IN a highly distasteful episode, personnel reportedly belonging to Military Intelligence helped free a suspect in a land-grabbing case from a Sukkur police lock-up on Monday. Besides thrashing the police officials, they also roughed up media-men who arrived to cover the fracas, with some of the journalists receiving serious injuries. Though senior MI officials in Sukkur have apologised to pressmen, this is not enough as the incident is indicative of a bigger problem. Several similar incidents involving military personnel have been reported from all over Pakistan in the past. Unfortunately, at times those in uniform, especially men belonging to the ‘agencies’, act as if they consider themselves above and immune to the law. Aside from the brazenness and illegality of such actions, the high-handedness reflects a disdain for ‘bloody civilians’ — police and government officers alike — and the rule of law.
The army’s top brass needs to investigate the Sukkur incident. Those involved in assaulting journalists and police officers need to be disciplined. Also, if it is established that the men were trying to protect individuals involved in illegal activities such as land-grabbing, they must face the law. In the longer term the military needs to change its internal culture. As it is, anyone with any sort of influence in Pakistan makes a complete mockery of the law when it stands in their way. There is thus an urgent need to inculcate respect for the law and civilian institutions within the ranks, especially amongst personnel attached to intelligence agencies. Such ugly incidents serve only to reinforce the impression that members of the armed forces can ill-treat civilians with impunity. At the same time, by doing so they also demoralise civilian law enforcers.