The release of a judicial commission report on the killing of 14 people at Minhajul Quran justifies the pretext of the Punjab government for not making it public for three years. The report does not name anybody explicitly for the 2014 massacre at Lahore’s Model Town, but does not leave anything behind to draw a definite conclusion about the accused who were involved in it.
The report, compiled by Justice Baqar Najafi of the Lahore High Court (LHC), points its finger at Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif in every paragraph of its conclusion. It notes how the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the Lahore District Coordination Officer (DCO) were transferred ahead of the operation, which could not be possible without the complicity of the Punjab government and the Pakistan government, headed by Chief Minister Shahabaz Sharif and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif respectively. It also proves the involvement of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, when the joining of the new IGP was delayed until the operation had been completed.
The one-man commission, appointed on the request of the Punjab government, was not mandated to fix responsibility and identify the accused, because the government did not want it. Its main objective was to buy time and cover up the massacre. The commission completed its work by remaining within its jurisdiction. It did not identify the chief minister or any other accused by name, but provided clear-cut leads to him, when it said police did for what it was sent for and all police officers, under a plan, remained tightlipped and wanted to hide the truth from the commission. It also noted how the Intelligence Bureau (IB), under the civilian government, falsely claimed that firing was first started by guards at Minhajul Quran. On the other hand, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) identified a junior police officer, who fired at innocent people.
In its 132-page report, the commission deliberated on who had ordered the use of force to disperse the protesters and whether Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif ordered the police to disengage and why it was not communicated to the force? It also noted that no legal opinion was sought from the Punjab Advocate General (AG) before the operation was launched and the Punjab police appeared to be withholding testimony or concealing evidence in an apparent attempt to build a case that they were only following orders when they went on the offensive. The “motif of betrayal of law by the police aimed to bury the truth speaks volumes of their highhandedness,” it notes. In his affidavit, Shahbaz Sharif said he had found out about the incident at 9:30am on June 17, and gave orders to “disengage forthwith”. Dr. Tauqir Hussian Shah, the then-secretary to the chief minister, in his affidavit said that the orders to disengage were conveyed to the law minister and the home secretary and they had informed him that the situation would be normalised. However, neither the law minister nor the Punjab home secretary mentioned the disengagement orders in their written statements, the commission points out. The then home secretary said, “During the period, I also received a call from the secretary to the CM who conveyed the CM’s concern regarding the ongoing standoff and said that the matter should be resolved peacefully.” However, the commission observed, “While putting all the facts and circumstances in juxtaposition, it has become crystal clear that the order of disengagement was not passed at all, rather, the position taken by the Punjab CM appears to be an afterthought defence.”
The report says that Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah had chaired a meeting on June 16, 2014, in which a decision was taken to use force to remove encroachments and barriers at Minhajul Quran and Secretary to CM, Dr Tauqir Shah, consented on his behalf. “Admittedly, such a level of offensive by the police by any stretch of imagination did not commensurate with the level of resistance by unarmed PAT workers. No police official from top to bottom, whether actively participating in the operation or not, would utter a single word about the person under whose command the police resorted to firing upon the PAT workers. Understandably, all were in unison on withholding information from this tribunal,” it regretted.
The way the Punjab government resisted a Lahore High Court (LHC) order to release the inquiry report proves its involvement in the massacre. It had made its intensions clear from the outset when the police, under strict control of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, refused to register a case. PAT Chairman Dr. Tahirul Qadri had to stage a sit-in at Islamabad and a case was registered on intervention by the then Army Chief General Raheel Sharif. As a tactic to divert the public attention from the incident and gain time for dust to the settle, the Punjab government wrote to the LHC to form a commission to probe the incident. The report could have been more comprehensive had the PAT joined its proceedings.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has tried his best to save the killers. He appointed former Punjab IG Mushtaq Sukhera as tax ombudsman as reward for the killings and sent abroad his personal secretary Tuqeer Shah and other police officers, who were involved in the massacre. People know that it is impossible to imagine that the chief minister had no information of the police action. It is also beyond the imagination that a junior police officer had ordered firing at the protesters on his own. He has been sent abroad after the incident. It should also be investigated how a policeman, accused of killing 14 people, had fled the country so easily. If the chief minister and his team believe they are innocent, the best way to prove it is to send the case to a military court, where former SP Salman Ali would have to tell the truth about receiving the firing orders to save his own skin. However, it cannot happen in the government of Shahbaz Sharif.
If investigated in the light of the judicial commission report, the case will prove to be more dangerous for the Sharif family than the Panama case. Nobody expected anything serious for the Sharifs in the Panama case. The Model Town case has more serious consequences. It has reached a stage where it will be difficult for the family to contain it. According to sources, three high-ranking police officers, who took part in the massacre, contacted the PAT and offered to become approvers, if they were granted clemency. It appears more accused will be included in the case in the light of the report. Calls for a fresh and independent probe and resignation of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Law Minister Rana Sanaullah will grow. Another sit-in at Lahore will prove to be a last straw.