Islamabad, Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday warned the powerful military and intelligence agencies against interfering in political matters and curtailing media freedom in the country.
The unusual criticism of the armed forces was part of a court verdict about a protest carried out by a hardline Islamist party which had blocked the main entrance to Islamabad in 2017 over a proposed change in the oath taken by public servants, which the Islamists considered blasphemous.
“The Constitution emphatically prohibits members of the armed forces from engaging in any kind of political activity, which includes supporting a political party, faction or individual,” the apex court said.
The two-member bench also ordered the government and the Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa to take action against personnel who do not follow this directive, Efe news reported.
The November 2017 protests by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party, which was in news recently for protesting against the acquittal of Christian woman Asia Bibi from blasphemy charges, ended after an agreement between the Islamist party and the military.
After the protest, military personnel handed out money to the participants to help them return to their houses, an act which was captured on camera and went viral on social networks of the country.
The Supreme Court said there was a perception that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the premier spy agency of the country, was involved in politics and urged it to stay within its constitutional mandate.
“All intelligence agencies (…) must not exceed their respective mandates. They cannot curtail the freedom of speech and expression,” the verdict stated.
However, the court did not mention specific examples of interference in media or cases of armed forces personnel being involved in politics during the protest.
The Pakistani military establishment has ruled the country for half of its history since its independence. Even during democratic periods, it controls the security and foreign policy decisions of the government, according to many analysts.
Therefore, the criticism of the armed forces and intelligence agencies is rare and can have serious consequences.
Last year, Islamabad High Court judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui was sacked for accusing the ISI of manipulating the judicial process about the corruption charges against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during the general election.