Macabre encounter

The police first identified the victims as kidnappers and then as terrorists

Editorial January 21, 2019

Sixteen personnel of Punjab’s counterterrorism police have been taken into custody and a First Information Report (FIR) registered against them following a shady encounter on a highway in Sahiwal in which four people, including two women, were killed.

The macabre incident sparked nationwide outrage and a protest by the victims’ family on the Grand Trunk Road. What makes the incident questionable is the report that the police first identified the victims as kidnappers and then as terrorists of a banned outfit, stirring doubt about the ‘encounter’.

The Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) claimed in a statement that the law enforcers signalled a Suzuki Alto car and a motorcycle to stop near Sahiwal Toll Plaza on GT Road, but they did not pull over and instead opened fire. The police retaliated and four people, including two women, were killed by the “firing of their own accomplices”, according to the CTD.

Three children were also recovered from the trunk of the car. The children, who were shifted to the DHQ hospital, contradicted the CTD version, saying the fatalities included their parents, elder sister and a family friend named Zeeshan, and that they were travelling from Lahore to Burewala to attend a wedding.

“My papa pleaded before the police that there was no weapon in the car and that the police could search the vehicle,” one of the children said. “They didn’t listen to my papa and opened fire.” The CTD claimed to have recovered “suicide jackets, hand grenades and a rifle from the scene.” Eyewitnesses, however, corroborated the children’s version, saying that the CTD officials opened fire on the car without giving any warning.

According to the CTD, the operation was a follow-up of the January 16 raid in Faisalabad and that they were tracing two wanted terrorists. Prime Minister Imran Khan has ordered a thorough inquiry of the episode.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 21st, 2019.

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