• Army chief speaks to Bilawal after latter calls for inquiry
• COAS asks corps commander to probe ‘Karachi incident’
• IG House ‘siege’ sparks resentment within all ranks
• Maryam terms police protest ‘breaking the shackles of fear’

KARACHI: The Pakistan Peoples Party-led Sindh government on Tuesday averted one of the worst administrative crises after the top brass of police force decided to go on long leave in protest over the Oct 19 siege of Inspector General (IG) House that brought the law enforcement agency and security establishment in direct conflict, as PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari demanded Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa order institutional probe into the incident.

In a late night statement, Sindh Police said IG Sindh has decided to defer his own leave and ordered his officers to set aside their leave applications for 10 days in the larger national interest, pending the conclusion of an ‘impartial inquiry’ ordered by the army chief.

Hours before the en masse requests for leave by top police officers, including IG, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah had told a presser that a ministerial committee would investigate the mysterious ‘circumstances’ that led to the early morning raid on the hotel room of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz vice president Maryam Nawaz and arrest of her husband retired Capt Mohammad Safdar after the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s Bagh-i-Jinnah rally, but defended the police action once an FIR had been lodged against him.

However, the presser failed to convince the police hierarchy that was in low morale following the Oct 19 episode, compelling the PPP chairman to address a media conference on the issue. He said: “I demand DG ISI Faiz Hameed and Chief of Army Staff Gen Bajwa investigate your institution [and] how it is operating in this province. All officers of Sindh police are wondering who were the people who surrounded the Sindh police chief’s house in the early hours of Monday. Who were those two men who entered into his home at 4am in the morning and took him to an unspecified location?”

Flanked by provincial ministers during a presser earlier at CM House, the chief minister had announced that the Sindh government was constituting a committee to probe the matter. “Names have not been finalised but there will be three to five ministers [in the committee],” Mr Shah announced. He also accused Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) lawmakers of a “conspiracy” to pressure police to book the son-in-law of ex-premier Nawaz Sharif and alleged that the complainant of the FIR enjoyed support from the PTI leadership.

Sharing findings of the police investigation to prove the alleged mala fide intention behind the move of the ruling party at Centre, CM Shah said: “The PTI MPAs under a preplanned conspiracy brought a proclaimed offender at the police station and got him to lodge a fake FIR against Capt (retired) Safdar.” He explained that leaders of the opposition PML-N, including Capt Safdar visited Mazar-i-Quaid to pay tribute at around 4.30pm on October 18. “The CDR [Calls Detail Report] of complainant Waqas Ahmed shows that at 4.30pm on October 18 he was at Baqai University, off the Superhighway. When the complainant was not present on the spot, at the Mazar, how did Capt Safdar threaten him with dire consequences?”

A few of the written requests for long leave from senior police officers went viral on the social media. One of the initial requests came from Additional IG Imran Yaqoob Minhas, who sought two-month leave, mentioning that he was finding it “quite difficult” to discharge duty “in professional manner” after the police high was “ridiculed and mishandled”.

“In such a stressful situation, it is quite difficult for me to discharge my duty in a professional manner,” Additional IG Minhas stated. Then followed the storm of leave requests from a number of police officers. Around 100 officers including Additional IG, 25 DIGs and 30 SSPs requested for long leave with reports of the same written request from Sindh IG Mushtaq Mehar pending before the Sindh Chief Minister.

Amid efforts by media to ascertain the unfolding situation in Sindh, PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz made things easy for many through her tweet. While saluting the Sindh police, she called the development “breaking the shackles of fear”.

“I salute the Sindh Police,” she tweeted and then quoted the 1948 speech of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s speech: “If you want to raise the prestige and greatness of Pakistan, you must not fall victim to any pressure, but do your duty as servants to the people and the State, fearlessly and honestly.”

She also thanked Mr Bhutto-Zardari for his clear stance and tweeted: “It’s heartening to see civilians breaking shackles of fear, standing up for supremacy of constitution & reclaiming their long lost rights. The conspiracy & conspirators stand badly exposed. Thank you @BBhuttoZardari for your support & clear stance. Pakistan has changed.”

