Islamabad Diary: The road to hell: paved with good intentions

By Ayaz Amir

When I was elected MNA in February this year I implored the staff working for Mian Shahbaz Sharif (he was yet to be formally anointed chief minister) that I would be obliged if they could post the best possible officers to Chakwal. Having had my fill of ‘rankers’ during the time that Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi was setting examples of good governance in Punjab, I said, ‘no rankers, please’, almost making it sound as if DMG (civil service) and PSP (Police Service of Pakistan) officers were the solution to the nation’s ills.

As district coordination officer they sent Rizwan Mehboob, an excellent choice. Rizwan is hard-working and enthusiastic — sometimes, I told him once, a bit over-enthusiastic –his door open to all comers. I hear he is now leaving for greener pastures which should tell us something of the DMG’s staying power.

As district police officer I thought Ashfaq Khan who had served in Chakwal some years ago as an assistant superintendent of police would be a good choice. So I put in a word to Mian Shahbaz Sharif who very kindly consented. Ashfaq was serving in the Frontier so his services had to be requisitioned from there. The establishment secretary, Ghiasuddin Ahmed, was most kind and saw to it that the requisite formalities were completed quickly.

Ashfaq proved to be a dedicated and hard-working officer, setting an example for the force under his command. I think the performance of the Chakwal police under him has shown a marked improvement.

But he has also shown two unfortunate tendencies: a fondness for publicity and self-promotion, something in which he has been encouraged by some of the worst blackguards to be found in the local Chakwal press; and an inclination to inflict punishment on people in police custody with his own hands.

In fact on the very first day of his posting in Chakwal, and I found this not a little disturbing, in a civilian car belonging to some locals who were his friends he went dressed in civvies to Dhuman police station. There to the consternation of the staff he announced who he was and demanded that a prisoner in police lock-up, one Pervez belonging to village Chak Kharak, should be brought out of his cell. In the courtyard of the police station Ashfaq beat him up, this on the first or second day of his arrival in Chakwal.

Pervez, interestingly, is a police constable himself, serving in Lahore. He had a dispute with a fellow villager. A case was registered against him and he found himself behind bars, all very much according to procedure and the law. But Pervez’s misfortune was that the person with whom he had his dispute has a son who is a DMG officer and is a batch mate of DPO Ashfaq. Did this officer ask Ashfaq to fix up Pervez? One can only conjecture.

I brought this matter to the notice of the regional police officer, Rawalpindi, Nasir Durrani, who said he would have a word with Ashfaq. About Durrani I have to say that he is one of the best police officers I have known — intelligent, hard-working and not without a keen sense of humour. If he can do something he’ll do it; if not he’ll tell you to your face.

Anyway, things in Chakwal were getting along reasonably well until, that is, they hit the ceiling on Wednesday, July 30, when a relatively minor criminal incident ballooned into a major tragedy.

There was a court hearing that morning involving one Naveed Ashraf, caste Maachi, from village Khokhar Zer, Thana Saddar, who sometime back at gunpoint had kidnapped Farwah Parveeen, daughter of Imtiaz Hussain from village Bhudial, Thana Dhuman. A kidnapping case was registered against the said Naveed Ashraf and he was out on pre-arrest bail.

Imtiaz Hussain, the girl’s father, is slight in build and a meek person to look at. A subsistence farmer, nothing in his peaceful and calm life had prepared him for his daughter’s abduction. He had a son, Tanvir Haider, who was a very angry young man. Tanvir had a cousin, Farooq-ul-Haq, a handsome young soldier serving in Probyn’s Horse (a famous armoured regiment) in Multan. Both cousins were around to attend the bail hearing that morning, along with other members of their family.

Were Tanvir and Farooq plotting revenge? Had they decided to settle accounts with their sister’s abductors? We shall never know. They crossed Naveed Ashraf’s path outside the main gate of the District Complex. There Tanvir opened fire with a .30 bore pistol, critically injuring Naveed who fell on the ground and mildly injuring one Rustam who was with Naveed.

Leaving Naveed, as they perhaps thought, for dead, they fled towards village Chakora just across the road from the district complex, Tanvir branching off to the right and Farooq towards the left, the police by now hot on their heels. DPO Ashfaq also hastened to Chakora from his nearby office.

Tanvir, according to my information, was gunned down by some constables while he was running. But Farooq was caught by some villagers and promptly handed over to a posse of policemen not far behind. There this gory drama should have ended with the police able to congratulate itself for a job well done. But as it turned out the real drama was just about to begin.

Farooq had his arms tied behind his back and, pummeled and abused, he was led to some open fields on the north side of Chakora, his ordeal witnessed by scores if not hundreds of villagers now gathered on the rooftops. Some of the older women, I am told, asked the police not to beat Farooq. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. Farooq, by some accounts, asked the policemen not to abuse him. If something were to happen to their sisters, he asked, how would they react? The blows on his body did not cease.

Once out in the open his hands were untied, shots were fired into the air and the ground and he was told to run. Then he was shot in cold blood. DPO Ashfaq was present at the scene of action, a circumstance he now vehemently denies.

The cover-up began at once, the police going into overdrive to paint the occurrence as an ‘encounter’ with dangerous desperados. Informed about the ‘encounter’ RPO Durrani, yet to check the true state of affairs, sent a wireless message, heard throughout Rawalpindi Range, congratulating the Chakwal police on their feat of arms.

What DPO Ashfaq was not taking into account was the fact that the drama had been witnessed by scores of people. Anger in Chakora at the naked and senseless brutality played out before a large audience started building up immediately. Soon it had spilled over into Chakwal proper where the word spread that the police had killed two persons in cold blood and were now faking an ‘encounter’.

Very late in the afternoon, after a delay of five to six hours, when the dead bodies were brought to the district headquarters hospital, a charged crowd seized Farooq’s body and carried it to the nearby Tehsil Chowk.

I arrived at the scene and told the crowd, by now shouting for the DPO’s head, that they should not repeat the mistake of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination when her body was not subjected to a post-mortem. The crowd stayed until late in the evening saying they would not disperse until a report was lodged against the DPO. DCO Rizwan visited the hospital to persuade the crowd to take the bodies away for burial.

RPO Durrani acted quickly in appointing an enquiry officer, SSP Zaraat Kayani of range crime, and asking him to proceed to Chakwal immediately. Late at night he was in Chakwal.

Thursday morning I received a call from a senior serving police officer (I shan’t name him) suggesting that I should play a ‘neutral’ role and that it was not a good idea to name Ashfaq in the report or application to be lodged by the party of the deceased. It was also put to me that my being active in this case could hurt me politically. This officer has often spoken to me in the past about integrity, fair play and the rule of law. I gently told him that it was a habit of our police to feel nothing about writing the most fantastic fictional narratives for themselves while expecting the rest of society to abide by the rule of law. If I am not mistaken this had a chastening effect on him.

Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was very perturbed when I spoke to him on Wednesday evening. Will justice be done or will it be denied, as is almost the norm in cases involving the police? We have to wait and see.


Source: The News, 1/8/2008

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