December Issue 2014
The Big Cover-Up
On October 30, an anti-terrorism court in Lahore awarded 11 years and three months rigorous imprisonment to Gullu Butt, the man who earned notoriety for smashing cars outside Idara Minhajul Quran in Model Town on June 17, 2014.
However, those police officers who allegedly aided and abetted Butt in destroying the vehicles, shot dead 14 workers of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and injured more than 80 others on the same day have not yet been proceeded against by the law-enforcers. In fact, the Lahore police have yet to prepare a charge-sheet of the killings.
The government has covered up the findings of a judicial commission of the Lahore High Court (LHC) and a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) formed to probe the incident, and used several delaying tactics to avoid the initiation of legal proceedings.
Both the Judicial Commission and the JIT have pointed fingers at the police, including senior officers and top functionaries of the Shahbaz Sharif government, for the actions leading up to the killings, but the government has neither made public these reports nor taken any action in light of their findings.
Instead, it has now constituted a second JIT, headed by Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Quetta, Abdul Razzaq Cheema. Allama Tahirul Qadri, the main party to the case who is representing the heirs of the deceased, rejected the second JIT, saying it was headed by an officer who is a crony of the Sharif family. Right from the outset, the police and the provincial government acted in a manner that raised suspicions that they were impeding the course of justice. Initially, the Lahore police registered an FIR of the incident on its own and refused to file a murder case on the complaint of Tahirul Qadri’s men, who were the heirs of the deceased.
Only when a sessions court ordered the registration of the second FIR and the LHC turned down an appeal against the court’s verdict, did the police register a second FIR two months after the incident. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, four federal ministers and 15 others were nominated as the accused in the case. Under normal circumstances, the police would have arrested the accused upon registration of a murder case, but in the Model Town killings, no such arrests were made.
In order to placate the angry protesters, the Punjab chief minister announced the setting up of a judicial tribunal of the LHC to probe the killings. He had promised that he would step down if the tribunal found him to be responsible for the incident. However, he cleverly excluded the clause relating to “fixing of responsibility” from the tribunal’s terms of reference.
Sources in the Punjab Home Department maintain that they wrote a letter to the LHC for setting up a tribunal, and its terms of reference included: (a) finding facts and circumstances of the incident (b) investigation of the incident (c) fixing of responsibility for the killings and (d) recommendations.
Subsequently, LHC Chief Justice Imtiaz Ahmed appointed Justice Ali Baqar Najafi to work as a single-judge tribunal. However, the Home Department sent another letter to the LHC — with revised terms of reference.
Under the new terms, the tribunal was restricted to determining the facts and circumstances of the incident. The other three terms of reference were removed from the tribunal’s purview. Justice Najafi submitted his 1,000-page report (annexures included) to the Home Department on August 9.
The tribunal’s judge expressed his displeasure at the terms of reference set by the Punjab government. In the report, he says: “The tribunal would not restrain itself in expressing that the act of the government not to empower this tribunal under Section 11 of Punjab Tribunal Ordinance, 1959 regarding investigation of any matter coming before it is also a bad one, which this tribunal considers as the circumstances to circumvent the process of digging out the truth.”
The judge further says: “The entire gamut of facts and circumstances speak volumes that there was no good intention of the government to arrive at a definite and truthful result… Had this tribunal been empowered to investigate, the hidden truth might have been exposed.”
The judicial commission’s report was not made public on the pretext that some annexures were missing. Sources say that the Punjab government feared that certain recommendations of the commission would expose the top PML-N leadership to police investigation for which they would have had to court arrest, as is legally required in murder cases.
The judicial tribunal did not accuse the PAT workers for firing gunshots at the police, which the government proffered as an excuse for the firing by the Punjab police. It also belied the claim by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif that he had ordered the police to disengage from the standoff at Idara Minhajul Quran and says “it was [an] afterthought defence” of the chief minister.
When some portions of the report appeared in the media, a campaign was launched by the PML-N government against the judge. Some PML-N leaders issued statements that the government would move for the impeachment of the tribunal’s judge by the Supreme Judicial Council. However, when the bar councils and legal fraternity reacted strongly against the government’s intention, it backtracked.
