THE circumstances surrounding retired Capt Mohammed Safdar’s arrest must be thoroughly investigated and the findings made known. For if there is any truth to the version increasingly gaining credence, it indicates that the rule of law in this country is in absolute peril.

The drama unfolded early Monday, just hours after the PDM’s successful rally in Karachi, when the police took Capt Safdar into custody from the hotel where he and PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz were staying, after allegedly breaking open the door to the couple’s room. The arrest came after an FIR was filed against him, Ms Nawaz and 200 of their supporters for violating the sanctity of the Quaid-i-Azam’s mausoleum, damaging government property, etc.

According to the complaint, during their visit to the site, Capt Safdar trespassed into the restricted area surrounding the grave and started raising slogans, thereby violating the law prohibiting political activities at the mausoleum. However, what appears to have transpired behind the scenes is no less than jaw-dropping, notwithstanding Pakistan’s increasingly tenuous link with the norms of democracy.

On Monday, Ms Nawaz’s spokesman and PML-N leader Mohammed Zubair said he was told by the Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah that the Rangers had abducted the Sindh IG and taken him to a sector commander’s office where he was forced to issue arrest orders; the additional AIG was also brought there. Some PDM leaders at a later press conference seconded this account, accusing certain state elements of trying to create rifts within the opposition alliance.

The episode has certainly been a huge embarrassment to the Sindh government. Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari denounced the arrest as a “sad and shameful act” and some PPP leaders such as Saeed Ghani tweeted that the provincial government had nothing to do with it. The Sindh chief minister in a press conference yesterday attempted to shed some light on the episode, but only succeeded in muddying the picture even further. While correctly describing Capt Safdar’s actions at the Quaid’s mausoleum as “inappropriate”, Mr Shah said the police acted “in accordance with the law”, but he neither refuted Mr Zubair’s version nor alluded to it.

What followed immediately after, however, leaves little doubt as to what took place on Monday morning and the ripple effects it has had. Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s press conference appeared to confirm that thuggish tactics that are the hallmark of despotic regimes were indeed resorted to. How else can one interpret the fact that the house of the province’s top cop was laid siege to at 2am, a few hours before Capt Safdar’s arrest?

Several senior policemen in Sindh applied for leave on the grounds that their high command had been “ridiculed” in the matter and the entire force left “demoralised and shocked”. Although the officers later sought a deferment of their leave, Sindh’s main law-enforcement agencies are in an ugly face-off, with things moving in an alarming direction.

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2020

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