The joint investigation team looking into the clashes between the Punjab police and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) workers has absolved the Punjab chief minister. It will be recalled that on June 17, 2014, at least 14 workers of PAT were killed and 90 injured in clashes in Model Town, Lahore. This ranks as perhaps, the largest loss of life as a result of inappropriate over-use of force in a single incident by any police force in the country. The report also absolves Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, saying that neither he nor his brother Shahbaz were directly involved in the incident. The report is authored by a team formed after the PAT rejected the findings of an earlier joint investigation team; and lays the blame on 10 police officers.
The report is unsatisfactory at a number of levels, and may be seen as an exercise in exoneration rather than the ascription of responsibility and blame. Also up for exoneration were an assortment of federal ministers and the police up to the level of DIG and CCPO, who were also “not involved” and therefore seemingly carry no responsibility. ‘Responsibility’ only makes an appearance with SP Security Salman Khan who gave the order to open fire, and fired himself. The report states that the PAT workers were attacking the police with stones and petrol bombs and the police were on the back foot — which is as much a training and equipment deficit as one of command and control. Live firing by the police is not an acceptable measure of crowd control, and absolution for those up the line on the grounds that they were ‘not present’ is equally unacceptable. Responsibility — the buck — in situations such as this sits at the apex, sits in the office that carries ultimate responsibility for actions delegated to the police and other accountable agencies. Elsewhere in the world some very large heads would have rolled, resignations would have been offered, but when it comes to the government of Punjab, it does not work like that. The buck stops where the rulers want it to stop, and not on their desk or watch.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 23rd, 2015.
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