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Wasting away, extra judicially

June 13, 2011

Protesters shout slogans while holding an effigy, representing the Pakistani Rangers paramilitary forces, during a protest against the killing of an unarmed man in Karachi June 11, 2011. – Reuters Photo

Yet another young man lost his life in what has become a norm in Pakistan – extrajudicial killings – and chances are that like previous incidents of such killings, the perpetrators of this crime will go free as well. It is not just a random speculation of a bitter citizen, there is hard evidence supporting this claim.

Before Sarfaraz Shah, the 19 year old who was shot point blank by soldiers of Sindh Rangers, a paramilitary force, in Karachi on June 8, two teenage brothers Mughees and Muneeb were lynched by a mob – including policemen in uniforms – in Sialkot last year. 17 men were arrested, with most of them out on bail.

It must be noted that before the video of this gruesome murder came out, Sindh Rangers claimed that Sarfaraz Shah was killed during an encounter after he was caught red handed snatching cash from visitors in the park. When the Rangers officials entered the park, the young man fired at them.

On the contrary, the video footage showed an unarmed young man being shot dead at a very close range by one of the five Rangers personnel who all have a weapon of some kind in their hand. Sarfaraz was seen pleading for his life and was shot at in full public view.

Mr Rehman Malik was at pains to point out that Shah was a petty criminal – as if it justifies the cold blooded murder – likewise, brothers Mughees and Muneeb too were accused of committing robberies. The District Coordination Officer (DCO) Sialkot, Mujahid Sher Dil, later confirmed that the lynched youths had no criminal record. With exception of the cell phone theft case and attack on Sindh rangers personnel case filed against him on the day of his death, Sarfaraz Shah, too had no criminal record. Even if he was a thief and was apprehended by the law enforcement authorities, why was he not taken to a local police station, why was he shot dead? Surely the law enforcement agency personnel must know that theft cannot be penalised by death in Pakistan Penal Code.

Some of the apologists were at pains to point out that the soldier was right in shooting at the victim as he was trying to touch his gun and he is legally permitted to shoot at anyone who tries to get hold of his weapon during a confrontation. They also said that the Rangers official did the right thing and shot the victim in the leg, as stipulated in the law. But one must ask under what law they left him to bleed to death when he was begging them to take him to the hospital.

Those who cite the rights of the paramilitary forces should also remember that ordinary citizens, those who do not wear any uniform and actually pay for the salaries of the armed forces personnel also have some rights – at least the most basic right to live.

Just like these two incidents, five Chechens were killed in Kharotabad Quetta last month. Officials initially claimed the five were suicide bombers, but they turned out to be unarmed and video of the shooting further undercut their claim. So far no one has been apprehended and the inquiry is still deciding if it was the police or the Frontier Constabulary that opened fire at the Chechens who were traveling with just bottles of shampoo in their bags.

New York based Human Rights Watch has documented the extrajudicial execution of up to 300 alleged Taliban supporters and sympathisers in Swat. Despite the fact that several videos have come out detailing those brutalities, no action has been taken against the armed forces to date.

The less said about Balochistan, the better. Parts of the province have become killing fields of late. Not a day pass by when one or two bullet riddled bodies are found on the roadsides.  Since 2010 approximately 140 political activists, journalists, academics and students were killed in extrajudicial killings.

Citizens have what social theorists call a social contract with their governments. Under that social contract people form states and maintain social order. The notion of the social contract implies that the people give up some rights to a government or other authority in order to receive or maintain social order. The citizens pay taxes with which government is suppose to finance their security and provide them with an environment which is conducive to their well being and ensure systematic access to livelihood. Forget about other rights, this incident shows that every day in Pakistan, the right to life of the people is made a mockery of by the people who are supposed to keep them safe.

Civilian government is apathetic to the woes of the people, armed forces have learned nothing from the fiasco of Bangladesh and are carrying out atrocities against their own citizens and the superior court is busy taking suo moto actions against actresses for possession of alcohol and dishing out verdicts on TV channels and their broadcasting rights, access to justice has become an unattainable fantasy for most citizens of the country. The incident got so much coverage because it happened in Karachi. Imagine what goes on in Balochistan where there is no one to challenge or raise voice against such carnage. This continued deprivation of justice will expedite our cataclysmic descent into chaos and the killing fields of Pakistan will remain bloody because some animals are more equal than the other.

Tazeen Javed is a communications specialist, a blogger and a free lance writer.