Contractual crime: License to kill

Published: October 26, 2014
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Suicide attacks have become an ideal cover to settle personal scores in Pakistan. DESIGN: MUNIRA ABBAS

Suicide attacks have become an ideal cover to settle personal scores in Pakistan. DESIGN: MUNIRA ABBAS

Our understanding of the word ‘supari’ is often limited to its portrayal in Bollywood movies. In a typical narrative, the contractor seeks out a middleman who arranges a meeting with the hit men where the picture of the target exchanges hands and the cost of the job is settled. In Pakistan, however, the business of contractual killing has taken a different form. A number of cases last year revealed that personal scores were settled through acts disguised as suicide attacks or sectarian killings since they provided the perfect cover.

One such case was the June 3, 2013, assassination of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assembly member Farid Khan, who won the PK-42 (Hangu-I) seat in the May 11, 2013, election after defeating Atiqur Rehman. The MPA died on the spot when gunmen opened fire on his car.

Amid reports of several death threats received by Farid after his victory, his brother Shamsur Rehman filed a First Investigation Report at the Hangu police station accusing Atiqur Rehman, his brother Shafiqur Rehman and his uncle Noor Rehman for the murder. Meanwhile, Hangu Police Inspector Amin Khan, who headed the investigation, said the Islamabad police arrested a commander of Mullah Nabi Hanfi’s group, Asifullah, who reportedly confessed to killing Farid at the behest of Hanfi, who was the commander of the Hangu chapter of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) before switching sides and joining the government’s counter-insurgency efforts. “During the investigation, it was confirmed that a politician from Hangu approached Hanfi, who sent his close aide Asif Khan and a few other armed men to assassinate the newly elected lawmaker,” says the inspector, adding that the militants were hired to make it seem like an act of terror.

Based on the confession, Atiqur Rehman was arrested for alleged involvement in the murder of Farid but was acquitted earlier this year by the anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Peshawar due to a lack of concrete evidence.

The same year, a suicide attack claimed the life of a newly-elected member of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly, Imran Mohmand, on June 18. Imran, along with 28 others, lost his life in the attack in Shergarh town, Mardan, while attending the funeral prayers of a friend, Haji Abdullah. While many may view Imran as the victim of an act of terror, evidence pointing in the direction of a contractual killing has also surfaced.

Imran was a target for a number of reasons. His strong stance against kidnappers, car lifters and criminal gangs — including those who aid and abet them — during his election campaign was a cause of concern for an increasing number of rogue elements in the region and even lead to a failed assassination attempt at his election office. Winning the 2013 election, therefore, could have easily put him on a hit list, corroborates local journalist Shahnawaz, who is familiar with the crime scene in the region. According to him, Imran was most certainly a threat for criminal gangs, including the Bacha group and the Eisa group, operating from Shergarh and adjacent towns, who may have collaborated to get rid of him.

“It is beyond my understanding as to why militants would carry out a suicide attack on him (Imran) as he contested very openly in the elections,” says Imran’s brother, Jamshed Khan Mohmand, who won the by-election held on August 22, 2013, for his brother’s vacant seat, PK-27. He even added that the family had no personal enmity or clashes with anyone. Although a group is yet to claim responsibility for the attack, it appears that the suicide attack was merely a cover-up to assassinate Imran.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Israrullah Gandapur was murdered, along with nine others, in a similar suicide attack on October 16, 2013, at his residence in Kulachi. His brother Inamullah Gandapur responded to the attack by blaming political rivals, as Israrullah’s convoy had been attacked prior to the 2013 elections as well.

An officer from Dera Ismail Khan investigating the case, Umar Daraz, says the police apprehended Nimatullah, a suspect in the case. The investigation revealed that Nimatullah visited Loni village, Dera Ismail Khan, a few days prior to the attack, where he allegedly hired a suicide bomber for the task on the instructions of a local politician. Although the officer refused to reveal names, he did mention that Nimatullah visited the village in a car that belonged to the brother of the politician suspected for the ‘contract killing’.

The trend of settling feuds using disguised tactics such as suicide attacks became more and more evident due to the chain of political assassinations that took place last year, but it dates back further. The 2008 suicide attack in Bhakkar at the residence of parliamentarian Rashid Akbar Niwani is proof of that. According to police investigations, Niwani, who only happened to be resolving a feud between two friends, Waqas Hussain and Ejaz Hussain, was not the target. Waqas allegedly borrowed a sum of Rs2.1 million from Ejaz to start an automobile business but failed to return the money after suffering losses. Upon his failure to resolve the dispute, Ejaz approached Rashid to help settle the matter. In response, Waqas and his father Nazar Hussain approached their relative and middleman Arif Khan and plotted to assassinate Ejaz in a suicide attack. The trio later met up with Jan Muhammad Wazir, a resident of Wana, and paid him a reported sum of Rs1.2 million in exchange for a suicide bomber who carried out the attack.

Peshawar-based journalist and author of several books on militancy Aqeel Yousafzai reinforces the idea that not all suicide attacks are carried out because of religious differences and some merely fulfil a political agenda. According to him, most militant groups gather funds by engaging in contractual killings, kidnappings and extortion, but deny involvement to evade criticism. “Such incidents will continue to occur in future and pose a serious challenge to Pakistani law enforcement agencies until the menace of terrorism is eliminated,” he says.

Hamid Hussain is an Islamabad-based journalist. He tweets @Hamidlawangeen

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 26th, 2014.

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