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October 11, 2020

In the murky mirror of an FIR


October 11, 2020

Where does that FIR, registered at an ungodly hour in Lahore’s Shahdara police station on Monday, belong in the rising pandemonium of Pakistan’s politics? It is something that you cannot easily explain. But it does reflect the point of view of the ruling party of Prime Minister Imran Khan. And it appears to have been conceived in some department of dirty tricks.

Or is it a well-thought-out plan, devised for some secret, delayed action purpose? After all, the PTI does not have any lack of expert advice. Perhaps it is just an extension of the policy of consistently disparaging the opposition leaders, harping on the theme of corruption. The spokespersons that the PTI has fielded are certainly a contribution to Pakistan’s politics, in a theatrical sense.

Yes, PTI leaders have insisted that they have nothing to do with the FIR. It was filed by a private citizen. But you tend to have doubts about it when you study the overall drift of the FIR and the circumstances in which it was registered. Besides, the FIR has been followed by a new surge in the PTI’s campaign against the opposition.

For instance, Imran Khan made an unusually hard-hitting speech at a ceremony organised by the Insaf Lawyers’ Forum in Islamabad on Friday. It was a show of force and the prime minister even mentioned the ISI’s role in tracking the corruption of politicians. There was some stress on rule of law and on democracy. At one point, he said: “democracy mein hoon” (I am democracy). I will not be surprised if this assertion reminds you of that historic statement attributed to Louis XIV: “I am the state”.

But this is just an aside. I need to revert to the FIR because I am baffled by its mysteries. Essentially, a case was filed against Nawaz Sharif and as many as 40 other PML-N leaders for “conspiring” against the state. Interestingly, those named included the prime minister of Azad Kashmir, Raja Farooq Haider, and three retired lieutenant-generals. Many of them have held high positions in government.

Cases were under Section 10 (cyber terrorism) of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act 2016 and Section 120-A (definition of criminal conspiracy), 121-A (conspiracy to wage war against Pakistan), 123-A (condemning the creation of the country and advocating the abolishment of its sovereignty) 124-A (sedition) and 153-A (promoting enmity between different group) of the PPC.

It is possible to look at it as a joke because these sedition charges have been levelled against former prime ministers and ministers of important portfolios, including that of defence. In addition, the case is built on three speeches made by Nawaz Sharif via video link from London. The others named had attended the sessions.

Now, Nawaz Sharif’s first speech was made to the multiparty conference held in Islamabad and then he addressed the PML-N leaders gathered in the party’s Model Town office in Lahore. However, the FIR was registered in Shahdara. A police station does not normally register a case unless it falls within its limits.

And who was the private citizen who came to the Shahdara police station as a complainant? Enter Badar Rashid, alias Heera. First, there was just the name. Then, an exciting profile emerged. It turned out that he was a PTI member and the news channels showed a series of his photographs with the PTI leaders. He did appear to be very close to some of them.

If this would be an embarrassment for the PTI, there was more. It was revealed that Badar Rashid had a formidable criminal record. He had been booked under attempted murder charges by the same Shahdara police station.

Now, one is intrigued by the timing of the event. The FIR was registered around 2:30 in the morning. Imagine this encounter that could be a scene in a horror story. A screenplay writer would love to play with this scene. We know that it is not easy for an ordinary citizen to register an FIR even on a minor offence.

But here was someone booked in a case of attempted murder at the same place. Had someone cast a spell on the police station and the entire proceedings were magically completed by aliens? Otherwise, a police station is not empowered to register a sedition case. Anyhow, while the Punjab and federal governments have distanced themselves from the registration of the FIR, the complainant has momentarily disappeared.

On Wednesday, former Sindh government Muhammad Zubair, who is now the spokesperson of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, and PML-N leader Attaullah Tarar went to the Shahdara police station to court arrest because both of them are also named in the FIR. But the investigation officer was not present. Muhammad Zubair said at the police station that the FIR had been registered at the behest of Imran Khan.

Again, there is no explanation about how all this happened. It is easy to attribute this entire scheme to Lahore’s new, controversial police chief, Umer Sheikh. His posting as CCPO, at the cost of an IG, is another example of how the PTI has blatantly betrayed its promise of not allowing the police and the bureaucracy to be politicised. By the way, Umer Sheikh is another character who deserves to be featured in a movie.

If there is a sense of unreality about this FIR, the initial formulation of Imran Khan, after Nawaz Sharif’s first speech in which he spoke about “the state above the state”, cannot be refuted. He and other PTI stalwarts had branded Nawaz Sharif and other PML-N leaders as anti-Pakistan, supported by India. The FIR is only an elaboration of this accusation – more specific and, also, more farcical.

This means that Imran Khan has abandoned his pretension of standing on a high moral ground. The time has come for more revelations. Another major development this week was Matiullah Jan’s YouTube interview of the former chief of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Bashir Memon, who has accused Imran Khan of pressurising him to prosecute main opposition leaders though, he said, there was no evidence to do so. This, too, is like an FIR.

The writer is a senior journalist.

Email: [email protected]