The National Action Plan (NAP) came into force last year with the stated purpose of tightening the noose around terrorists. With the heightened security came curtailed freedoms for residents of Lahore and even more so for visitors.
Amel Khan and Asmatullah from Peshawar arrived in Lahore last month to visit some relatives. They were standing on a footpath near the Lorry Adda waiting to cross the road when a police van stopped next to them. They say that the cops demanded to see their identity cards but even after they showed their ID cards, the cops told them to get into the van. A few yards ahead, the policemen offered them a deal – they could either give them money for “chai, paani” or spend the night in a lock up. “We chose freedom.”
They then decided to walk to the nearest Metro station, the one near Azadi Chowk, and had just reached Lady Willingdon Hospital when another police van stopped next to them. “They were from the Tibbi City police station… the same story on repeat.”
Similar stories of police harassment could fill a book, yet the Lahore police are not apologising for the precautions, they say, they have to take. The police have released press statements all year patting themselves on the back for their excellent implementation of the NAP.
The view is not shared by everbody. In September last year, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed his displeasure with the status of NAP implementation. In a session of the Apex Committee in November, the military leaders expressed their dissatisfaction about the civilian government’s slipshod manner of implementing the NAP. Various quarters have raised questions about the Punjab Police’s efficiency and effectiveness in the clamp down against banned militant outfits in particular.
According to statistics available with The Express Tribune, as many as 7,669 search operations were conducted in Lahore between December 16, 2014 and December 06, 2015. Police questioned as many as 578,336 people during the operations and registered 233 cases under various sections.
The police arrested 10 members of proscribed organisations – two from the Tehreek-i-Taliban and eight from Lashkar-i-Jhangvi. No members of Al-Qaeda, Daesh or Tariq Ghadar Group were apprehended.
The Pashtuns, residing in or visiting Lahore, have the most complaints.
Traders and workers residing in Naulakha, Minto Park, Shah Alami, Lorry Adda and Tibbi City staged several protests against police harassment in front of the Lahore Press Club all year. The issue was eventually taken-up by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and other lawmakers.
In March 2015, the PTI Youth Wing held a protest demonstration in front of the Lahore Press Club against police for discriminatory treatment against Pakhtuns in Lahore. PTI’s Ejaz Chaudhry and MPA Saadia Sohail took part in the protest.
In October, Chief of Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) Mehmood Khan Achakzai said only Pashtuns had been singled out to be ‘suspects’ after the launch of the NAP adding that the Punjab government had been treating ethnic community as aliens in the province.
Zimal Khan sells shoes at Landa Bazar, where several Pashtun traders and workers set up shop each day. He lives in a rented house near Minto Park and says that police harassment is becoming a routine. “Police have conducted several search operations in our homes and shops. They frequently whisk us off to police stations even after we show them our identity cards.” He says they let them go after receiving a “gratuity” of Rs400 or Rs500 per person.
Amanullah, a resident of Iqbal Town, says police often stops Pashtuns walking in the streets and questions them. “When crossing pickets, more often than not, I get stopped and questioned.” He says it doesn’t matter if they carry their national identity cards.
Several owners of hostels and hotels have harassment stories to tell. Police raided a hostel in Patiala House at night on November 29 and detained 45 people – students, public servants, even some policemen – even though everyone had identification documents on them. After news of the raid spread, Operations DIG Haider Ashraf suspended SHO Rizwan Latif for misconduct. The SHO, however, within two weeks resumed duties at a monitoring cell at the airport.
Abdul Jabbar, the owner of a hotel near the City Railway Station, says the police often barge in and search any rooms they please. “They have rarely found anything or anyone suspicious in their search operations at hotels.” He says the search operations are a cover for an extortion racket that the police are running.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2016.