The Punjab government also instituted a JIT to probe the Model Town incident. The JIT, comprising the Punjab police, the Special Branch (SB), the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD), the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Military Intelligence (MI) and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), did not submit its report as it members developed serious differences over the findings.
Insiders reveal that the head of the JIT, senior police officer Dr Arif Mushtaq, wanted to give a clean chit to his colleagues, Superintendents (SPs) and Deputy Inspector Generals (DIGs) present at the scene of the crime and to conveniently dump all the blame on junior officers by stating that they “overdid it.” But there were other JIT members who disagreed and wrote dissenting notes in the 32-page JIT report submitted to the Punjab government.
Sources say a number of members of the JIT held the Sharif government responsible for the killings. The dissenting notes said that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, then Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, then principal secretary to the chief minister, Dr Tauqeer Shah, and other senior police officers were directly or indirectly responsible for the killing of over a dozen PAT workers.
According to insiders, the Punjab police, the Special Branch, CTD and the federal Intelligence Bureau put all the blame on low-ranking police officials. The Superintendent of Police (SP) Model Town maintained that he had ordered the policemen to open aerial fire only after PAT workers opened fire on the police. However, the SP’s statement, could not be corroborated by any evidence, because no weapons were recovered from PAT workers.
Sources say that the Elite Force of the police fired over 450 rounds of gunfire and 55 rounds of the deadly assault weapon G3 at the PAT workers. Post-mortem reports of the victims revealed they were hit in the head and chest, which resulted in their deaths.
Television footage showed SP Security Salman Ali ordering subordinate police officers to take over Idara Minhajul Quran. In another video clip, SP Model Town Tariq Aziz was seen patting Gullu Butt on the back for destroying vehicles parked at the site. However, what remains a mystery to date is who ordered the police to fire at the mob. No police official is ready to speak up on the subject.
However, insiders maintain that Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had directed the police to “deliver a strong message” to Tahirul Qadri before he arrived in Lahore from Canada — which prompted the police to swing into action — and brutally so. Television coverage showed police firing straight gunshots at the mob with AK-47 and G3 rifles, which explains why the police and the provincial government used delaying tactics in preparing the charge-sheet. The police wanted to save its senior officers, while the provincial government was interested in saving the chief and ex-law ministers.
While the police are using every available trick in the book to hush up the case and remove any evidence that may indict the high-ups, the Sharif family has been making efforts to reach a compromise with the heirs of the deceased by offering blood money under the Qisas and Diyat Law.
Here are some findings of the judicial commission report obtained by Newsline:
The role of Rana Sanaullah in the Model Town incident
The Judicial Commission’s report, in its concluding chapter, mentions that the then Law Minister, Rana Sanaullah, gave firm orders to remove the barriers at Idara Minhajul Quran in an official meeting a day prior to the incident. The judicial tribunal states that the barriers were erected in 2010 under the instructions contained in the Lahore High Court (LHC) Order following a petition filed by some local residents, to beef up security around the Idara, due to several threats of a militant attack after Dr Qadri issued a 600-page edict against terrorism in the name of Islam. However, the government did not move the court before deciding to remove them.
The judicial tribunal observes that a meeting had already taken place on June 16, 2014, a day prior to the incident, at the Civil Secretariat, which was chaired by Sanaullah, wherein the return of Dr Qadri on June 23, 2014 and his long march from Islamabad to Lahore was discussed in view of the concerned reports submitted by the Special Branch, Punjab and the Punjab Police.
The tribunal report says that despite the reservations of the then Commissioner Lahore about the timing and without any participation or discussion by Mr Shafiq Gujjar, the then City Police Officer, Lahore and Dr Tauqeer Shah, the then Secretary to the Punjab Chief Minister, Sanaullah decided to have the barriers around Idara Minhajul Quran removed. However, the latter two — the CCPO and the Secretary to CM — consented to the decision, the judge observed.
In the June 16 meeting, when reports of Dr Qadri and his plans for a long march and overthrow of the sitting government, came under discussion, Sanaullah firmly held the view that under no circumstance was Dr Qadri to be allowed an opportunity to fulfill his objective. The chair, Rana Sanaullah, decided to remove the barriers with immediate effect. Dr Shah also gave his consent to the proposal on behalf of the chief minister.
