IT seems no one wants to testify against former SSP Malir, Rao Anwar. At least five prosecution witnesses, all police officers, have retracted their statements in the Naqeebullah Mehsud murder case in which the retired police official is standing trial. Even the prosecution, which represents the state, scarcely seems interested in pursuing the case. Little wonder then, that the slain man’s family, their lawyer and a PTI MNA on Sunday expressed their fear that a path is being cleared for Rao Anwar to be acquitted. The proceedings in the case are a chilling case study of the impunity enjoyed by some extremely powerful individuals in this country. So unaccountable are they that even the vicissitudes of politics do not affect them; the pomp and circumstance that accompanies them remains intact.

Naqeebullah, a 27-year-old aspiring model, was gunned down on Jan 13, 2018, along with three others in a fake encounter, allegedly on the orders of Rao Anwar, infamously known as an ‘encounter specialist’. The record of the Karachi police itself implicates the senior official in no less than 444 deaths in such operations. No action had been taken against him for this gruesome run of murders until the death of Naqeebullah, who was described by Rao Anwar as a terrorist. Perhaps it was the young man’s presence on social media and his obviously harmless preoccupations that struck a chord in civil society. A police inquiry also soon established that neither he nor the others killed with him even had criminal records, let alone terrorist profiles. Protests broke out demanding that Rao Anwar be brought to book. At this point, the state had a golden opportunity to turn the page on police brutality and extrajudicial killings, and demonstrate that no one, absolutely no one, is above the law. Instead, for five months the former SSP successfully evaded the law — with assistance from state elements — until he was finally arrested. Even that was a mere inconvenience; his Karachi residence was declared a sub-jail, from the comfort of which he could appear for his court hearings. When he did so, it was without handcuffs, surrounded by police officers treating him with deference, and sporting the demeanour of a man who knew he had nothing to fear. It was a mockery of justice in every sense of the word, an affront to the most basic civic values. Impunity on this scale destroys nations from within.

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2021

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