QUETTA: The key witness to the Kharotabad incident, police surgeon Dr Syed Baqir Shah, was shot dead on Thursday afternoon while on his way home.
Shah had carried out autopsies of five foreigners, including two women, one of whom was seven-months pregnant, who were shot dead by security personnel in Kharotabad on the pretext of being ‘terrorists’ on May 17.
Shah’s testimony to a committee set up to probe the incident provided incriminating evidence against police and other law-enforcement agencies’ negligence. He had declared that all victims had died of gunshot wounds from the police and Frontier Constabulary weapons, instead of their own hand grenade, as claimed by the police.
According to the police, Shah was on his way home from the Bolan Medical Complex (BMC) Teaching Hospital when two assailants on a motorbike opened fire at his car, killing him instantly.
His companion, sitting next to him in the car, managed to escape unhurt.
Shah was immediately shifted to BMC, but the doctors pronounced him dead on arrival.
The police and law enforcement agencies rushed to the spot and cordoned off the area but the assailants managed to flee from the spot.
“The victim was shot at from very close range and suffered five bullets,” doctors at the hospital said.
“He was shot thrice in the head, and the bullet passed through his skull,” they added.
Police chief Quetta Ehsan Mehboob claimed the attack was ‘an act of terrorism’ and said that investigations are under way.
Thursday’s attack was the second attempt on Shah’s life.
The day he submitted his incriminating testimony against security forces, there was an attempt to whisk him away from a roadside eatery by a group of men. The doctor resisted, and was beaten up. He received serious wounds and had to be rushed to a hospital.
The Inspector General of Balochistan Police, Rao Amin Hashim, later confirmed that Shah had been attacked by an intoxicated assistant sub-inspector.
Following the first attempt, the National Assembly’s standing committee on human rights asked the Balochistan IGP to provide security to witnesses of the Kharotabad killings. The Balochistan High Court had also ordered protection for Shah when he disclosed that he had been receiving threats.
Shah’s killing has brought lack of witness protection in the country into sharp relief.
An earlier report by the Punjab government claimed that over 75% of terror suspects were set free in the province, and cited lack of witness protection as the primary cause for low conviction rates.
Shah was not the only witness fearing for his safety – the taxi driver, in whose vehicle the foreigners were travelling, had also testified before the tribunal that his passengers were unarmed and feared reprisal from the police.
The cameraman, who filmed the shooting of foreigners and was initially detained by the police, has also expressed fears for his life, after receiving threats.
Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani strongly condemned the murder and ordered a probe.
The cold-blooded murder of ‘a brave doctor’ is a clear failure of the local administration and law enforcement agencies, said Senator Haji Lashkari Raisani.
The doctor was being forced to change his postmortem report, which he did not, the senator said.
“The police are investigating the murder from all aspects, and also considering the threats which he had been receiving,” the Quetta police chief told the media.
Shah is survived by his widow and two sons, aged eight and fourteen. His body was taken to his ancestral town of Jacobabad for final rites.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 30th, 2011.