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REUTERS
May 28, 2011
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Dying to kill

Business

REUTERS
May 28, 2011

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Seeing is believing, except when you don’t know what – or whom – to believe. In the widely-circulated video clip titled “Kharotabad massacre,” captured by a national news channel, the camera pans across the backs of five security guards and a couple of plainclothes men. It zooms in on a pile of sandbags, where the lower portion of a woman is seen lying on the ground, shrouded in a red shalwar-kameez. She slowly raises an arm. A sign of surrender? Of defiance? We’ll never know, because two of the men in fatigues proceed to fire at her until it is clear anything alive behind the check post is now certainly dead.
Following the incident, Capital City Police Officer Daud Junejo stated that the foreigners were Chechen militants linked with Al-Qaeda and were planning attacks in Quetta, and that the women showed suicide vests and threatened to blow themselves up. The Balochistan home secretary quickly corroborated the claim, adding that they had hurled hand grenades and killed Frontier Constabulary Officer Naik Mohammad Sajjad.
This was Tuesday. The next day, CCPO Junejo said all five ‘attackers’ had died in a bomb explosion. This, after nationally-aired video footage showed at least one suspect being shot to death.
Two days after the shooting, we learnt that one of the women shot dead was pregnant.
By Sunday, an eyewitness and member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf told a packed press club that the FC guards took bribes from the foreigners, and asked the women for sexual favours. Locals rallied at the press club, saying the FC stole valuables from the corpses. The alleged terrorists had become victims of an alleged encounter in a matter of days.
The absurdity of the incident has several dimensions. On the one hand, security personnel have been understandably skittish since Osama bin Laden was captured and killed by US troops in Abbottabad earlier this month. Recent high-casualty bombings in Charsadda and Peshawar indicate that for

Pakistan, the worst of retaliatory attacks may not be over. Opening fire on supposed militants may have indeed averted a Charsadda-scale attack in which over 80 people, most of them FC personnel, lost their lives. It may even seem rational, at the time, to leave none of the suspects alive, not even supposedly unarmed women.
But there is something that military and paramilitary forces are lacking entirely: the understanding that since the OBL take-out, the entire intelligence and security corps is under close scrutiny. When on May 17 the ISPR stated it had captured senior Al-Qaeda leader Abu Sohaib Al Makki in Karachi, few were willing to take at face value that this was “a major development.” If militant networks have upped the ante post-May 2, the armed forces have been no less eager to prove they are on the ball. But no one is buying it anymore. The lone voices that bought the official story on Kharotabad were quickly drowned out by a chorus of sceptics, baying for an investigation, demanding that the CCPO be sacked – at the very least, for not getting his story right the first time.
If the authorities would ever need justification for shooting five foreigners at point-blank range, they need not look far for incriminating signs. Consider that last year over 40 people were killed when two suicide bombers – both Muslim Chechen separatists, both women – blew themselves up in a busy Metro station in Moscow, Russia. Consider that in 2008, the US State Department issued a warning against female suicide bombers likely to carry explosives in purses, backpacks, loose clothing and pregnancy prosthetics. If there were ever a country terrified enough to shoot at a seemingly defenceless, ostensibly pregnant woman, it would be ours.
Instead, in the less-than-heroic facts that emerge from the incident, we now know that the foreigners had already managed to cross one check post by bribing the officers posted there. It was only when the second check post demanded their due that a scuffle broke out, ending with the foreigners fleeing, and five of them eventually ending up shot. Everything else, it seems, is hearsay.
There is no conclusive evidence that the foreigners were defenceless, innocent victims of Pakistan’s corrupt, trigger-happy armed forces. The fact that several factions of the media and public believe this to be true is disturbing, because it makes the task of regaining public confidence in the fight against militancy ever more daunting.
Unfortunately, there is nothing preventing the security corps, suffering under labels of incompetence and insincerity, from mercilessly killing an injured and possibly unarmed person. There is nothing preventing them from taking bribes while acting the self-righteous guardians of citizens. There is nothing, in fact, that suggests any fear of accountability: in their world, statements can be changed, evidence can be invented or rubbished, people can be shot under the glare of television cameras without so much as a thought as to how it might end up looking on the other side of the lens.
It’s too bad, then, that the civilians and security corps can’t seem to agree on the right way to fight this war. When attacks do take place, they kill without much discrimination, and it doesn’t matter much which side you end up on, if you end up dead.

The writer is research associate at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute and a former employee at the World Bank and The Brookings Institution. Email: [email protected] gmail.com

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