The saga of Safdar’s capture

November 1, 2020

Regardless of political rhetoric against the federal government, the PPP’s strategy in the province has been one of co-existence

The saga of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Captain (retired) Safdar’s arrest on the night of October 18 in Karachi and the follow up events have exposed the fragility of collaboration and coordination among law enforcement agencies.

The Pakistan Peoples Party, which has the provincial government, was the host of the second public meeting of the Pakistan Democratic Movement. It had been focused on demonstrating its strength through the October 18 jalsa. The meeting went well and the turnout was historic. However, before the party workers could celebrate the success, there was the unexpected news of a ‘scandalous’ arrest.

Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah was informed during the jalsa that the Sindh Police were under pressure to initiate action against Safdar for raising slogans at the mausoleum of Quaid-i-Azam but never expected the situation to turn so difficult.

The arrest, the reaction of the Sindh Police top brass and Bilawal Bhutto’s press conference showed that those at the helm of affairs were unable to handle the situation proactively.

Former Sindh governor Muhammad Zubair was first to disclose that the provincial chief of police was allegedly ‘kidnapped’ by paramilitary troops and forced to sign the arrest warrants. This further complicated the matters.

Senior police officers then submitted leave applications en masse to protest the alleged manhandling of their boss.

Though the details of the lapses are yet to come, circumstantial evidence suggests that what happened on the night of October 18 was a result of a sentimental reaction and lack of professionalism at several levels.

It is an open secret now that the arrest took place under pressure from the federal government.

Two inquiries have been ordered by the chief of army staff through the corps commander and by the Sindh chief minister who has formed a ministerial committee.

A group of activists has filed a constitutional petition at the Supreme Court of Pakistan to point out flaws in both orders.

The petitioners say the inquiry ordered by the COAS lacks legal cover and raises concerns of impartiality and transparency given the fact that the institution allegedly involved in the alleged kidnapping of the IGP operates under the control of Army. The Sindh government’s decision to form a ministerial inquiry committee instead of a judicial one is being called a non-serious approach to a very serious issue. The committee, which held its first meeting on October 27, may also find it difficult to summon the officials of federal institutions.

Political analysts say the PPP government finds itself trapped and would like the matter to be over at the earliest.

Regardless of the public statement and rhetoric against the federal government and complaints with the military establishment, the PPP’s strategy in the province has been one of co-existence and accommodation.

This was apparent in the post-rain/flood fiasco when after many public statements against federal government’s interference in provincial matters the CM silently consented to the formation of a multi- stakeholder committee including people in uniform.

However, the latest episode is a bit more complicated. In an apparent bid to defuse the tension the chief minister called a meeting on law and order on October 24 where the corps commander, the Rangers director general and the IGP sat together to discuss law and order situation in the province.

Those privy to the matters within Sindh government say that efforts are under way to settle the matters “amicably” in the “larger national interest.”

There appears to be a realisation in Sindh Police of crossing a red line. “There were other ways to take up this matter rather than the en masse leave applications,” a senior police officer says. He says “there is a fear among officers that ‘they’ will strike back.” He would not elaborate.

PPP sources say there have been serious discussions within the party on both how far the party can go with the PDM movement and the position it can take against the establishment.

The old guard advice is to reinvent the policy of proactive reconciliation aimed at saving the Sindh government and keeping the door open for a possible patch up.

The provincial government is thus not pushing hard and the history of investigations in such matters is not very encouraging.

However, the civil society petition, making the matter an issue of breach of fundamental rights and demanding an inquiry by a judge of the high court could take the matters in another direction.

If the Supreme Court takes up the petition for hearing the already appointed inquiry committees can halt their proceedings forthwith.

Whatever the outcome of the inquiries some of the damage to the institutions’ credibility may have been irreparable.

The author is a freelance journalist and human rights activist based in Karachi

The saga of Captain Safdar’s capture