At one level there is much to celebrate on the reports that 10 suspected militants of Jamaatul Ahrar, a potent Taliban faction, have died in an encounter with the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) of the Punjab police on the night of Friday 7th April. At a deeper level there is much that ought to be of concern to any one of us with an interest in the rule of law. Among those that died was Anwarul Haq who is alleged to be the handler for the bomber that attacked The Mall in Lahore on February 13th 2017.
There is an unsettling commonality about this incident and other incidents, not only in Punjab, that result in multiple deaths of men alleged to be terrorists. The CTD were moving five arrested suspects, including Anwarul Haq to Manawan as part of an operation to seize weapons and explosives. They were attacked at around 1.15 am by up to nine terrorists that were able to spring Haq and then fled in the direction of the Ravi River. This in itself indicates that the terrorists were on an intelligence-led mission — they knew who was being moved and the route. Organising an attack was not rocket science.
Having got their man and run off the CTD called for reinforcements, pursued the attackers and at around 1.45 am found them and called for their surrender. A firefight followed. In the dark. Perhaps the CTD had night-vision goggles. Perhaps they are just very good marksmen — in the dark. At the end of the exchange there were 10 dead and seemingly no survivors, injured or uninjured, from the group that attacked the police a bare half hour beforehand.
None of the questions that this ‘encounter’ begs are ever going to be answered, but it is difficult to conclude anything other than that these were extra-judicial killings by a police unit that operates above the law. There has been no public presentation of evidence against any of the dead. Evil they may have been but they deserve, like everybody else accused of a crime in Pakistan, their day in court. The rule of law has to prevail. And if it does not then a dark road beckons.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2017.
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