Another day, another ‘police encounter’, another family torn apart. It should have all passed in silence, as it always does. After all, Naqeebullah Mehsud’s  story too has quietly receded in the background, in spite of all the public outcry it had generated. And by no stretch of imagination can institutionalized state-sponsored crime get any worse than in the case of Naqeebullah’s uniformed murderer, Rao Anwar, that devil’s reincarnation who boasts of having killed hundreds of youth in fake encounters , yet remains unscathed, beyond the seemingly limitless reach of the judiciary’s newfound activism, unafraid of a paralyzed downtrodden public that is yet to recognize its potential of turning misery into vengeance, and, above all, protected by the system that nurtures the likes of him in the first place.
The passerby can be heard questioning why the police fired on the passengers in the vehicle when they
Sahiwal, however, provided an interesting twist to what has become- no matter how gut wrenching and shocking in reality- a very quiet, almost routine, affair; carefully wrapped and marketed in layers of deception and propaganda, surrounded by an eerie silence. The state’s summary execution machine, the ‘CTD’- an elaborate cover, by the way, for the ‘Sacred Cow’ and its Intelligence agencies- was caught in the act this time, red-handed, filmed doing what it always revels in doing with single-minded dedication: murdering innocent people and receiving accolades for its ‘brave’ efforts to ‘secure’ the country. The whole sordid show couldn’t have been more unprofessional, sloppy, and reckless in terms of the indecent haste with which it was carried out. God knows which drunk officer, probably seething with arrogance, unafraid of retribution on earth or justice dealt out from the skies, made the decision to do the shockingly awkward stuff of murdering an entire innocent family in front of their three little children on a busy highway. Whoever this devil in man’s clothing was, with one rash decision, he spoiled the show for literally everyone who is normally complicit in these crimes. The ISPR couldn’t give the ISI’s foster child- the CTD- a public thump on the back for ‘securing’ Pakistan. The government couldn’t boast of its success in eliminating yet another terrorist cell that was hell-bent on destroying 200 million Pakistanis. The electronic media couldn’t do its sensational yellow-journalism stuff. But interestingly enough, in spite of the truth being exposed at the very onset of the crime, PTI’s Information Minister did manage to brag about ‘killing extremely dangerous terrorists’, before making a ‘Kaptaanic  U-turn’ and declaring unabashedly that ‘the families will be compensated if they are proven to be innocent’! I suggest someone should do that to his family, and then hear his opinion about a ‘compensation’, if they are proven unrelated to this shameless scoundrel who doesn’t shy away from regurgitating such horse manure in public.
Now let’s get the facts straight. This is not the first time that such an outrage is taking place in Pakistan; it is the same story recurring for the umpteenth time, though with some subtle differences which shocked the masses and helped jettison the painful tragedy into the media limelight. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, more than 2000 people were killed in fake encounters in Pakistan in 2015. Judging from cases reported in the media, between 2016 and 2017, 1226 people are known to have been killed in almost 800 fake encounters across Pakistan. The same trend continued, albeit with slightly lesser intensity and even lesser media coverage, into 2018, in Imran Khan’s ‘Naya’ Pakistan. Between May 2014 and May 2018, a total of at least 3345 people are reported to have been killed in staged encounters. The actual number of deaths is believed to be far higher than the acknowledged figures, since many cases are simply not reported in the media, specifically those occurring in remote areas such as FATA and Balochistan, where some of the worst atrocities, directly involving the Army, tend to occur.
The pattern of these killings, in the major cities at least, is generally in the following order: A ‘suspect’ is whisked away by the intelligence agencies, the ISI being the prime culprit in most cases, with the CTD, police, and various Intelligence agencies as cohorts. After this forced disappearance, a period of silence ensues. No one gets to hear about the fate of the abductee. Loved ones have to often endure long periods of agony and mental torture, extending from months to years, before they get to know about the fate of their relatives. In some cases, out of fear of the issue being raised in the media, ‘anonymous’ people threaten the concerned families to observe complete silence if they wish to see their loved ones again. The end scene is typically gruesome: after years of horrific torture in the dungeons of the secret agencies, a staged police encounter takes place in a deserted place, followed by news splashed all over the electronic media, announcing yet another pyrrhic ‘victory’ in a war that was never ours to begin with. To make the cruel drama sound real, a gloss is inserted in the story without fail: in the ensuing exchange of fire, two or three of the suspects managed to escape from the scene. From the tribal hinterlands to the mega-cities, the heart wrenching stories are simply endless, and so is the agony of the families of the victims.
