's Ex-Servicemen Society, an organisation of retired military officers of which Col Rahiem is a member, has condemned the attacks.

"It's a cause of worry for us. We can't say who is behind it. But whoever they are, they should be apprehended," said retired Col Tariq Kamal.

Col Rahiem, 57, taught military law to thousands of officers during his 27 years in the army and served as a judge in the legal branch of Pakistan army.

He says he was retired prematurely when he resisted pressure from the top in deciding court cases before him.

'Direct threats'

Image source, AP
Image caption,
The court hearing into Gen Kayani's extension in service is set for next week

Some have described Col Rahiem as a religiously-minded maverick lawyer.

He says he is fighting for the rule of law and practicing his legal right to question violation of the constitution.

He says he has received direct threats.

"Last year, they called me in at the offices of the Military Intelligence and told me to drop cases of enforced disappearances or else, anything could happen to me," he said.

Last week, he filed a writ petition challenging the validity of the three-year service extension for the country's powerful army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

The writ asked the court to set aside the extension, given in 2010, and send Gen Kayani home.

Previous court petitions on the issue had amounted to nothing. But this time, to the surprise of many, the Islamabad High Court admitted the plea.

The matter is now set for hearing by a two-member panel on 22 November.

The case comes at a time of a perceived wedge between an assertive judiciary and a seemingly defensive army leadership.

Many in Pakistan believe that is what led Gen Kayani to issue a rare public warning to the courts this month to "stop undermining institutions and behaving as the sole arbiters of the national interest".

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