Pakistan to Probe Military’s Alleged Coercion of Senior Judges

Islamabad — Pakistan’s government announced Thursday that it will set up a special commission to investigate allegations the military-run spy agency has been subjecting federal judges to intimidation, torture and other abuses to secure favorable judicial rulings in political cases.

The charges were listed in a letter written by six of eight members of the Islamabad High Court and sent this week to the Supreme Judicial Council, which governs Pakistan’s judiciary under the leadership of the country’s chief justice, Qazi Faez Isa.

Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar told a news conference that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will discuss the letter at a Cabinet meeting on Friday before formally appointing a commission of inquiry to investigate the accusations.

Tarar said that Sharif made the decision after a Thursday meeting with Chief Justice Isa at the Supreme Court in Islamabad.

“This [letter] is an extremely grave matter, and it should be dealt with very seriously,” the minister stated.

Dated March 25, the letter accused the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, of meddling in judicial proceedings “to seek a certain outcome.” An army general runs the spy agency, which is notorious for allegedly orchestrating the making or breaking of elected governments at the behest of Pakistan’s powerful military.

“We believe it is imperative to inquire into and determine whether there exists a continuing policy on part of the executive branch of the state, implemented by intelligence operatives who report to the executive branch, to intimidate judges, under threat of coercion or blackmail, to engineer judicial outcomes in politically consequential matters,” the judges wrote.

The document highlighted several instances of attempted coercion and intimidation by ISI officers “to influence the outcome of cases related to jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan. In one of the cases, ISI operatives intimidated “friends and relatives” of two judges who had refused to hear a state-instituted case against Khan for lacking merit.

“One of the judges had to be admitted to a hospital due to high blood pressure caused by stress,” the letter said.

It recounted the abduction of a “brother-in-law” of the Islamabad high court judge by alleged ISI operatives. It added that the abductee “was administered electric shocks” and “tortured into making false allegations” on camera against the judge.

Khan, the cricket hero-turned-prime minister, was ousted from power in April 2021 through an opposition parliamentary vote of no-confidence. Khan denounced the move as orchestrated by the military, allegations the institution rejected.

The military ruled Pakistan for more than three decades through coups against elected governments since the country gained independence in 1947.

Former prime ministers, including Khan and Sharif’s elder brother, Nawaz Sharif, have publicly accused army generals of interference in national politics in violation of the constitution.

“We want it to be thoroughly investigated because we had also been its victim,” said Tarar, a senior member of Shehbaz Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League, or PML-N, party.

Khan’s opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party swiftly rejected the government-proposed commission and demanded that the Supreme Court take up the matter.

“Senior judges incriminating officials working under the government of spying on their private life to pivot away for getting court decisions against former Prime Minister Imran Khan or any other politician, is actually a charge sheet against the government itself,” a PTI statement said.

“Therefore, the formation of an inquiry commission by the incumbent government is nothing but a deflection to avoid a contentious situation,” it said.

The Pakistani military denies it interferes in national politics, but its former chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, acknowledged in a nationally televised speech just days before his retirement in November 2022 that his institution had been meddling in politics for the past 70 years.

In the lead-up to Pakistan’s parliamentary elections last month, the military was constantly accused of influencing judicial proceedings and cracking down on Khan’s party to keep him in jail over controversial convictions.

Eventually, the 71-year-old politician was barred from running in the February 8 vote, and PTI candidates were restricted from winning the majority despite representing the most popular party, according to public surveys.

Khan has been in jail since last August and faces close to 200 lawsuits and prosecutions, ranging from terrorism, sedition, and corruption to murder. He rejects the charges as politically motivated, saying the Pakistani military has orchestrated them to punish him for directly challenging its largely unquestioned powers.

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