Any hope that justice would be served for the killings of Naqeebaullah Mehsud and three others in a police ‘encounter’ this January is beginning to look doubtful . First, there is the kid-gloves treatment being lavished on prime suspect Rao Anwar. Immediately after the killings, he was able to evade capture for weeks even though he was regularly able to call in to talk shows. Then, once he turned himself in, he was able to avoid prison by having his home declared a sub-jail. Now he is regularly turning up in court with a large entourage and without the handcuffs that are usually used for murder suspects. Fears that the trial may take another turn were reinforced on Monday when the main witness for the prosecution, police officer Jahangir Shahzada, changed his testimony. Originally he had given a statement as an eyewitness placing Rao Anwar at the scene of the killing. Now he claims he was intimidated into providing that statement. It is difficult to know the truth in such a murky case. But it is clear that efforts are underway to create enough doubt to make justice impossible.
It should be remembered that Naqeebullah Mehsud’s murder is not the only time Anwar has been accused of this crime. In a long career, he was implicated in so many extrajudicial killings that he earned the sobriquet ‘encounter specialist’. Even after being accused of murder, Anwar was praised as a “brave child” by Asif Zardari. Anwar has always been protected by the powerful and influential and that does not seem to have changed even after the uproar surrounding Naqeebullah’s killing. There is clearly something rotten in the state of our police today. Anwar is far from the only officer to have credibly been accused of ‘encounters’. Extrajudicial killings, unlawful abductions and torture have been routine in Karachi for years. The police are used to target political opponents and violence is used because they lack the ability to make sustainable cases against those accused of crimes. As important as justice is in this one case, there also needs to be a root-and-branch reform of the police. The Naqeebullah case was a test to see if anything has changed in the culture of the police. The way the trial has progressed so far would indicate that the answer to that may be in the negative.