Naqeebullah Mehsud was a dreamer. Born in the restive and troubled South Waziristan tribal agency, he sought a future far removed from his roots. Social media and photography fuelled his ambitions of becoming a model. Perhaps he even dreamed of a career in movies. This handsome young man posted pictures and videos of himself dancing and smiling on his Facebook page. But he did not fall prey to extremist militants. Ironically, he was described as a terrorist when his death was first reported. He was not killed in South Waziristan, but in the cosmopolitan city of Karachi. And though initially reported as an armed encounter between police and terrorists, it soon became clear that Naqeebullah was mown down by police officers in cold blood.
Coming in the wake of the horrific rape and murder of Zainab at the hands of a serial killer, the nation was plunged into shock as Naqeebullah’s friends and family disputed the police version of an encounter in which four men, including Naqeebullah, were described as having battled the police before being killed. Pakistanis took to social media once again and the mainstream media caught on to yet another brazen and murderous assault on a young Pakistani.
Subsequent reports have indicated that Naqeebullah was taken into custody by plain-clothed security officials, presumably policemen, on January 3. His death, along with three others, was reported on January 13. Further reports from the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) indicate that Naqeebullah’s body bore torture marks, including bruising and cigarette burns.
At the centre of the controversy was Rao Anwar, the Senior Superintendent of Police in Malir, an officer whose name is synonymous with encounters, with most described as extrajudicial executions of activists from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in the 1990s. In recent years, Rao Anwar’s name has cropped up repeatedly as having killed terrorists from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other banned organisations.
In the national outcry that erupted after Naqeebullah’s murder, there was a flurry of activity that resulted in two high-powered inquiries: one from the police and the other by the NCHR, which was formed at the instructions of National Assembly Speaker, Ayaz Sadiq. The NCHR was particularly scathing in its findings, stating in one report that: “From the record shown, it became evident to the inquiry team that Rao Anwar has been involved in 192 encounters in which 444 people were killed.”
“Keeping in view circumstantial evidence and its analysis, the NCHR Inquiry Team is of the opinion that the case is that of an extrajudicial killing, rather than a police encounter as claimed by the police party involved,” the report said.
Police investigators probing the fake encounter of Naqeebullah also reported that they have not been able to link the other three men killed along with Naqeebullah to any act of terrorism, nor has there been any indication that any of them were sought by law enforcement agencies in other provinces.
There have been hundreds of extrajudicial killings in Pakistan. But the case of Naqeebullah stands out because there seems to be no apparent motive to kill him. He remained in police custody for at least ten days, during which the police had more than enough time to ascertain he was not wanted in any criminal case, nor did he fit the profile of a terrorist. There have been allegations that Rao Anwar was behind a massive extortion scheme in the Malir District, which he has been ruling like a personal fiefdom for several years and that Naqeebullah failed to pay the requisite bribes.
Rao Anwar has yet to appear before the investigative and inquiry teams and took to the media to proclaim his innocence. He has been suspended for the fifth time. Not surprisingly, he is reported to have close ties with the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party in Sindh and no charges have been formally framed against him in the past.
None of this comes as a particular shock to those who have been working in the domain of human rights or journalism, or have been involved in political and judicial activism. Pakistan has a long and brutal record when it comes to extrajudicial killings, custodial deaths and police torture nationwide. Dozens of police officers were accused of extrajudicial killings by the MQM in Karachi, many of whom have been subsequently killed themselves. Cases of police brutality and murder have also been reported from across Punjab and other cities. Successive governments have failed to reform the Police Service of Pakistan (PSP), primarily because the police have been used to target political opponents, carry out politically motivated raids and given little autonomy.
On the other hand, the Police Service itself has done little to redeem itself in the eyes of the people it is supposed to serve. A few officers have sought to swim against the tide, but there has been no concerted effort by the police to turn the tide itself.
Inductions into the police at lower ranks are usually based on political connections rather than merit and promotions are made by the political leadership, and often made on the basis of personal loyalty rather than professional considerations.
Nonetheless, it is the PSP itself that also has to take a collective nationwide stand against political interference and victimisation of dissenting officers.
Pakistan can no longer afford an apathetic and unprofessional police service, that serves at the whims of the provincial governments led by different political parties. The rot has set in deep, despite the fact that police officers appointed to the PSP are usually highly educated and talented men and women. Along with different State organisations, the Police Service of Pakistan needs to be freed of political control, trained as a modern and professional law enforcement agency and equipped to face the challenges of policing in the 21st century, instead of being treated like a medieval army swearing fealty to a feudal liege lord.