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Foul play in the Sahiwal Police ‘Encounter’?


News Desk |

On Sunday, Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat used the harrowing term of “collateral damage” to refer to the unjustified murder of four individuals who were killed during the recent Sahiwal police ‘encounter’. He attempted to clarify that the CTD officials were merely trying to nail down an alleged terrorist and his accomplices, who could have caused a major catastrophe.

Minister Basharat spoke in a press conference, held in Lahore and attended by various prominent cabinet members. He added that the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) officials did not deliberately or “directly” intended to cause harm to the family of the deceased Khalil during the operation that took place on Saturday. However, the operation resulted in their death as the officials were aiming at Zeeshan, who was Khalil’s neighbor and family friend. Basharat said that Zeeshan was suspected of harboring ties with Daesh, a notorious terrorist group, and Khalil and his family ended up becoming a victim of “collateral damage”.

The law minister disclosed that the police and intelligence agencies had identified a silver Honda city that was seen during the murder of ISI officials in Multan. Again, on 13th January, this car was identified traveling towards Sahiwal.

On Saturday, the officials of the Punjab Police gunned down four individuals, which included Khalil and his wife, Nabeela, their teenage daughter Areeba, and Zeeshan, their neighbor. Three little children survived the accident and were witnesses who completely denied the official version painted by the elite Punjab police. This incident has created waves of anger and horror across Pakistan, and law enforcers are repeatedly attempting to deny the version of the children that first emerged through a video on social media.

Basharat also shared that the CTD officials who conducted this operation were in custody, and the official who supervised this mission had been “suspended”. He announced that a “high powered JIT” headed by Additional IG Ijaz Hussain Shah had been formed by the Punjab home department with instructions to submit its findings on Tuesday (today). He also mentioned that the family has managed to register an FIR, and Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar had given his approval for the allocation of compensation worth Rs20 million to the family members of the deceased.

Read more: CTD kills four in suspicious encounter in Sahiwal

Basharat also announced Punjab government’s decision to financially support the academic ambitions of the surviving children “till whatever stage they want to study”, alongside mentioning that money “cannot serve as a compensation for the loss of their parents”.

Zeeshan was Working with Daesh

Raja Basharat stated that Zeeshan had been maintaining his ties with Daesh, a “dangerous network” of Islamic State militants. Zeeshan had been allegedly working with these terrorists, Basharat further added that he was a part of the terrorist network that “murdered ISI officials in Multan” alongside “two police officers in Faisalabad”, and was even involved in abducting the son of former Prime Minister Gillani’s son, Ali Haider Gillani.

The law minister disclosed that the police and intelligence agencies had identified a silver Honda city that was seen during the murder of ISI officials in Multan. Again, on 13th January, this car was identified traveling towards Sahiwal. He also mentioned that the Safe City cameras revealed footage that identified that the white Suzuki Alto owned by Zeeshan was “also with the car driven by the terrorists”.

Law minister Basharat also explained the version put forward by the CTD officials, who claimed that Zeeshan was the first to “open fire”, however, he also mentioned the family’s denial of this version.

Basharat announced the decision to share these images and footage revealed by the Safety cameras to prove that Zeeshan’s car was indeed “being used by the terrorists”. Later, a CCTV footage obtained from 13th January was screened at the conference, and it showed a silver Honda City following a white Alto.

He stated that the officials “verified that Zeeshan was indeed working with the terrorists” once the surveillance footage from 13th to 18th January was examined. On 18th January, the CTD officials visited Zeeshan’s house, where they discovered “terrorists and explosive material”.

He further added that an operation could not have been conducted at Zeeshan’s house because the street was overcrowded, and would have resulted in a catastrophe for the residents. Therefore, the officials waited for the suspects to leave.

Read more: Exemplary punishments for the Sahiwal culprits: PM Khan assures

On 19th January, he added, the surveillance cameras identified the white Alto traveling to Sahiwal, and since the car had left Lahore, the CTD team was instructed by security agencies to “stop the vehicle”. The intelligence revealed that the suspects were “carrying explosives”, and they were driving towards a crowded place.

Basharat further claimed, “The firing occurred when the car was halted in Sahiwal”. Without further clarification, he concluded that it wasn’t possible to see the individuals seated in the back seat since the windows were “blackened”, and the car was being driven by Zeeshan.

In an even more intriguing series of developments, Basharat shared that two of the terrorists associated with Zeeshan, Abdur Rehman, and Kashif, had died earlier in Gujranwala. Soon after Basharat Zeeshan’s death was announced, the suspected terrorists fled Lahore and “blew themselves up with suicide jackets”.

The CTD officials portrayed the murder of Khalil’s family as a daring mission secured by dedicated police officials while rescuing a group of children who were kidnapped and “recovered from the trunk of the car”.

He added that the JIT report will conclude “how and why the firing occurred”, and it will determine the course of action on this accident. These findings will be made available to the public, along with ensuring that “justice is delivered”.

