REVELATIONS from a joint interrogation report which surfaced last week allegedly linking 2012’s Baldia Town factory fire to an MQM worker — suggesting the building was deliberately set on fire due to non-payment of extortion money — have expectedly kicked up a storm. But political point-scoring threatens to take the focus away from the 258 victims of the tragedy, pushing the narrative in another direction.

As the counsel for the victims pointed out on Friday, the statement of the suspect that has caused the uproar forms only one paragraph of the JIT report; the document filed with the Sindh High Court last week did not offer extensive details about the fire tragedy. In fact, the suspect was picked up in connection with a separate case and made the comments about the fire in passing, and, in the words of the counsel, “based on hearsay”, as the individual was not a witness to the blaze, nor did he take responsibility for it. It is also true that interrogation reports such as these are basically recorded statements of a suspect; no judgment is passed about their veracity — that is for investigators to establish. Moreover, the Baldia factory case currently pending with a trial court is a separate murder case.

But if it is true that the factory was set ablaze to punish the owners for not paying extortion money, then this horrific crime needs to be investigated and taken to its logical conclusion. The question is that when the interrogation team — which consisted of police as well as premier intelligence agencies — had the alleged details in June 2013, when the suspect was arrested, why was this lead not pursued then, and why did it only emerge recently? As expected, the MQM’s opponents have pounced on the party on the basis of the suspect’s claims. Nevertheless, the Muttahida needs to continue to convey its version of this matter — it is a fact that the party has earned a reputation for high-handedness, especially in Karachi. So whenever such allegations emerge, there is indeed a rush to judgment. But, ultimately, the Baldia tragedy should not be politicised and the ‘confession’ of the suspect should not be misread or placed out of context. The timely conclusion of the case assigning responsibility for the tragedy should hopefully give some closure to the families, and prevent similar disasters from being repeated.

Published in Dawn February 15th , 2015

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