• Army’s court of inquiry advises departmental proceedings, their disposal at GHQ • Bilawal hails ‘step to fortify institutions prestige’ • Shibli wants action against Sindh police for ‘mutiny’ • Nawaz says report is a cover-up to shield real culprits

KARACHI: In a rare move, the Pakistan Army on Tuesday announced removal of officers of the premier Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Pakistan Rangers, Sindh, from their current assignments after finding them acting “overzealously” in the alleged kidnapping of the provincial police chief that had caused “misunderstanding between two institutions”.

The inquiry took less than three weeks to complete after Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa vowed to look into the matter following complaints from the opposition parties and police officers’ en masse request for long leave in protest against the alleged kidnapping of the Sindh IG.

The latest development — which corroborated the opposition’s claim about what was being dubbed as the Karachi incident and apparently came as a blow to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s stance on the issue — was hailed by Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari as a step to “fortify the prestige of institutions”.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said: “Court of Inquiry on the orders of COAS pertaining to the issue of redress of Inspector General Police Sindh’s grievances, in the backdrop of 18 Oct 2020 Karachi incident, has been completed.”

“They [ISI and Rangers officers] were indeed experienced enough to have acted more prudently and could have avoided creating an unwarranted situation that led to misunderstanding between the two state institutions. Based on the recommendations of the Court of Inquiry, it has been decided to remove the concerned officers from their current assignments for further departmental proceedings and disposal at GHQ.”

Before conclusion of the brief statement, the ISPR explained the background and atmosphere that brought the situation to this extent.

It explained: “The Court of Inquiry has established that on night 18/19 Oct officers from Pakistan Rangers (Sindh) and ISI sector Headquarters Karachi were considerably seized with the fallout of desecration of Mazar-i-Quaid. They were under increasing public pressure to ensure prompt action as per the law. Assessing the response of police authorities against this developing yet volatile situation to be slow and wanting, in a charged environment, the concerned ISI / Rangers officers decided to act, rather over zealously.”

The inquiry was ordered by Gen Bajwa himself after contacting Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zaradari to pacify the situation after the joint requests of senior police officers for long leave in protest.

It all began with an early morning raid by police personnel on the hotel room of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) vice president Maryam Nawaz and her husband Mohammad Safdar to arrest him for desecrating the mausoleum of the Quaid-i-Azam a day after a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) worker had lodged an FIR against him.

Within hours, leaders of major opposition parties, who were in Karachi for a second power show by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) against the PTI government, in a press conference unanimously accused the “powerful institutions” of forcing the Sindh police hierarchy to conduct the raid.

While the Sindh government announced next day that an inquiry committee was being set up to look into the incident, police officers right from the IG rank to inspectors applied for long leave stating that all ranks of Sindh police have been “demoralized and shocked” after the police high command had been “ridiculed and mishandled” and that in such a stressful situation it was quite difficult for them to discharge their duty in a professional manner.

Since then the opposition parties accused the PTI government for involving the armed forces to set its political score, while the Centre blamed the opposition parties for orchestrating the “drama” to malign Prime Minister Imran Khan and his cabinet.

Amid the claims of ministers and leaders of the PTI, the most convincing one came from the top when PM Khan himself denied any such happening at all and called it a “comedy”.

During an interview with a private news channel almost a week after the incident, the PM was asked about his opinion over the reported abduction of Sindh IG in Karachi, Prime Minister Imran Khan said: “Who was kidnapped?” He then with a broad smile commented: “I believe it is a comedy. When I think about that, I laugh. What is happening? It is unfortunate that all the enemies of Pakistan, including India and Israel, are with them.”

However, when federal Minister for Information Senator Shibli Faraz was asked about the ISPR announcement at a press conference, he said the government appreciated that the Pakistan armed forces’ “self-discipline and self-accountability” came into action and they removed two officers over the incident.

While admitting for the first time that the Rangers were involved in the Karachi incident, Mr Faraz said the matter would not have become so “complicated” and the Rangers would not have had to get involved if the “FIR of the incident had been registered on time”.

He said the Sindh government, too, had to answer whether it would hold an inquiry against the IG and all other police officers who staged “a sort of mutiny”.

Hours after the ISPR announcement, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif termed the inquiry report a “cover-up”. In a tweet, the supreme leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz said: “Inquiry report on Karachi incident is a cover-up scapegoating juniors & shielding the real culprits. Report ‘Rejected’”.

However, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari welcomed the action taken by the army chief against the perpetrators of the Karachi incident. “This step will fortify the prestige of institutions,” he said while addressing a rally in Nagar area of Gilgit-Baltistan. He expressed the hope that this process would continue for the sake of democracy.

Published in Dawn, November 11th, 2020


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