Notices were issued by the Lahore High Court’s Rawalpindi bench to government and air force authorities on Wednesday, over the officials’ refusal to allow the counsel of the accused entry to the strategic PAF base.
Colonel (retd) Inamur Rahim, the lawyer representing accused senior aircraftman Shawaiz Khan, senior technician Zafar Abbas and corporal technician Mirza Waseem Iqbal, filed a petition at the LHC after airbase personnel prevented him from entering the premises on November 4. The petition also requested that the court ask why an inquiry report into the attack has not yet been submitted despite repeated inquiries, and also why no action was taken against senior air force officials. Rahim also informed the court that a visit to the site is permissible under the PAF Rules in section 119 and 191.
Justice Shehzada Mazhar accepted this request and ordered the Secretary of the Ministry of Defence Lt Gen (retd) Asif Yasin Malik, Minhas Airbase Commander Zahiruddin and other PAF authorities to submit written statements explaining why they prevented Rahim from entering the base and fixed November 22 as the date of the next hearing.
At the hearing, Zahiruddin explained that the counsel of the accused was refused entry as he had not been security ‘cleared’. But the defendants’ counsel argued that other members of the team had been allowed, and that stopping a lawyer from his professional duties is violation of Articles 4, 9, 10 and 10A of the constitution that guarantee a person’s right to a free trial.
The base has been the target of at least three attacks in the past, including an attack on a school bus carrying the children of PAF officers; the firing of rockets by terrorists in 2008; and the 2012 attack when nine terrorists attacked the base at night. The attackers destroyed an advanced surveillance aircraft Saab 2000, which is worth $250 million.
Security forces rounded up the attackers and killed them during crossfire. However, instead of taking action against high-ranking officers responsible for the security of the base, three technicians were fired and imprisoned for negligence. The PAF clarified that all technicians are trained to perform security duties other than their routine jobs at the base ‘as they are soldiers first and technicians later’.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2013.