In the wake of the APS tragedy, the security establishment, cheered on by much of the hypocritical English-speaking ‘liberal’ press, found a God-sent opportunity to legalize lawlessness and institutionalize summary killings. This it did in the form of military courts and the newly created but soon-to-be notorious Counter Terrorism Department (CTD), essentially an unbridled military-backed version of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Punjab. The military courts story was essentially kangaroo courts taken to new levels of absurdity that are only possible in Pakistan. There is no proof whatsoever of even the mere existence of any such courts, except for the frequent press releases by the ISPR announcing that an X number of ‘terrorists’ had been sentenced by the ‘military court’ after they had ‘admitted’ to their ‘guilt’ in front of a ‘magistrate’. This was simply a convenient way of handing down death sentences and life imprisonments without trial, and providing legal cover thereby to the enforced disappearances and summary executions that had been going on unchecked since the days of Pervez.
The CTD, on the other hand, offered a perfect cover for the ISI’s criminal enterprise. In popular perception, the CTD has come to represent an extension of the police, whereas it operates in collaboration with and under the direct supervision of the ISI. It is a convenient institutional scapegoat in the event of any embarrassment, such as the one in Sahiwal, for it serves to deflect blame away from heart of the security establishment- the Army and the ISI- to an organ of the security state that will not become any more maligned than it already is by the exposure of a new atrocity: the police. And so, in tragedies like the one we have just witnessed in Sahiwal, as people vent their anger in the streets and on social media platforms, they direct their rage towards the Punjab Police, often failing to even mention the CTD, let alone the ISI, which takes the CTD as a cover for its operations. In fact, some people, not knowing where the strings are pulled from, are naive enough to plead for the interference of the Army and ISI in internal security, instead of leaving the CTD in charge!
The whole charade is subtle, but surely decipherable for any Pakistani who understands the workings of the system, and possesses the common sense to fathom how the ‘boys’ have learned to pull the strings from behind the curtains without embroiling the security establishment in controversy. For the deep state, there has been a definite ‘evolution’ in recent years, the result of a steady ‘learning curve’ since the days of Pervez. With Kiyani, Raheel Shareef, and now the goofy with a ‘doctrine’, the façade has become subtler and slightly more complex, without, remarkably though, disturbing the foundations of the system. Imran Khan perfectly fits into this quasi-liberal-populist ‘democratic’ model, which does not challenge or disturb the foundations of the security state, and which uses the concept of an ‘Islamic welfare state’ (Riyasat-e-Madinah) as a veneer for legitimizing the system. The ‘Riyasat-e-Madinah’ patch is a carefully orchestrated and clever deception designed to feed the popular imagination, but, given the deceit that it is intended to be, one that is bound to ring hollow with the passage of time.
The heart breaking images of two innocent girls, their beautiful, but grieved, faces capturing the paradox of a freshly scarred childhood, with a visibly shaken, injured brother sitting alongside, will haunt generations of Pakistanis to come. The murder of Khalil’s family and his friend, and the trauma endured by children who were forced to witness their father, mother and sister being gunned down in front of their eyes, amidst desperate pleas of being spared in exchange for bribe, have undoubtedly shaken the public conscience. The overwhelming reaction on the social media and the shut-up calls given to the apologists of the security establishment and its ‘democratic’ cover- the PTI- go to show that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel in Pakistan. The public in Pakistan is moved when it sees such blatant injustice. Slowly, the masses in Punjab and in cities such as Karachi are beginning to develop some appreciation of the hell that the people in Balochistan and FATA have been forced to go through at the hand of the security apparatus on a routine basis for almost two decades. The latent potential for change, and for a popular movement that embodies true change, is undoubtedly there.
