Beyond the raid

June 29, 2014

Beyond the raid

Less than a fortnight ago, a 15-hour raid by Punjab police on the Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s secretariat and its leader Dr Tahirul Qadri’s residence in Model Town, Lahore, killed 10 PAT workers and injured more than 100, including 27 policemen.

Six days ago, a similar clash took place after the police stopped the PAT supporters from receiving their leader, Qadri, who was arriving from Canada at the Benazir International Airport in Islamabad.

This unfortunate incident has led many to speculate that the PML-N leadership backed the raid. Why else would it go on for several hours unnoticed by the political high-ups -- and that Gullu Butt, along with others in plain clothes, were touts of the police.

"All deaths occurred due to bullet injures," say the hospital authorities while talking to TNS.

Some officials in Punjab, requesting anonymity, say such high-handed action could not have been possible without directions from higher authorities.

Apparently, wary of the emerging grand opposition alliance of Tahirul Qadri, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, and Chaudhries of Gujrat, some higher authorities met a couple of times prior to the raid in Lahore to discuss the strategy to tackle the changing political situation. There were plans to detain the PAT leadership and other groups. A meeting said was to have been held attended by the now removed Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah and sidelined Principal Secretary to Punjab Chief Minister, Dr Tauqir Shah and other high-ups. Also, in a surprise move, the government decided to replace Punjab Inspector General Khan Baig with the then IG Balochistan, Mushtaq Sukhera, only a few days before the raid. The government changed the district coordination officer (DCO) Lahore as well.

"Such situations emerge in the absence of any standard operating procedures by the police," says Shaukat Javed, former Punjab police chief, "There might be political directions for removing the barricades but there cannot be orders to kill people. Police cannot fire without instructions from the district administration."

"This is not the first incident in which lack of police training or its inclination for crowd control without violence has been badly exposed. It is not likely to be the last," a HRCP statement observed.

He thinks the local police leadership is responsible for this situation.

Usually, he says, in such cases water cannons and rubber bullets are used. "But in Pakistan our police are not equipped with such tools," he adds.

According to Javed, this incident demands a fair investigation rather than a judicial commission, which will at best record people’s statements and no more.

Ahad Cheema, Director General of Lahore Development Authority (LDA), a department responsible for removing illegal encroachments in the city with the help of town administrations, says he had nothing to do with the removal of barricades.

A high-level inquiry committee, set up by the police chief to look into this tragic indent, has been changed thrice.

IG Sukhera, an official says, admitted in a Punjab cabinet meeting that Gullu Butt, the man who vandalised vehicles, acted as an informer for the Punjab police.

At the same meeting, some ministers said that Butt was associated with the PML-N and his entry is barred in Punjab Assembly and other political functions for "some reasons".

"This is not the first incident in which lack of police training or its inclination for crowd control without violence has been badly exposed. It is not likely to be the last. In fact, this incident makes it abundantly clear that there are no bounds to police brutality in action against political rivals of the parties in power," Human Rights Commission of Pakistan statement observed.

The PAT has boycotted the proceeding of the judicial commission, terming it one-sided and unable to work independently under government pressures and manipulations. The PAT has sought a criminal case against 21 persons, including Punjab chief minister, law minister, police chief and some PML-N ministers, for planning this operation to suppress the political call of Qadri.

Following the pressures on the government, the removed barricades outside the PAT secretariat and Qadri’s house were restored on Wednesday.

Ambitious Tahirul Qadri, known for his anti-Taliban views, heads the PAT. His party is one of the biggest organised Sunni Barelvi forces in the country. His last public appearance was over a year ago in January 2013 at D-Chowk Islamabad, when he had a three-day sit-in with thousands of followers, demanding the PPP to quit the government. This time, a year after the general elections in May 2013, he has announced agitation against the PML-N government, terming it "corrupt" and one that "failed to deliver".

Eyeing Qadri’s huge following, other smaller opposition parties are allying with him.

Beyond the raid