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Footprints: The disquiet in Daska

Updated May 31, 2015

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PEOPLE walk by the torched office of the sub-divisional police officer in Daska, Sialkot, where violent confrontations took place between lawyers and police on May 25.—Photo by writer
PEOPLE walk by the torched office of the sub-divisional police officer in Daska, Sialkot, where violent confrontations took place between lawyers and police on May 25.—Photo by writer

From Glutian Morr on Daska Road, a 10km length of half tarmac, half dusty and broken road will take you to the ancestral home of Rana Khalid Abbas in Seikhwan village.

A large canvas canopy has been erected to protect the mourners from the sun.

Four days after the incident, they are still pouring in to condole with the family of the president of the local bar association who was gunned down by a police inspector just outside Daska’s model city police station on Old Kutchehry Road on Monday.

Read: Bar president, lawyer killed in clash between lawyers and police in Sialkot

Every time someone steps under the canopy, all the people offer fateha, raising their hands to pray for the departed soul.

“What a terrible thing to have happened! What is there to investigate when thousands of people watched Inspector Shahzad Mahmood Warraich killing my brother?” asks Rana Qayyum, a cousin of the slain lawyer, referring to the formation of a joint investigation team by the Punjab government to probe the killing of two lawyers by the SHO.

Others agree. “It’s a cover-up, a clumsy attempt to save the murderer,” interjects another lawyer sitting here. “We will not rest until the killer of our colleagues is punished.”

On my way back, I run into a caravan of the new district police officer of Sialkot who is on his way to Seikhwan on a public relations mission to ‘appease’ the family of Rana Khalid. Many lawyers, including Rana Qayyum, believe that his predecessor was removed unnecessarily. Some suspect the change is part of the cover-up attempt.

Also Read: Daska killings: Protesting lawyers try to break into Punjab Assembly

In Daska, the record room of the tehsil municipal administration (TMA) is locked and its staff has gone home after half a day of work. It is Friday, after all. But a staffer of the TMA library next door is eager to help and puts me through to the man in charge, Farooq Ahmed. It was he who called the police for help after some lawyers manhandled him and his colleagues.

“I will have to consult my friends before I meet you,” his nervous voice says on the phone; then the words came out in a hot, tension-ridden gush: a lawyer and a man apparently his client visited Ahmed on Monday morning and demanded a copy of a marriage contract. The visitors “just got violent” and started to make calls to other lawyers when they were informed that the office did not have a copy of the original nikahnama.

“I was scared and fled the office. I don’t know what happened afterwards,” Ahmed says, before hanging up.

Inside the City Police Station just across the road, everything appears normal. Upon inquiry, however, I learn that the entire staff has been replaced since that unfortunate Monday. Only Moharrir Zulfiqar Ali kept his job for the sake of continuity.

“It happened instantly: the lawyers attacked SHO Shahzad Mahmood Warraich and he fired back in self-defence,” says Ali. “The lawyers would have burnt down this building and killed us all if the SHO hadn’t acted.”

The district police officer and the joint investigation team are expected to visit the police station soon. The new SHO, who has replaced Warraich, brushes aside the report that his predecessor had a criminal record. “I am not aware of that,” he replies when asked if Warraich had ever been accused or convicted of murdering a man in the past.

The lawyers present an altogether different case. Mirza Aftab, secretary of the Daska Bar Association, says he received the call from a lawyer informing him that Warraich had detained him and a couple of other lawyers inside the TMA record branch.

Take a look: Daska: All that is wrong with Pakistan's police and lawyers

“We rushed there to find SHO Warraich standing guard outside the locked TMA record room with lawyers detained inside. Rana Khalid politely requested him to leave.”

According to the lawyers’ version, a little later — when 12 to 14 lawyers led by the bar president were walking to the police station to get a report lodged against the TMA officials for detaining their colleagues — someone raised a slogan against Warraich on seeing him coming out of the DSP office in the adjoining building.

“Infuriated, the inspector snatched a Kalashnikov from one of his gunmen and opened direct fire, targeting Rana Khalid. Irfan Chohan was also hit and passed away on his way to hospital in Lahore,” says Aftab.

‘Independent’ witnesses to the killing are hard to find, probably because no one wants to risk being caught in the crossfire between the police and the lawyers. One man who admits to having witnessed the incident, or a part of it at least, says the bar president was shot at from close range.

It is for the probe to establish the facts. At this early stage, given the confidence of the lawyers and their determination to get justice, it seems that the Punjab government has another Model Town-like situation on its hands, even though it is still struggling to scale the mountain created by the firing incident outside Dr Tahirul Qadri’s headquarters in June 2014. And the government may find the lawyers a little more organised, well-spread-out and incessant in their protest.

The burnt buildings housing the offices of the DSP and TMA are evidence of the how strongly the lawyers feel about the killing of their colleagues and to what length they are ready to go to get justice for them.

Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2015

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