Generally, Dr Shah’s consent on issues of governance are understood to be taken as orders of the Punjab Chief himself. Thus the latter’s excuse that he was not aware of any police operation at the seminary of Dr Qadri appears unconvincing, says the judicial commission’s report.
The judge notes that the participants also knew of the orders passed by the LHC in 2011, and yet no legal opinion was sought from the Advocate General of Punjab prior to the decision to start the operation. “Such facts and circumstances under which the meeting was held led to the most unfortunate incident in the history of Pakistan,” the judge observes.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s role in the Model Town incident
According to Punjab Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, he came to know about the stand-off at 9:00 am on the morning of June 17 through television, and about the decision to conduct an operation from his secretary, Dr Shah. Thereafter he immediately passed a verbal order to “disengage,” which was said to have been communicated to the law minister by 10:00 am. Meanwhile, the chief minister went to the Governor’s House at 10:30 am to attend the oath-taking ceremony of the newly-appointed Chief Justice of the LHC, Justice Khawaja Imtiaz Ahmed, and from there at about 11:00 am he went straight to his Model Town residence to attend a meeting with a foreign delegation. Until 1:00 pm he did not know if his order of “disengagement” had been executed or not.
The Punjab Chief Minister, in his affidavit, took a specific position that on June 17, 2014 his official engagements started after 9:00 am, when he proceeded to the Governor’s House to attend the oath-taking ceremony of the new Chief Justice of the LHC. According to him, having seen the stand-off at 9:20 am on television he immediately contacted his secretary, Dr Shah, by phone to order the police to disengage forthwith. Dr Shah, in his affidavit, did mention [that] the order of disengagement was telephonically conveyed to the law minister and home secretary, but they in turn, informed him that the two police field officers had told them that the field situation was likely to be normalised and controlled. Strange[ly] enough, Rana Sanullah did not utter a single word about “disengagement.” Likewise, the Home Secretary, Punjab did not mention the word “disengagement” in his report,
The judge concludes: “The collected reports from all concerned and the affidavits submitted by the police officers in the field do not depict [that] any order of disengagement by the Chief Minister, Punjab was ever conveyed/received.”
The Role of the Police
At 11:00 am, the DIG Lahore Police (operation), Rana Abdul Jabbar, convened an on-the-spot meeting in which a decision was made to call the Elite Force and then move forward towards the Idara. The judicial tribunal’s report says “there are both video clippings as well as snaps showing the direct shots fired at PAT activists. At about 12:00 pm, the dead bodies as well as [the] injured started [arriving at] the Jinnah Hospital.”
However, the critical question regarding who had ordered the policemen to open fire on the workers of Idara Minhajul Quran still remains a mystery. The inquiry commission maintains that it could not find an answer as the police officials did not cooperate with it.
“The level of cooperation in digging out the truth is [evident from the fact] that no police official, from top to bottom, whether [he] actively participated in the operation or not, [uttered] a single word about the person under whose command the police resorted to firing upon the PAT workers. Unfortunately, all were in unison in withholding the information from the tribunal. Unfortunately, such are the facts and circumstances in which they continued to proceed.”
The inquiry commission’s report reads: “The tribunal remained conscious of deliberate silence and concealment of facts by police officials/officers before this tribunal, creating circumstances to think that the police had to abide by the command announced secretly (or openly) to achieve the target even at the cost of killing the unarmed but precious citizens of Pakistan.” This led the tribunal to conclude that the betrayal of law by the police was aimed at burying the truth, and speaks volumes about their high-handedness.
The tribunal also points out that Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had not mentioned his “disengagement” order in his first press conference held soon after the incident. The report says: “It has become crystal clear that [the] order of disengagement was not passed at all; rather, [the] position taken by the Chief Minister, Punjab appears to be an afterthought defence [that was] not taken before the nation in the press conference.”
“The facts and circumstances of the bloodbath clearly show that the police officers actively participated in the massacre.” The commission’s report also states that the Lahore police carried out a massacre at Idara Minhajul Quran and behaved like ‘desperadoes and daredevils.’
“The action of the police of firing and severely beating the people at the crime scene are irrefutably suggestive that the police did exactly [that] for which they were sent and gathered over there. The police and all [the] others concerned, without any exception, abetted … [and] performed daredevil acts, which resulted in irreparable loss.”