The making of Rao Anwar

A story of police officers picked, used and protected by the ‘system’

My man of the Year-2019 was none other than encounter specialist Rao Anwar. The reason I have picked the man is that he proved more powerful than former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and former president Asif Ali Zardari. Both Sharif and Zardari faced prison but not Rao. His protectors must be given the credit for shielding him ever since he emerged as one of the most powerful policeman after the 1992 army operation in Karachi.

He is a household name for all the wrong reasons. Not many people know about the making of Rao from an ordinary police officer into an ‘encounter specialist’. He used to operate on his own for almost 25 years, have his own men around him and have always got postings of his choice. He picked his own targets starting from MQM’s Fahim Commando in the ‘90s till he was finally accused of the murder of Naqeebullah Mehsud. Mehsud’s father died in 2019 after running from pillar to post in pursuit of justice.

It is difficult to assess Rao’s assets precisely, but I would be surprised if he is not a billionaire. After all he pocketed millions and millions in ‘reward’ for the encounters from successive governments. He has now been placed 18th in the US list of ‘human rights abusers’ for allegedly killing some 400 people in 190 ‘fake encounters’. He has denied the charges and announced intent to take legal course. The US has also ordered his accounts frozen. It would be interesting to see how many bank accounts and properties he owns abroad.

Likes of Rao Anwar are the product of a system which allows ‘extra judicial’ killings and getting alleged criminals punished through ‘fake witnesses’. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, the former chief justice of Pakistan, had rightly pointed out the danger inherent in the trend. By developing ‘political connections’, he also got free access to the Prime Minister’s House and the Presidency. Former president, Asif Zardari used to call him hamara bacha (my child). He still lives in a protected area.

He proved more powerful than former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and former president Asif Ali Zardari. Both Sharif and Zardari faced prison but not Rao. His protectors must be given the credit for shielding him.

Some of those close to him believed that Rao, perhaps, misread the ground situation when Mehsud was killed in his jurisdiction and his father took up the matter to the highest level. In the ‘90s, he had managed to get a clean chit in low-key judicial inquiries as in most cases the victims were declared criminals and terrorists.

Another encounter specialist in Karachi was former SSP, late Chaudhry Aslam, who was killed a few years back in a suicide attack. These officers had emerged after the 1992 army operation. These officers ‘delivered’ many MQM militants to intelligence agencies. But, it was during the 1995-96 police operation, which allowed police to kill all such elements whom State believed could not be prosecuted. Rao Anwar, Ch Aslam, Sarwar Commando, Irfan Bahadur and Zeeshan Kazmi took credit for the controversial encounters.

Anwar has worked with many IGPs and DIGs — they have contradictory views of him. They praised him for doing his job when needed, but admitted that at times his actions led to controversy.

“He never failed when given a task. But he operated on his own as well. You need to handle such officers with care and should not allow them to go beyond certain limits,” said former IGP, Afzal Shigri. “I still remember a case of a high-profile car snatching during my days in Sindh. A message was passed on to Police Control and all police stations got the alert. The man who responded and got the car recovered was Rao,” he added.

Another former IGP Sindh, Dr Shoaib Suddle, who led the ‘infamous’ Karachi Police Operation, believed Rao Anwar had an efficient team of informers who should have been held accountable through judicial inquiries.

Afzal Shigri, during his posting as Sindh IGP in 1994-95, had opposed ‘extrajudicial killings’ and opted for transfer rather than following the policy of killing people without a trial. He said Rao Anwar was the product of a State policy. “When State gives a free hand to policemen to kill people without a trial there is always a danger of making some police officers too powerful. This is what happened in the case of Rao,” Shigri told me.

Both Shigri and Dr Suddle agree that had the ‘system’ used the likes of Rao Anwar in a professional manner, he would not have gone out of hand.

Rao Anwar had also developed political connections with Pakistan People’s Party leader and former president, Asif Ali Zardari, through late Munawar Sohrawardi. He himself was killed a few years back near a newspaper office at Gurumandar. His murder remained a mystery.

The making of Rao Anwar is a story of dozens of such police officers picked, used and protected by the ‘system’ irrespective of the consequences. So, he is my man of 2019.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang. Twitter: [email protected]

The making of Rao Anwar