At 11 am on Thursday, the Pakistan Rangers, Sindh, sent ripples across the province when they took nationalist leader Bashir Khan Qureshi into custody.
According to a Rangers’ spokesperson, Sindh Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz’s Qureshi was travelling through Gulshan-e-Hadeed with his guards who were openly displaying their firearms. The Rangers flagged down the vehicle, searched it and found that Qureshi and his men had four sub-machine guns and two pistols.
When the JSQM leader failed to produce an arms licence, he was taken into custody. Later on Thursday night, the Rangers raided Qureshi’s house and found automatic weapons.
The Rangers denied reports that they apprehended Qureshi from the house of a serving police officer. However, the spokesperson neither confirmed nor denied reports that DSP Ghulam Subhani’s son was in the car with Qureshi, and only said that everyone in the vehicle, including the guards, was taken away for questioning.
Outraged party workers and nationalist parties have announced a three-day, province-wide strike and have given the Rangers till 10 pm on Thursday to release their leader. The Rangers barely batted an eyelid. “We will carry out investigations and hand them over to the police if they are charged,” said the spokesperson. He refused to comment on whether they had determined that Bashir and his guards’ weapons were licensed.
The Sindh government announced that it will conduct an inquiry.
Protests erupted across Sindh as people blocked main roads and railway tracks, suspending traffic to and from the upper part of the country.
As the news spread through Karachi, some people blocked main University Road near Safoora Chowrangi. Shots were fired in the air to spread panic and forced people in Sindhi-dominated areas such as Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Malir, Keamari, Bin Qasim and Gadap towns to rush home.
University of Sindh and Mehran University students blocked the National and Super highways and brought traffic to a grinding stop for hours as they pelted cars with stones. JSQM workers staged sit-ins on the main railway tracks near Kotri, Rohri and Hyderabad stations.
Possible ulterior motives
There have been reports that Qureshi sympathises with land grabbers and the licence was just a ruse to get him into an interrogation room. “This is part of an ongoing operation carried out by the government against land grabbers, target killers and drug peddlers,” said a senior police official on the condition of anonymity.
Allegations from the Rangers and counter-arguments from the nationalist parties continued to surface. While the Rangers stuck to their claims that the men did not show licences for non-prohibited bore weapons at the time of arrest, JSQM leaders argue that he was apprehended close to his house in Gulshan-e-Hadeed and was set up.
“All the licences were with them,” blustered JSQM general secretary Asif Baladi. “It is a government trick to mount pressure on nationalist party leaders.”
Baladi revealed that this was not the first time that something like this has happened. He claimed that, once before, paramilitary personnel raided Qureshi’s house in Gulshan-e-Hadeed and arrested his son in order to pressure party leaders. “There was no routine snap checking. The personnel were waiting for Bashir Qureshi’s arrival and arrested him.” he alleged.
The general secretary was also quick to defend his party, he said that not a single party worker or leader has been involved in land grabbing or target killing. “You can use the suo motu notice against target killings as an example. Not a single worker of our party has been blamed.”
Government not in the loop
The Sindh government, meanwhile, was apparently in the dark about the whole episode. “I had no idea about his arrest so please give us some time to investigate the matter,” said Home Minister Manzoor Wassan. “I have known Qureshi since 1988, and the police and law enforcement agencies cannot arrest anyone with a legal weapon.”
When asked exactly how far the Rangers’ authority spreads and whether the arrest was lawful, he said that the Rangers are allowed to arrest anyone caught in possession of weapons without an arms licence. “I will look into it by conducting an independent inquiry into the matter.”
Meanwhile, the Awami Tehreek, Sindh Tarraqi Passand Party, Sindh United Front, Jeay Sindh Mahaz and others have condemned the arrest and have endorsed the JSQM strike-call.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 16th, 2011.
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