THE PML-N’s trust in the judicial system may have been shaken recently and the Punjab government may have a legal case to argue against a Lahore High Court order to make public a judicial inquiry report into the 2014 Model Town violence, but the law and legality do not appear to be the highest of priorities for the PML-N in the matter. Instead, the PML-N seems determined to keep secret the judicial inquiry into the violence that broke out between the Punjab law enforcement and supporters of Tahirul Qadri in June 2014. Until the judicial report is made public, it will not be clear if it is an exhaustive and accurate account of events leading up to the violence and whether guilt has been fairly apportioned. But the fierceness of the PML-N’s objections suggests there is enough in the report to, at the very least, create fresh political trouble for the party, something it surely wants to avoid at the current time. That itself is a reason to make the report public; matters of law and order, especially involving significant civilian casualties, need to be pulled away from the clutches of politics.
It is necessary to remember the events that led up to the shocking violence in Model Town more than three years ago. The PML-N was under immense political pressure at the time because of allegations of rigging in the 2013 general election. Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri were just two months away from jointly marching on Islamabad to hold their infamous dharna outside parliament. The military had newly launched Operation Zarb-i-Azb in North Waziristan Agency after the brazen Karachi airport attack in early June. The political atmosphere in the country was febrile and the PML-N’s mettle was being tested. If, as the siege of parliament later demonstrated, the supporters of Tahirul Qadri were not above violence and clashing with security personnel, decades of PML-N control in Punjab suggested that the party was not above unleashing the security apparatus on political rivals. In any case, when numerous civilians are killed and injured in clashes with police in a highly charged political environment, there can be no presumption of innocence or proportionate use of force. An independent, authentic inquiry becomes necessary.
What is particularly troubling about the PML-N’s attempts to keep the inquiry report secret is that the provincial government does not appear to believe its version of events ought even to be questioned. An earlier JIT report had exonerated the PML-N and police officers in such complete terms as to be risible. If the judicial inquiry report is flawed, the PML-N should challenge its findings in court rather than assert executive prerogative to keep it secret. It is doubly strange that at a time the PML-N is calling for other reports to be made public, it is trying to suppress the Model Town inquiry report.
Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2017