Protestors protesting against the Sahiwal massacre and thrashing policemen in the process
The tragedy, however, is that there are hardly any constructive avenues left for the masses to channel their anger; the chronic crisis of leadership continues unabated. Imran Khan has only deepened the acute sense of frustration that grips Pakistan. Instead of being the ‘safety valve’ that was supposed to release the pressure that had been building up in the public sphere and thereby ensure the safe continuation of a failed system, he has proven himself to be just another useless lid for the political pressure cooker. The ‘Kaptaan’ has reinforced the popular perception that Pakistani political parties of all shades are a bunch of opportunists who, upon assuming power, fall in line with the dictates of the security establishment and prove themselves to be a not-so-entertaining comedy show in terms of governance and overhauling a corruption-ridden system. Imran Khan’s pre-election vocal promises to take action on the issue of missing persons, end the persecution of the people of Balochistan and the tribal areas, and to bring to justice those responsible for fake encounters proved to be sheer opportunism and cheap vote-garnering tactics. The listless leadership of the political parties of the religious right is adept at singing in tune with the establishment and keeping its lips tightly sealed on ‘sensitive’ issues. The likes of Nawaz and Zardari rightly belong to the dustbin of history. Movements like PTM, founded on rights-based narrow ethnic politics, by articulating the grievances of a single ethnicity, fill in some of the gap at a provincial, purely local level, but lack the uniting narrative and credibility to bring about meaningful change at the national level. Within the Islamic section of society, those who had resorted to an armed struggle against the security state- which they legitimately perceived as being allied with Western powers and perfectly subservient to imperial agendas- have over the years been unable to garner sufficient popular support to bring about systemic change or present themselves as real alternatives to the mess that the present system is. Their demonization, partly due to the reckless actions of some, and partly due to a sustained media-campaign overseen by the security establishment, has eroded their credibility further. And so the masses are left today with Facebook and Twitter to vent their rage, and with God to complain.
The tragedy in Sahiwal has driven home the reality that ‘Naya Pakistan’ is just a false dawn. The people of Pakistan await a true dawn that replaces a diabolical system rooted in injustice, inequality, and subservience to imperial agendas of all shades with one that embodies the dynamic, independent Islamic Pakistan of Iqbal’s dreams.
- For those who are not familiar enough with Pakistan and don’t know Naqeebullah Mehsud, I will try to explain in simple words, and without going into details, the phenomenon he became after his tragic death. Naqeeb was a young Pashtun belonging to the Mehsud tribe, who was gunned down in a fake police encounter by Karachi’s infamous ‘encounter specialist’, Rao Anwar, SSP Malir District. Rao is an uneducated man whose career in police began with a clerical post, but who, with political patronage of the PPP and ISI, rose rapidly through the ranks to become one of the most notorious cops in Pakistan’s history. He falsely claimed that Naqeebullah was a militant who had participated in several attacks against the security forces. It later transpired that he was just an ordinary tribesman, with a decent following on the social media, who was picked up after a tip off that he possessed a decent sum of cash for purchasing a shop and starting a cloth business in Sohrab Goth, Karachi. After extracting 9 million in ransom from him, the police tortured him even more, demanding a total of 20 million. He was eventually killed alongside two prisoners who had been brought from the Punjab province for being summarily executed in a staged encounter. Naqeeb’s killing generated great outrage on the social media, leading to protests in Karachi and elsewhere. It provided the impetus for the rise of the PTM and its country-wide Pashtun Long March (Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, an ethnic nationalist movement that has voiced the grievances of a large section of Pashtuns, specifically those of the tribal areas, and is known for its vocal criticism of the Army and Intelligence agencies). Rao Anwar was ‘removed’ from his post after the controversy. He tried to flee to his most frequently visited overseas destination, Dubai, where he owns property to the tune of billions, but the attempt was spoiled by a young immigration official at the Islamabad airport. He has been named in judicial inquiries instigated by the former Chief Justice, Mian Saqib Nisar, but has since been living undisturbed and comfortably in Islamabad, and continues to enjoy official protection from the ISI and politicians like Zardari. ↑
- 444 youth, according to official statistics. Victims would sometimes be airlifted from FATA and Punjab and handed over to Rao Anwar for being summarily executed. ↑
- Sahiwal is a small district and town 180 km south of Lahore, along the Lahore-Multan route. Its old name was Montgomery, named after the British administrator of the region. ↑
- For those not familiar with Urdu, the Army in Pakistan is known as ‘muqaddas gai’, i.e. the ‘sacred cow’, much like the sacred cow of Bani Israel (the Children of Israel), which they stubbornly refused to sacrifice. ↑
- Kaptaan means Captain in Urdu. Imran Khan has been vigorously promoted as a messiah for some 200 million Pakistanis by the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf) by capitalizing on his former role as the Captain of the Cricket Team that won the 1992 World Cup. ↑
- ‘Naya’ or ‘Naiya’, depending on how you pronounce it, means ‘new’ in Urdu. Imran Khan had based his campaign on the slogan of bringing about ‘tabdeeli’ (change) and a ‘naya’ (new) Pakistan to replace the supposedly ‘purana’ (old) one. ↑
- Source: HRCP ↑
- It is interesting to note how the Left has reinvented itself in Pakistan as ‘liberals’. What is even more interesting is how they have, in recent years, assumed the role of cheerleaders for the military’s murderous death machine. ↑
- My sincere apologies to the Harry Potter of Pakistan for mentioning his daddy’s name and omitting his. ↑