A SNOWBALLING crisis, with dozens of Sindh police personnel applying en masse for leave on account of the humiliation they alleged was meted out to their IG early Tuesday morning, has been averted. But make no mistake; this is a temporary reprieve.

IG Sindh Mushtaq Mahar has deferred his leave and ordered his officers to do the same for 10 days. That the deferment is not open-ended is indicative of the police leadership’s expectation that the inquiry into the incident ordered by army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, which they have welcomed wholeheartedly, will be completed within such time.

The Sindh police is angry, and understandably so. Earlier, perhaps given the ‘sensitivities’ involved, there was not much clarity from official quarters as to what had actually transpired in the hours before retired Capt Mohammed Safdar’s arrest in Karachi.

However, PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s press conference later in the day made it fairly apparent that Sindh’s top cop had at 2am found his house laid siege to by the Rangers, after which he was brought to a sector commander’s office and made to sign orders authorising the PML-N leader’s arrest. The intention was obviously to engineer a schism within the PDM opposition alliance. In other words, a federal paramilitary force was used illegally, for political ends, to abduct the head of the province’s principal law-enforcement agency.

The action reinforces the growing crescendo of voices echoing the claim, most recently made by Nawaz Sharif, that there is ‘a state within the state’ of Pakistan. Indeed, the Sindh Rangers, which technically report to the interior ministry, often operate as though the laws of the land do not apply to them. They have in many instances violated the right to due process by disappearing people, several of whom have endured torture in custody. It is that sense of impunity — both on the part of those giving the order to compel the IG’s compliance, and those who carried it out — which created a situation precipitating an imminent institutional clash. Hubris can often lead to unintended consequences.

Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah did well to show their support for the Sindh police by visiting the IG at his residence. For a major civil law-enforcement agency to be undermined, that too in such a brazen manner, is entirely unacceptable and deserves to be roundly condemned. The inquiry promised by Gen Bajwa must be thorough, transparent, and lead to those responsible for the fiasco being shown the door. This is too serious a matter to be brushed under the carpet. Finally, it is worth considering that political interference in the workings of the police is also a sign of disrespect towards these law-enforcement personnel. Unfortunately such meddling is on the rise across the country, and it must end.

Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2020

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