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Pakistan military adversary recounts violent backlash

The lawyer who takes on the powerful military says he has been beaten and his car burned. Despite risks, he says he'll keep fighting because no one else will.

November 21, 2012|By Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times
  • Lawyer Inam ul Rahiem says recent attacks are linked to his pursuit of a case that questions whether Pakistan's top military commander must step down.
Lawyer Inam ul Rahiem says recent attacks are linked to his pursuit of a case… (Alex Rodriguez / Los Angeles…)

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan — Inam ul Rahiem has made himself a nettlesome adversary of Pakistan's powerful military. The lawyer and retired army colonel has represented families who claim their loved ones have been secretly abducted by security forces. More recently, he has taken on Gen. Ashfaq Kayani with a legal claim that the army chief must step down because he has reached retirement age.

Now Rahiem says the military is firing back with not-so-subtle salvos.

A week ago, he was beaten badly near army headquarters in Rawalpindi by a band of thugs who pummeled him with bamboo sticks and shouted, "What are you doing, filing all these petitions against us?" On Saturday, men armed with AK-47s and pistols held his son at gunpoint while they set ablaze Rahiem's Suzuki sedan.

"They are trying to intimidate me," Rahiem said. "But if I don't get up and approach the courts, no one will."

On Thursday, the Pakistani military issued a statement calling Rahiem’s allegations baseless. “No security official is involved in beating up (Rahiem) nor torturing his son,” said the statement.

Historically, the military has enjoyed a lofty status in Pakistani society, often seen as a welcome counterpoint to a civilian government unable to provide adequate schooling, clean drinking water, a reliable supply of electricity and a host of other basic needs. Lately, however, the military increasingly has become an institution under siege.

Last month, the country's Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling recommending that the government take legal action against Aslam Baig, a former army chief, and Asad Durrani, former head of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, for secretly bankrolling politicians during 1990 national elections. The ruling represented an embarrassing broadside at the military, which has always adamantly denied meddling in politics.

This year, the high court began probing long-ignored claims that intelligence agencies and security forces routinely abduct men without legal justification. The bodies of missing men often turn up on roadsides or in ditches.

The high court and a government anti-corruption agency also are investigating allegations that three retired generals received kickbacks in connection with a controversial scheme to allot railway land in Lahore for the development of a golf club.

The growing array of cases against former and current military figures is viewed by many experts as a prime motivation behind a statement issued by Kayani on Nov. 5. His comments appeared to be directed at the Supreme Court and its chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, along with a vibrant Pakistani media that has not shied away from looking into the behavior of military leaders.

"No individual or institution has the monopoly to decide what is right or wrong in defining the ultimate national interest," Kayani said. "Any effort which wittingly or unwittingly draws a wedge between the people and the armed forces of Pakistan undermines the larger national interest."

On the same day Kayani issued his statement, Chaudhry gave a speech in Lahore that commentators saw as a jab at the military: "Gone are the days when stability and security of the country were defined in terms of number of missiles and tanks as a manifestation of hard power available at the disposal of the state."

Experts say Kayani is under growing pressure from his officers to reassert the authority of the military. An editorial this month in Pakistan's Friday Times, an influential weekly newspaper, warned that continued pressure on the military from the courts, the government and the media could backfire in a country with a history of military takeovers.

"The pendulum seems to be swinging too fast and too furiously against the military for political comfort in a difficult existential moment for Pakistan, when all state actors need to be on the same page," the editorial stated.

Rahiem's case against Kayani poses a particularly vexing problem for the military. In a complaint filed at the Islamabad High Court this year, Rahiem contended that no member of the armed forces can serve beyond the age of 60, which Kayani reached on April 20. His term as army chief was supposed to expire in July 2010, but then-Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani granted him an extension that keeps him in the post until next summer.

The high court has yet to rule on the complaint from Rahiem, a 58-year-old former military judge and instructor. Military officials could not be reached for comment, but security analyst Talat Masood, a former Pakistani lieutenant general, said he believed the government's extension of Kayani's tenure negates the retirement age requirement. However, if the court orders Kayani to step down, it could put the judiciary and the military at loggerheads at a sensitive time, when the country is bracing for national elections next spring.

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