Who is Rao Anwar and what led to the tragic killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in what is widely understood as a ‘fake’ encounter? A report card of extrajudicial killings to restore peace to a restive Karachi
After the military operation started in June 2009 against the Taliban militants in South Waziristan, almost all Mehsud tribesmen were displaced from their hometown. Majority among them moved to the bordering Tank and Dera Ismail Khan districts while some preferred to move to Karachi to seek refuge and livelihood.
But the family of Naqeebullah, whose real name was Naseemullah, chose to move to Razmak area of neighbouring North Waziristan to stay at his brother-in-law’s house, mainly because they could not financially bear to go to big urban centres. However, in order to support his family, the 27-year old Naqeebullah started going to Karachi where he used to work in various factories.
One of his brothers-in-law had arranged a UAE visa for his elder brother. Having saved enough money after working for several months, his brother sent money to Naqeebullah to start a cloth shop in a local market in Sohrab Goth. But before Naqeebullah could inaugurate his shop, plainclothes policeman picked up him from Abul Hasan Ispahani Road on January 3, according to his relatives. His whereabouts were unknown until January 12, when the police under the command of SSP Rao Anwar, killed him along with three other people in what is understood as a ‘fake’ encounter in the suburban locality of Shah Latif Town.
This time, SSP Anwar, known as the ‘encounter specialist’ because of carrying out ‘encounters’ of controversial nature against the outlaws, found himself in hot water. This is because the killing of Naqeebullah, also a social media star who shared his photos and dance videos, brought thousands of people onto the streets of Karachi to urge the government to take action against Anwar.
Since January 16 night, when a Chippa Welfare Association, a charity that runs a morgue, informed the family about Naqeebullah’s body after three days of the encounter, social media activists and Naqeebullah’s friends, who were posting updates gathered outside the morgue and protested against what they claimed was an extrajudicial murder.
With the growing social media anger and protest demonstrations, SSP Anwar started giving his versions, alleging that Naqeebullah was a was a high-profile militant who, before moving to Karachi, was involved in murdering a Pakistan army officer in 2007 and facilitating the Dera Ismail Khan jailbreak in June 2013. He also said that Naqeebullah served as a bodyguard of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) founding chief Baitullah Mehsud from 2004 to 2009. Family and friends refute all these allegations.
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"In all the 15 police stations of Malir district falling under the command of Rao Anwar, ‘extrajudicial killing’ especially of the Mehsud tribesmen was routine, and because of fear and backlash from him, no one -- not even political and religious parties -- could dare to condemn the killing of people in fake shootouts," says Amir Jan, a Mehsud tribal elder, sitting in a protest camp set up in Sohrab Goth area for getting justice for Naqeebullah. "For the first time, we saw such pressure on the Sindh government and police to take action against the powerful police officer. And it is mainly because of the power of social media."
Later, the Sindh Police’s three-member inquiry committee headed by the Sindh Police’s Counter Terrorism Department chief Sanaullah Abbasi also declared Naqeebullah innocent and recommended to the high-ups to suspend Anwar from his post and put his name on the Exit Control List.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan also took suo motu notice of the extrajudicial killing and now the police has been conducting raids to arrest the SSP.
In the ongoing crackdown on the TTP and other proscribed militant outfits -- whose members from South Waziristan, Mohmand and Swat districts also moved to Karachi under the guise of the IDPs and organised their network across the metropolis -- hundreds of alleged terrorists have reportedly been killed by law enforcement agencies (LEAs) in recent years without being identified.
Pashtun tribal elders and police officials admit that, in most cases, those who were killed were genuine Taliban militants who set up offices in Sohrab Goth and other Pashtun neighbourhoods. They carried out subversive activities, generated funds through extorting money from traders and affluent residents, making the localities ‘no-go areas’ for non-government organisations, liberal political parties, especially the Awami National Party, and polio vaccinators. They also killed a large number of police and Rangers personnel in the city and carried out suicide attacks on law enforcement officers, such as known counterterrorism police officer Chaudary Aslam.
Even the TTP Mehsud chapter in its recent book titled ‘Inqilab-e-Mehsud’ admitted that LEAs have weakened the terror outfit’s network in the city by killing most of its leaders in extrajudicial manner.
Praising the police, Rangers and other LEAs, Pashtun tribal elders, sitting in the Sohrab Goth protest camp say that scores of suspected militants have also been killed in fake shootouts. They also complain that association with certain tribes, especially Mehsud clan, had made them vulnerable to harassment at the hands of LEAs because "the TTP leadership mostly belongs to these tribes".
"We never protested on the killing of a Mehsud tribesman who was a TTP member. But there is a rise in complaints against certain police offices, especially Rao Anwar, for harassing the community, asking for extortion money and on non-payment, killing innocents, such as Naqeebullah in fake shootouts by declaring them TTP members," says Tajbar Gul, a Pashtun businessmen involved in transport business. He adds that earlier the Taliban used to harass them to pay extortion money and killing them on non-payment, and now police officers like Rao Anwar are doing the same.
Similar complaints are made from other parts of the city. Baloch activists in Lyari talk about LEAs’ increasing harassment of the community on the pretext of their association with criminal gangs. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the proscribed Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat and other religious parties have their own stories of their members being killed in fake shootout.
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 148 people have reportedly been killed in police shootouts in Karachi during 2017. The suspects include have reportedly been militants from proscribed outfits, criminals working with Lyari’s gangs and wrongdoers associated with political parties.
Asad Iqbal Butt, the HRCP’s vice-chairperson, says that extrajudicial killing is not an issue with a certain ethnic group "as the independent rights body has been receiving such complaints across the city and from all ethnicities and neighbourhoods. It is not an issue of suspension of a certain police officer. It is an issue of our failed justice system."
The government’s National Commission of Human Rights in a January 31 meeting with the Senate Human Rights Committee in Karachi recommended that the government should set up an independent police complaint authority under the leadership of a retired Supreme Court or High Court judge for an independent inquiry regarding extrajudicial killings and other misconducts in the police. The body also proposed to establish a clear command chain responsibility structure within the police force to make it more responsible and transparent and open to public scrutiny -- in order to help check on illegal detention and extrajudicial killings.
Police officials privately confirm that the police has little options but to resort to such methods of enforcing the writ because the country’s criminal justice system failed to convict suspects, and because of political compromises by respective governments. In many cases, residents support these killings, which they claim are responsible for an improvement in Karachi’s law and order situation.
But police officials also say that police officers like Anwar exploit the support they enjoy from influential politicians, powerful business tycoons and intelligence agencies for their personnel benefits.
The police officials say that the media campaign against the police force has been demoralising the entire force. "Media should highlight the recent cases of police excesses, such as the extrajudicial murder of Naqeebullah, but also focus on the sacrifices of police and other law enforcement officials, who were killed while performing their duties," said a senior police officer.