ISLAMABAD: Accepting responsibility for the Sahiwal tragedy, Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi on Monday pledged on the floor of the National Assembly that those responsible for the incident would be “made an example, come what may”.

“The nation, this house and the opposition all are justified in stating that the present government is answerable [over the incident] and we will answer them,” the minister said while responding to the speeches by opposition members who held the PTI-led federal and Punjab governments responsible for the “massacre” of four members of a family by the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) personnel in Sahiwal on Saturday.

Unlike the provincial ministers of Punjab who had defended the CTD action at a news conference in Lahore on Sunday, calling it an operation against the terrorists, no one from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in the NA tried to justify the “dubious operation”.

Mr Afridi said the personnel involved in the incident had already been suspended and were behind bars. “But we will make them an example, even if I have to lose my ministry,” Mr Afridi said, adding that no person could justify the CTD action.

Opposition leader suggests house panel review JIT report on tragedy; PPP MNA calls for resignations of PM, Punjab CM

The minister supported the opposition’s demand that a parliamentary committee be formed to oversee the investigations into the “cold blooded murder” of four persons, including a teenage girl and her mother.

“Let the JIT (Joint Investigation Team) come up with its report. I promise …… that we will bring police reforms and also punish those responsible [for Sahiwal tragedy]. We will make sure that in future, no child faces a similar situation,” the minister added.

Responding to criticism of the government for not taking any action against former senior police officer Rao Anwar who is accused of killing more than 400 people in fake encounters, Mr Afridi said his case was pending before a court of law and neither he nor this parliament could take any action against him without a court order.

Minister for Communications Murad Saeed also “pledged” that the “murderers will be awarded stern punishment”.

Though members from the treasury and the opposition in their speeches kept on saying that they did not want to play politics on the issue, the government members taunted the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party over their failure to take action against those responsible for the Model Town tragedy in Lahore and the killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in Karachi.

Similarly, the opposition members reminded the treasury members how Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was in the opposition then, had held then chief minister Shahbaz Sharif responsible for the Model Town incident.

Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari asked why the previous PML-N government had not punished the police officials involved in the killing of innocent people, including women, in Model Town.

She alleged that the previous governments had not only tolerated but also encouraged fake encounters in the past. Asking the opposition to give proposals instead of criticising the government, she said it was their responsibility to end the culture of fake encounters, adding that there was a need to “correct” the Punjab police. “The CTD got courage because in the past they were allowed to carry out fake encounters.”

Responding to the opposition’s criticism of the prime minister’s tweet, Mr Mazari said Mr Khan had not condoned the CTD action. “In fact, he [prime minister] said the CTD had done good work against terrorism in the past, but that in this case it had acted irresponsibly,” she explained.

Earlier, when the house resumed its proceedings after a two-day recess, Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif asked the chair to suspend the normal business and discuss the Sahiwal tragedy. “The worst brutality has taken place in Sahiwal. A house committee should be made to review the JIT report on the incident,” he suggested. He accused the Punjab government of trying to cover up the incident.

Declaring the Sahiwal incident a “proof of the government’s incompetence”, former prime minister and PPP leader Raja Pervez Ashraf called for “resignations” of both the prime minister and Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar.

Firebrand PML-N leader Khawaja Asif regretted that “those responsible for eliminating terrorism have themselves become terrorists”. He said the CTD personnel should be tried under antiterrorism act and “should be treated in the way terrorists are treated and there should be no soft corner for them”.

The sitting of the house ended with a verbal brawl between PTI MNA Aamir Liaquat Hussain and the opposition members, particularly those belonging to the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

Taking part in the debate on the Sahiwal incident, Fata MNA Ali Wazir alleged that security personnel were carrying out search operations in the tribal areas while humiliating people, including women, by forcibly entering their houses.

When Mr Liaquat defended such actions, the Fata MNAs protested and gathered in front of the speaker’s dais.

Realising that the situation could go worse, the speaker immediately adjourned the sitting till Tuesday.

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2019