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Waiting for the next Naqeebullah

Updated March 24, 2018

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IT took a street movement, the insistence of the Supreme Court and the outright arrogance of those harbouring Rao Anwar, the Karachi police officer who had become a fugitive from the law after being cited in the extrajudicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud, to finally ensure he ended up in custody.

While the surrender of the policeman figured prominently in TV news bulletins and also featured in newspaper leaders, including an excellent one in this newspaper, and all the right questions were asked, it was left to Islamabad-based Azaz Syed, a journalist working for Geo, to piece together the sequence of events in the run-up to the dramatic appearance of Rao Anwar in court.

Reporters and TV viewers were amazed at the manner in which Rao Anwar came to the Supreme Court — in a car that was driven through a gate which, reporters say, does not even open for the attorney general of Pakistan.

That it was not a sudden appearance but one that was orchestrated was equally evident from the presence of a dozen or so policemen, including anti-terrorism commandos, who surrounded Rao Anwar when he alighted from his car and ushered him into the courtroom.

Also read: Mystery surrounds Rao Anwar’s case

Well, now the police official has returned to his favourite hunting ground of Karachi (though having lost his freedom) and a court has remanded him to the custody of the police investigating the case afresh. One TV report suggested that he is being kept in his own house in Malir Cantonment but there is no confirmation.

Reporters and TV viewers were amazed at the manner in which Rao Anwar came to the Supreme Court.

The two-and-a-half-month saga began when a young man from Waziristan, trying to eke out a living in Karachi, was picked up while entertaining a couple of friends over a cup of tea in Karachi’s Sohrab Goth area in early January this year. Some 10 days later, he was shot dead allegedly in an encounter with the police.

Police, most notably, Rao Anwar had dubbed Naqeebullah a Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan militant but when the young Mehsud’s friends and family took to the social media and then the streets to dispute the claim and also spell out how he was picked up before being killed some 10 days later, a storm started to brew.

Young Pakhtun activists protested vociferously and the government, the police force and also the country’s highest court took notice after it became apparent what had actually transpired. With the statements of the two friends, who’d been picked up with Mehsud but, thankfully, released, it appeared like an open-and-shut case.

Rao Anwar disappeared from public view and the next one heard of him was when he tried but failed to board a Dubai-bound Emirates flight from Islamabad airport due to a watchful FIA (Immigration) official who refused him permission to travel because his paper work was not in order. This was towards the end of January.

Dawn Investigation: Rao Anwar and the killing fields of Karachi

Even when he made the abortive attempt to leave the country, it was reported in the media that he arrived at the airport in the company of plainclothesmen who got his boarding card and completed the check-in on his behalf. Yet, nothing was confirmed.

Some two months later, that day’s events at Islamabad airport became the main reason the absconding police official finally resurfaced to face at least a bit of the music. Reporter Azaz Syed says when the Supreme Court asked police and intelligence agencies on more than one occasion to find and produce Rao Anwar they continued to dodge the issue.

However, when the Supreme Court insisted angrily, resistance started to weaken and CCTV evidence appeared which led to (via the Nadra database) the identification of the agency personnel who’d accompanied the police officer to the airport some 10 days after the murder of Naqeebullah Mehsud and in their supreme self-confidence made no effort to hide their faces.

It was after this development that Rao Anwar’s protectors were left with no option but to facilitate his surrender. But, sources suggest, there was still some negotiations on the terms of surrender including a fresh joint investigation team to probe the Naqeebullah case, even though the police had registered a case after an earlier Sindh police JIT.

Therefore, when he finally arrived at the Supreme Court a little over two month and a few hearings after the young Mehsud was gunned down, it appears everyone was ready for him. One hopes and prays the Supreme Court’s interest in this case will ensure that justice is dispensed.

But can one also hope that the larger issue of forced disappearances and summary executions also be addressed? I, for one, am not optimistic. The Supreme Court is right to focus its attention on the government’s shortcomings in various areas of concern to the common man. There, however, seems to be no commitment or effort on the part of any institution to undertaking judicial reform which is the only route to ensuring the provision of justice at a very basic level and protecting the life and liberty of citizens.

And, when viewed against the battle the country is waging against terrorist groups, the legislative and judicial framework appears wholly inadequate. Where extrajudicial killings and disappearances are, and should be, repugnant and unacceptable in any civilised society, the system finds itself incapable of prosecuting and sentencing those guilty of heinous crimes.

Here lies my worry and concern. One Rao Anwar can be taken out of commissioning for a while perhaps but the pressure and, to some warped minds, the rationale remains to ‘take out’ those considered guilty. Such a situation and attitude will always lead to bloody miscarriages of justice.

Regardless of high-and-mighty doctrines, pledges to dispense justice, and declarations of a commitment to the common man, without meaningful reform we will always be waiting for the next Naqeebullah Mehsud.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2018