A YEAR ago, the murder of Naqeebullah Mehsud in Karachi sparked public outrage of an intensity that seemed impossible for the state to ignore.

Staged police encounters both in Sindh and elsewhere, especially Punjab, have gone virtually unchallenged over decades, claiming the lives of untold numbers of innocents, or at least of those not yet proven guilty. But this one caught the imagination of civil society. Perhaps it was because the story of the young man — no terrorist as alleged by the cops but an aspiring model — found its way on to social media where it echoed for weeks. Or maybe it was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back — one murder too many even in a country inured to state brutality, that too allegedly at the hands of ‘encounter specialist’ SSP Rao Anwar.

Dawn Investigation: Rao Anwar and the killing fields of Karachi

The event also proved a catalyst for festering resentments among a large segment of the population to coalesce into a movement for human rights. Nevertheless, one year on, the trial court has yet to indict the senior police official, who has since retired, or the other 25 suspects.

The facts of the case were, sadly, unexceptional. Four men, Naqeebullah among them, were abducted by cops in Karachi’s Malir district, taken to an abandoned farmhouse in the area and shot dead on Jan 13, 2018.

Take a look: Waiting for the next Naqeebullah

None of the victims, it subsequently emerged, even had a criminal record. A police inquiry committee found circumstantial evidence of Rao Anwar’s presence at the scene of the killings; a supplementary charge-sheet accused him and his subordinate cops of registering fake criminal cases, kidnapping, murder, and destroying evidence.

Also read: 'Naqeebullah Mehsud was innocent, was killed in a fake encounter,' says inquiry team

The case against the top police official could have been a turning point in the bloody saga of police brutality and extra-judicial killings that has long afflicted this country. However, what has transpired since makes a mockery of the criminal justice system; indeed, it displays a wicked disregard for the possibility of transitioning into a well-ordered society.

Rao Anwar’s demeanour in court, where he would arrive with full protocol and without handcuffs, was unmistakably that of a man secure in the knowledge that he was above the law — indeed, as unaccountable as those whose backing he allegedly enjoys.

The former SSP was confined for a few months to the comfort of his own home, conveniently declared a sub-jail on flimsy pretexts. Even that restriction was lifted last July when he was granted bail by an anti-terrorism court.

Selective application of ‘justice’, an absence of due process, and the perversion of law enforcement into a vehicle of terror corrodes the very foundations of society, ensuring an unending cycle of violence.

The message that the lack of a trial thus far in the Naqeebullah case and the shocking indulgence shown to the prime suspect is that the police need fear no consequences for their actions against a hostage citizenry.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2019

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