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A macabre saga

WHAT could have resulted in a very serious crisis was averted by the army chief’s timely intervention. The Sindh IG and a number of senior police officers applied for leave en masse after an incident of alleged strong-arming of the police command to register a case, followed by the shameful mode of arrest of an ex-soldier son-in-law of a former prime minister. What happened in the wee hours of Oct 19 was macabre, full of irony and folly.

In the wake of the army chief directing the Karachi Corps Commander to “immediately inquire into the circumstances to determine the facts”, the IG wisely decided to defer his own leave and directed his officers to set aside their leave applications for 10 days “in the larger national interest”.

Normally, in an inter-institutional conflict, a joint court of inquiry is constituted with, in a case like this, senior representatives of the military, police and an intelligence agency, if required. This one is solely a military probe to determine who planned and executed the task of forcing the police to register a criminal case involving non-cognisable offences and to hastily arrest the accused in a humiliating manner. Were legal requirements fulfilled, or was the purpose to teach a recalcitrant former soldier-turned-politician, and by extension his family and political party, a lesson?

The Sindh chief minister then announced that his government would also conduct an inquiry. A cabinet-level committee was accordingly notified. He assured the police top brass that his government would “not let them be demoralised under any condition”. But it is surprising that he hadn’t contacted the federal government to ask for a joint inquiry if the Rangers were involved, directly or indirectly, in pressuring the police command. This civil armed force, though led by a serving army major general, comes within the administrative and operational purview of the interior ministry.

Something happened to prevent the police from carrying out their legal obligations.

The most prominent person missing from the scene is none other than the chief executive of the federation. The prime minister has chosen to be a silent spectator. It is intriguing that he did not to talk to the IG, who is appointed by the federal government. He may have worked behind the scenes and allowed the army chief to handle the situation. The army chief did well to speak to both the head of the PPP and the IG to provide assurances that a fair probe would be conducted.

This incident has an important political dimension that cannot be ignored. The main opposition parties, having formed the Pakistan Democratic Movement, are currently pursuing a path of protest against the PTI-led government, which they perceive and now openly profess to be propped up and supported by the so-called security establishment and the deep state. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, convicted and now declared a fugitive by the courts, has openly named key public office holders of national institutions in his allegations. Prime Minister Imran Khan is chafing and castigating those who allowed Sharif to go to London for ‘medical treatment’. He wants him back in prison. Meanwhile, the PDM’s crowd-pulling events seem to have triggered panic in the corridors of power. Sharif’s first speech resulted in the registration of a case of sedition, among other serious charges, in Lahore, followed by another case registered against his daughter and her associates for breach of public order en route to Gujranwala.

Then came Karachi. Maryam Nawaz, accompanied by her husband and other party workers, visited the Quaid-i-Azam’s mausoleum. Her husband chanted slogans there, in disregard for the sanctity of this solemn national symbol. The jalsa took place that evening. What followed in the early hours of the next day is now the subject of inquiry.

Hopefully, the facts will not only be unearthed but also made public. Without jeopardising the probe, I would like to ask some questions. Let’s start with the police.

It is the right of any citizen to have a case registered for any alleged violation of law and if cognisable offence is reported. Did any individual or any state representative approach the police to register a criminal case? Did the police ask for a written complaint if no cognisable offence was found and refer the complainant to obtain court directions? Something happened to prevent the police from carrying out their legal obligations. Did the provincial government or any of its functionaries prevent the police from registering the case?

What happened at the IG’s residence and at the office of a state agency? Did members of a civil armed force take charge of the house’s security perimeter? Did any officer(s) of an agency forcibly enter it? Were they met by the IG? Why couldn’t the matter be worked out there? What need was there to take him to an office of an intelligence agency or civil armed force? On a personal note, why did the IG leave his home that night? Was he dragged out? Once the case was registered, why was the hotel room of the accused, where his wife was also present, broken into? Was an investigation conducted before the arrest? Were the credentials of the complainant ascertained? Was the complainant present at the scene of the incident? Did the complainant have a criminal record or political affiliation?

The entire saga stinks. Most of us who have devoted our life to public service are shocked. What happened is simply unacceptable to anyone who cares for the rule of law. The Association of Retired IGs has lodged its protest and demanded a fair probe. The Sindh High Court Bar Association has termed this as “undeclared martial law”. Many civil society organisations as well as this paper have condemned this undermining of the police force.

In order to restore institutional harmony, the writ of the state and the rule of law, justice must be done and those responsible for humiliating the Sindh police command must be awarded exemplary punishments. Martin Luther King Jr said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Tariq Khosa, "A macabre saga," Dawn. 2020-10-25.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political affiliation , Political dimension , Political party , Democracy , Politicians , Leadership , Governance , Maryam Nawaz , PM Imran Khan , Karachi , Sindh , IG , PTI , PPP