Her father and former premier Nawaz Sharif took the opportunity to call the events in Karachi as “endorsement” of his narrative, but this time he addressed unnamed individuals or organisations accusing them of defaming the armed forces.

“Karachi events endorse our narrative “State above the Stats. You ridiculed mandate of provincial govt; Trampled on sanctity of family privacy; Abducted senior police officers to extort orders; Defamed our Armed Forces; Addl IGP’s letter proves that you subverted the Constitution,” he tweeted.

Amid all the speculations and media noise, the Sindh Police, however, remained tight-lipped with no official statement over the developing situation that mostly revolved around the IG and his officers.

Before the crisis could deepen, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari decided to address the media in the evening at his residence Bilawal House that settled the dust to some extent and helped understanding the reasons behind the saga.

While admitting “embarrassment” for the raid on Maryam’s hotel room and condemning the arrest of her husband, the PPP chairman directly addressed the COAS Gen Bajwa and director general of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in his press conference. “Our police officers are wondering that what’s going on,” he said.

“I demand of DG ISI Faiz Hameed and Chief of Army Staff Gen Bajwa to investigate your institution [and] how it is operating in this province. All officers of Sindh Police are wondering who were the people who surrounded the Sindh police chief’s house in the early hours of Monday? Who were those two men who entered into his home at 4am in the morning and took him to an unspecified location?”

The move apparently worked, as the army chief immediately took notice of the situation and ordered an inquiry into the “Karachi incident”. In a brief statement, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said that he directed the Corps Commander of Karachi to inquire into the matter. The COAS, it said, had directed Karachi Corps Commander to immediately inquire into the circumstances to determine the facts and report back as soon as possible. It didn’t end here.

After a few minutes, the Bilawal House came up with a brief piece of information about the phone contact between the COAS and the PPP chairman that further defused the growing tension between security establishment and law enforcement agency. The conversation ended on promises from one side and appreciation from the other.

“Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa called PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari over the telephone to discuss the Karachi incident this evening,” it said. “The chairman PPP expressed his appreciation to the COAS for taking prompt notice of the Karachi incident and his assurance of conducting a transparent inquiry on the incident.”

In an attempt to woo back the “demoralized” and “shocked” police force, the PPP chairman along with CM chief minister and provincial ministers visited the IG residence later in the night. Mr Bhutto-Zadari shared a picture of his visit on Twitter showing him in a group photo with IG Maher, senior police officers and Sindh ministers. “I stand in solidarity with Sindh Police, do you?” he tweeted.

Later a statement issued by the Bilawal House said that the PPP chairman spent some time with Sindh police officers, lauded the role of law enforcement agency for its role in maintaining peace and fight against terror and expressed solidarity with its personnel.

“I have been assured by army chief about transparent investigation into Karachi incident,” the statement quoted the PPP chairman as telling the Sindh IG and other officers.

Sindh police tweet

In a late night tweet, Sindh Police stated: “The unfortunate incident that occurred on the night of 18/19 October caused great heartache and resentment within all ranks of Sindh Police. As a result, IG Sindh decided to proceed on leave and subsequently all ranks decided that they would also apply for leave to protest the humiliation meted out to Sindh police. This was a spontaneous and heartfelt reaction and made on an individual rather than a collective basis, because every single member of the department felt an acute sense of disrespect. Sindh police is immensely grateful to the Army Chief for realising the sense of hurt that prevailed within a uniformed force, and for promptly ordering an inquiry into the matter, which he has also assured will be impartial in order to restore the prestige of Sindh police. Sindh Police is also grateful to the chairman of the PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and the honourable CM Sindh for coming to the IG House and showing solidarity with the police leadership.

“Sindh police has always been a disciplined force which believes in institutional harmony between all key national institutions and has always been cognisant of its responsibility to serve and protect the citizens of this province and thus, keeping this in mind, IG Sindh has decided to defer his own leave and ordered his officers to set aside their leave applications for ten days in the larger national interest, pending the conclusion of the inquiry.”

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2020