At a time when Pakistan’s most urgent need is for unity, the controversy surrounding police actions in Lahore against members of Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and its sister organisation Minhajul Quran (MQ) has shaken the consensus developing between political parties about establishing security and law and order. The need for strict law enforcement is extant in the wake of military officials’ statements that the real battle against terrorism will be fought in our cities and urban areas, in which the police will have an important part to play. Given the events of the last three days, it is going to be very difficult for the police to maintain whatever little public confidence they already ‘enjoyed’. The clashes outside the MQ office in Model Town left 10 people dead, including two women, and injured more than 80, many of them with bullet wounds. Police say they were removing illegal barriers on the complaint of local residents and were attacked with stones by PAT workers. The police say they responded with rubber bullets and tear gas and that some officers replied with live fire after being fired on from an observation post on the roof of the office. However, the evidence and subsequent developments do not bear out this version of events.
After booking 3,001 PAT workers on terrorism charges, including Tahirul Qadri’s son Hussain Mohiyuddin on Tuesday, police were forced to release 11 women, one 11 year-old girl, and two old age pensioners after presenting them in court on Wednesday. They also removed Mohiyuddin’s name from the list of people named in the First Information Report (FIR), throwing doubt on the efficacy of the entire list. On Wednesday, reports emerged that suspended Superintendent Tariq Aziz was found along with an officer of the Establishment Division from Islamabad and one other person in the office of the Jinnah Hospital Medical Superintendent (MS) where they were trying to coerce the MS into changing the details of the medico-legal reports to show that police officers had been critically wounded by gunfire, in order to corroborate the police version of events. These are not the actions of innocent men. This is the second time this year that Punjab police have caused a scandal by reacting with extreme force against protestors, the first time being when they viciously attacked nurses demonstrating in front of the Punjab Assembly building three months ago. Just yesterday, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had to take notice of an incident in Thikriwala police station, Faisalabad, where a boy was tortured to death by police officers. These events show a pattern of police impunity and brutality that must end immediately. Shahbaz says he will resign if necessary, but his resignation is less important than the urgent steps required for reforming the police, beginning with identifying and prosecuting the officers involved in Tuesday’s incident. Any inquiry must show who gave the order to remove the barriers and why such extreme force was used against unarmed protestors. Further, the judicial inquiry, to be credible, must enjoy the confidence of the aggrieved party, the PAT, which the current one-member judicial inquiry tribunal does not. If the Punjab government fails to conduct a fair, open, objective, truthful inquiry/investigations, it will be the biggest loser in terms of credibility. *