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A year after Naqeebullah’s killing

A year has passed and the trial court has yet even indict accused former Malir SSP Rao Anwar in Naqeebullah Mehsud’s murder trial. Given the importance attributed in to joint investigation teams (JITs) in accountability references against certain politicians, it is quite remarkable that the finding of the JIT in this instance has not led to an expedited trial. In its report, the JIT led by Additional Inspector General Irfan Pathan had stated that Anwar and his accomplices failed to prove their innocence in the matter.

Mehsud’s extrajudicial killing had led to public outcry, and a country-wide movement for rule of law and protection of human rights. Led to young Pashtun men and women whose families had to suffer extensive hardship in the country’s war against religious militants, the movement saw a remarkable 10-day sit-in in the federal capital. The large demonstration was attended by leaders of almost all major political parties. The conclusion was made possible by an understanding among youngsters leading the sit-in and state representatives who assured full redress of grievances including justice for Naqeebullah Mehsud.

Among other issues, the movement started in the wake of Mehsud’s killing has brought the issue of extrajudicial encounters to the centre stage of public discourse in the country. For long, this has been a tactic deployed by our law enforcement agencies on the pretext that existing judicial procedures make it impossible to put criminals behind bars. Thus, instead of having fixed the shortcomings in the investigation, prosecution and trial stages, state personnel have taken the easy way out. The cost of this short-sighted approach has been borne by families of petty thieves, robbers, drug pushers as well as innocent citizens like Mehsud.

The obvious problem here is that execution cannot be the punishment for every crime documented in our statutes. In fact, execution should not be the preferred mode of punishment in civilised societies, since there is extensive empirical evidence showing that it has hardly ever proved an effective deterrent. To tackle crimes, we need concerted efforts involving social scientists who study various aspects of human behaviour to understand root causes of crimes, which can then be prevented through a range of disciplinary and educational measures.

While these long-term measures, involving criminal justice system, the matter at hand is really about excesses of authority vested in public officials like Anwar. The slow pace at which Mehsud and others’ murder trial has proceeded has led activists to raise question marks over the political leadership’s will to seek justice in the matter.

Anwar remained in hiding out of reach of law enforcement agencies. To add insult to injury, he would even manage to deliver letters to the apex court from his hideout. After he surrendered himself, it was only a matter of time that he was able to secure post-arrest bail. His appearance in court amid security protocol were also criticised by activists since they gave an impression that he was being offered special treatment. And a year after the crime happened, the trial court has yet to indict Anwar with murder charges. The outcome of this trial has far-reaching consequences for law enforcement and protection of citizens’ lives, and therefore, the authorities must proceed strictly in accordance with procedures and to the satisfaction of the aggrieved families.  *

Published in Daily Times, January 18th 2019.