We will continue to suffer APS Peshawar, Shikarpur, Peshawar Imamia Masjid and Baldia colony like tragedies, for insidiousness, capable of justifying violence, has seeped deep into our body politic. Savagery itself is not problematic. Only the interests and biases it facilitates or hampers is what our state and society fuss over. Was it for religion, sect, ethnicity, power, honour or national security, we ask. To end violence we need to carve in stone the principle, that ‘your right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins’.
Zarb-i-Azb was necessary because functional states retain monopoly over violence and don’t share sovereignty, we are told. Doesn’t this logic apply to sectarian groups and Karachi? We have now read confessions of a serial killer who claimed association with MQM (which MQM denied) and alleged that the Baldia colony fire was arson ordered by MQM to teach factory owners a lesson for not coughing up all the extortion money demanded.
This JIT report has no evidentiary value for the Baldia case as Rizwan Qureshi’s statement is based on hearsay. Everyone must be presumed innocent until proven guilty and MQM is right in asserting that its media trial on the basis of such report is unfair. But the JIT report, MQM’s reaction to it, and the Baldia colony incident together epitomise how our state is devoid of integrity, how our Constitution’s promise of protecting life and property of citizens means nothing and how our society has reconciled with these ugly truths.
Karachi functions under a smog of fear. Isn’t this fear reinforced by the MQM itself?
The JIT report has caused excitement not due to its legal value but because of the plausibility of its content. It provides an insight into Karachi’s underworld of fear and violence: accounts of killing at leisure; shutting down markets; assassination plans (including that of Senator Shahi Syed); hit lists (including prominent anchors); and tales of extortion, including the Baldia colony arson story.
From a legal perspective, the JIT report’s only utility is that it provides names, locations and dates and can be a basis for further investigation. What is damning about this report is what isn’t in there. One, that the state (including ISI, Rangers, IB, FIA and police) has done nothing since 23.06.13, when it stumbled on this information, to determine its veracity. And two, MQM’s ferocious reaction to it that raises more questions than it answers.
MQM is right. This JIT report isn’t really about Baldia (only one paragraph records how Qureshi thinks Baldia is an arson/extortion case). An FIA report on the incident ruled out all causes for the fire erupting, calling the fire ‘accidental’. It also ruled out extortion as the factory owners filed no ‘bhatta’ complaint!
The Zahid Alavi Judicial Commission Report on Baldia is equally tentative about causation. It states in the absence of conclusive evidence that “the fire may have been caused by short circuit”. Interestingly, it is the factory owners who have been pushing for forensic tests to determine the cause of fire. On Dec 19, 2012, the Sindh High Court ordered that such tests be conducted. To date no forensic report has been produced despite court orders.
So were those named in the JIT and allegedly MQM affiliates (Asghar Baig, Rehman Bhola, Hammad Siddiqui and Farooq Saleem) ever interrogated? How did Afaq Ahmad (MQM Haqiqi) get hold of this JIT report back in February 2014 when he alleged in a press conference that Baldia was a case of arson/extortion carried out by MQM? He further alleged that the Sindh governor and an MQM minister were involved, judges were threatened, and our prime minister had to intervene to get factory owners bail.
The record suggests that the factory owners weren’t being granted bail initially. The prime minister reportedly met with the Karachi Chamber of Commerce that was perturbed by how the factory owners were being treated. A supplementary challan was submitted by the police that dropped the murder charge against them included in the FIR lodged by MQM. Then the factory owners were granted bail.
Karachi functions under a smog of fear. Isn’t this fear reinforced by the MQM itself? On May 12, 2013, didn’t Altaf Bhai threaten adversaries (including PTI) with talk of breaking bones and transforming Karachi’s ‘Teen Talwar’ into real swords? Hasn’t he threatened media with “consequences” should it not behave? Didn’t he threaten to ban Punjabi leaders from Sindh after Bau Anwar’s murder in December 2014? Didn’t he also suspend MQM Rabita Committee and chide it for making money by “selling the streets” of Karachi?
Does MQM want to be loved or feared? Machiavelli preferred fear: one’s actions can guarantee fear not love he said. Is the popular belief in MQM’s ability to inflict harm on others our establishment’s conspiracy or a consequence of MQM’s deliberate actions meant to ensure that its threats remain credible and its influence, partly rooted in fear, remains intact? If the Baldia case isn’t investigated further, does the plausibility of Qureshi’s anecdotal account together with its deniability for legal purposes enhance or hurt MQM’s influence?
We’ve had two former generals speak this past week. Musharraf explained how we nurtured the Taliban to spite India. He left out why the Indian army doesn’t need to fight its proxies within India but Pakistan does. Asad Durrani, former DG ISI, speculated that Pakistan probably knew about Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan and would have used it as a bargaining chip! Is this the mindset of a normal state?
Did ISI know about Osama bin Laden? Does it have in custody the two men wanted by UK authorities for Dr Imran Farooq’s murder? We will never know. But what we do know is this: if it did or does, such information or possession will only be used as a bargaining chip in the game of thrones our power elites play and not to do the right thing. Remember Supreme Court’s now forgotten order in the Karachi law and order case and its focus on political parties’ militant wings?
This latest JIT report will only be used as a bargaining chip by other players to negotiate with the MQM before being forgotten. It might help get the factory owners off the hook. But Karachi will bleed on.
The writer is a lawyer.
Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2015