NationalVolume 14 Issue # 12

Any change in Pakistan?

Unfortunately, Pakistan has become a country where poor people are considered as helpless, powerless and ignorant citizens who are destined to serve the cruel and corrupt ruling elite throughout their lives. The poor people have been deprived of their fundamental rights, which even the constitution gives them to lead productive, purposeful, pleasant, peaceful, secure, healthy and honourable lives. The ruling elite, with its corrupt financial and ruthless political power, has become a real master of the poor, simple and down-trodden people. It is using democracy, legal, class-based education and cast-based (baradri) social systems and religion to plunder the country and control the people. Laws are made to protect the corrupt ruling elite; bills are passed in parliament to enhance its powers; amendments are made in the constitution to protect its partisan interests; new mega projects are launched to earn kickbacks; new banks are established and used for money laundering; security agencies like the FIA, NAB, police, etc. are used to crush opponents and control the masses; services of famous lawyers are hired to save corrupt members of the ruling elite from the courts and punishment. In short, the ruling elite has not only turned the poor people into real slaves but also made all the systems – political, legal, social, economic, education, etc.- corrupt and rigged. Resultantly, the entire Pakistani society, including almost all the institutions, has become corrupt, immoral, fragmented, ignorant, intolerant, irrational and callous. 

On 19 January, security officers of the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) of the Punjab police killed four people, including a couple Khalil, Nabeela and their teenage daughter Areeba, in Sahiwal in the presence of their other surviving three siblings, describing this incident as an encounter with terrorists. The CTD and the PTI Punjab government have tried their level best to prove the victims to be terrorists.  The Punjab governor Chaudhary Sarwar has claimed the victims were “at the wrong place, at the wrong time”. The Punjab law minister Raja Basharat has shamelessly described them “collateral damage”. The CTD changed its statements three times. But, a video which went viral on social media has exposed the CTD’s lies and cruelty as the three surviving children who were witness to the episode have told the truth. After seeing this tragic incident and listening to the real story from an injured son with tears in his eyes and two younger helpless sisters standing besides, the people of Pakistan are shocked and angry. To appease the people, Prime Minister Imran Khan in a tweet on 21 January “assured the nation” that those [found] guilty in the Sahiwal incident would be given “exemplary punishment”, adding that the grief and anger of the people of Pakistan over the incident was “understandable and justified”. “I assure the nation that when I return from Qatar not only will the guilty be given exemplary punishment, but I will review the entire structure of the Punjab police and start [the] process of reforming it,” added the premier.
On 22 January, a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) constituted to investigate the tragic incident has held officers of the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) responsible for the killings of three “innocent” members of the same family.

Addressing a press conference, Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat announced the government has decided to remove several officers of the CTD upon recommendations of the investigation team. According to the minister, “the Additional IG operations Punjab has been immediately removed from his post and ordered to report to the federal government, the AIG CTD Punjab has been removed, the DIG CTD has also been removed and ordered to report to the federal government, the SSP CTD and DSP CTD Sahiwal region have been suspended.”

Additionally, five CTD officials involved in the “encounter” have been ordered to be presented before an anti-terrorism court after being challaned in the case. The minister revealed that the JIT head has sought additional time to further investigate and present facts concerning Zeeshan Javaid, the fourth person killed in the CTD operation who the agency alleges has “links with a terrorist outfit”.

Many people, including journalists, analysts, social media users, etc., believe that the PTI government is trying to diffuse the situation and placate the people. The PTI’s incompetent government would not be able to introduce and implement police reforms in the coming days. It will not bring the real culprits of this tragic case to book. Because, the PTI and its allied parties like the PML-Q and the MQM- P have their own partisan interests to protect under the prevailing corrupt police system in the country. 

History tells us that politicians and political parties like the PML-N, the PPP, the MQM, etc., have not only politicised the police force but also used it even for extrajudicial killings. In July 1999, Raja Basharat, Punjab Law Minister and a member of the PTI’s coalition partner PML-Q, while talking to the BBC News as a law minister during Shahbaz Sharif’s 1997 to 1999 government in the province, asserted: “I agree with you that the police have been carrying out extra-judicial killings, but the number is so small that I think with the passage of time and with the emphasis of the government in discouraging it and the way the government is taking action against police officials, this number will diminish.” This practice is still going on in Pakistan, especially in the Punjab and Sindh.

The PML-N Punjab government had used the police, according to the Baker Najafi report, to kill 14 innocent members of the PAT and injured more than 100 in 2014. Unfortunately, and tragically, no punishment has yet been given to the real culprits, including Shahbaz Sharif, Rana Sanaullah and police officers.  According to a report by Human Rights Watch, many of the 2,108 people reported by the media to have been killed in encounters in 2015 died in circumstances that were “faked and did not occur in situations in which lives were at risk.” 

 According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), more than 2,000 people were killed in fake encounters in 2015. The HRCP statistics further confirm that 1,226 people were killed in 784 police encounters in 2016 and 2017 combined. While, The News writes: “The HRCP data reveals that total 2,117 police encounters have been reported in the Pakistan media from January 01, 2014 to May 11, 2018. As per the data, 6,610 male and 23 female and 12 minor victims were encountered by the police during this period out of which 3,345 people were killed. During these encounters, 173 accused were injured, 516 arrested and 2,602 accused escaped. Similarly, 10 passers-by were killed and 53 were injured in these encounters. The data further shows that 1,914 people of the total encounter victims had a criminal record, including 818 were involved in dacoities, 66 in kidnapping, 233 in murder, 258 in robbery, 13 in smuggling and 32 in rape cases. Similarly, 206 people were facing the charges of militancy, and 27 were facing the charges of extortion.”

These facts and figures clearly show that extrajudicial killings by the Punjab and Sindh police have become a policy of the state, which is very threatening for the stability of the country because it shakes trust in rule of law among the people.    

In fact, the war on terror has militarized the police which, resultantly, has led to the abuse of human rights. The police should change their working style to avoid such tragic incidents in the future. Asia director at the Human Rights Watch, Brad Adams, has aptly written: “Law enforcement has been left to a police force filled with disgruntled, corrupt and tired officers. Police should have the resources, training, equipment, and encouragement to act professionally instead of leaving Pakistanis to rely on favours and bribes to seek justice.” The PTI government should pay heed to these words by introducing all-sweeping reforms in the police. The media, including print, electronic and social, is playing its role very constructively as it has informed and educated the people regarding this tragic incident very impartially and quickly.  The media has unearthed the truth and forced the government to take action against police officers. It should continue its role as a watchdog in the country. The state should also hold the security agencies accountable for their poor performance.

It should also give justice to Naqeebullah Mehsud, Intizar Ahmed and Amal Umer’s families along with the Model Town and Sahiwal victims. If the PTI’ s government really wants to bring about a positive change in the country, it will have to rectify errors by introducing reforms in the police system. Otherwise, the dream of Naya Pakistan will never materialise.