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Pakistan military adversary recounts violent backlash

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.”

Pakistani military officials did not respond to requests to comment on Rahiem’s claims.

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.

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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.

Rahiem, who this year represented a former brigadier convicted of having links to the banned Islamist radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir, is convinced that his troubles in recent days are linked to his efforts to force Kayani’s departure.

On Nov. 14, he was passing army headquarters in Rawalpindi when his cab was boxed in by three cars and he as attacked by six men.

“I resisted, so they beat me with sticks on the head,” Rahiem recounted. “I was totally blood-soaked. They thought I had died, and left me there.”

Rahiem was taken to a hospital, where doctors treated five gashes on his head. The taxi driver witnessed the attack, but refuses to give his account to police because he fears retribution, Rahiem said. The attorney said he went to police to report what had happened, but so far they have yet to investigate.

On Saturday, Rahiem’s son, 22-year-old university student Suhaib Inam, was waiting at a repair shop in Rawalpindi as mechanics worked on his father’s car when gunmen in a car and on motorcycles pulled up, Inam said. Mohammed Ahmeddin, owner of the shop, witnessed the attack.

“They began threatening everyone, telling them to leave,” Ahmeddin said. “I said, ‘Why should we leave? This is our shop.’”

Inam said the gunmen set his father’s car on fire and then left.

Rahiem said he has asked local authorities for bodyguards but was turned down.

“Now I restrict myself to my house and court,” he said during an interview in his small office within the bustling grounds of Rawalpindi district court. “I never used to carry a gun, but now I take a gun with me all the time. Because you can’t take any chances.”
 

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