Joint-Operation by ISI and CTD

Law minister Basharat also explained the version put forward by the CTD officials, who claimed that Zeeshan was the first to “open fire”, however, he also mentioned the family’s denial of this version. “This is why it is crucial to get to the bottom of this incident”, he said. He added that the JIT will unearth why Zeeshan was traveling with Khalil’s family and what was the true nature of their friendship. He also claimed that the officials recovered “two suicide jackets, two pistols, eight hand grenades and bullets from Zeeshan’s car”.

The JIT is also tasked with revealing why Zeeshan had ammunition in his car and where it was obtained from. Basharat added that this joint-operation was conducted by the ISI and CTD because “it was necessary to eliminate these terrorists”, else the officials would have risked “a major catastrophe in Punjab”.

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“Sadly, the terrible loss of Khalil’s family has undermined the credibility of this necessary operation,” he regretted. “No compensations will be offered to anyone”, he asserted that Prime Minister Imran Khan and Punjab Chief Minister had given orders to serve justice to the family.

He clarified that the government “does not accept the version of the CTD” and will make its decision on the findings of the JIT. “The current government has proven its credibility by fulfilling the requirements of justice without any kind of prejudice”, he remarked.

A case of many contradictions

The initial stance adopted by the CTD has come under serious criticism after all the contradictory versions that have been put forward at various different phases after the treacherous ‘encounter.

Khawaja Asif, a Senior PMLN spokesperson, also addressed the National Assembly floor. “Those responsible for eliminating terrorism have themselves become terrorists”, he said.

The CTD officials portrayed the murder of Khalil’s family as a daring mission secured by dedicated police officials while rescuing a group of children who were kidnapped and “recovered from the trunk of the car”. Shortly after, this stance was dropped and entirely replaced with a story by the CTD officials, stating that it was a deadly encounter with “terrorists connected to Daesh”, who had been identified by the law enforcers while travelling towards the Sahiwal toll plaza.

The CTD even stated that Khalil’s family had been killed due to the “firing of their own accomplices”. This story complete blew over when Umair, Khalil’s minor son and witness to the ‘encounter’, challenged this narrative with a heart-wrenching story that went viral on social media and News channels.

The version narrated by Umair has shaken the credibility of the reports put forward by the CTD, who claimed that the law enforcers open fired on their family while they were travelling from Lahore to attend a wedding in Burewala. He said, “My father offered them money in exchange for their lives”. He also denied the presence of any kind of weapons in their car.

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This story was confirmed by other witnesses, who shared with TV reporters that the deceased did not fire any shots. One witness even shared that the law enforcers “forced the car to stop and fired the shots from a very close range”. The post-mortem report revealed that Zeeshan was shot with 10 bullets, Khalil got 13 bullets, Nabeela sustained four bullets, and Areeba was riddled with six bullets. Umair sustained a bullet wound in his right leg, while Muneeba sustained a hand injury due to the shattered glass in the car.

Opposition resorts to the dirty game

It is shocking that the opposition is now using this heart-wrenching tragedy as a pretext to through dirt on Prime Minister Imran Khan and ‘Naya Pakistan’. In a press conference held in Lahore earlier today, former information minister Maryam Aurangzeb lamented Imran Khan and demanded his resignation. “Innocent citizens have been cold-bloodedly murdered in front of their children in Naya Pakistan”, she called out.

“The PTI leadership of Punjab has turned the Province into a police state”, lamented Bilawal. He strongly condemned the tragedy and the act of killing parents in front of their children.

She slammed the decision of Chief Minister Buzdar to allocate financial support to the children, and also stated that the Prime Minister must confront the nation and provide “retribution instead of tweets”. While addressing the National Assembly members, Shahbaz Sharif vowed not to politicize the tragedy, but he demanded that the findings of the JIT must be made public.

Shortly after, he did exactly what he promised not to by comparing the incident with the Model Town tragedy. “Back when the ruling party was the opposition, they tried their best to secure political gains by politicizing the Model Town massacre, and later the Zainab rape case of Kasur”, he said. He remarked, “We will not taint this carnage by organizing a sit-in”, however, he vowed not to leave the government in peace until the mystery is crystal clear.

Read more: Defeating Terrorism: Pakistan needs new “Road Maps” & a “Visionary Leadership”…?

The leader of the opposition was immensely critical of Prime Minister Khan’s late response on the tragedy and also lamented the Punjab government for taking “6 to 7 U-turns within 24 hours” on the Sahiwal police ‘encounter’. Khawaja Asif, a Senior PMLN spokesperson, also addressed the National Assembly floor. “Those responsible for eliminating terrorism have themselves become terrorists”, he said.

It is extremely unfortunate that an incident that was a living nightmare for three little children has turned into a political scuffle. Bilawal Bhutto also did not hesitate from using it as a pretext to target the PTI-led government at a press conference on Sunday.

“The PTI leadership of Punjab has turned the Province into a police state”, lamented Bilawal. He strongly condemned the tragedy and the act of killing parents in front of their children. However, he couldn’t stop himself from earning political mileage against the government, stating that was incident was “slap in the face of PTI’s promises of exemplary governance”. “Sahiwal tragedy is a message for citizens in Naya Pakistan that they should avoid leaving their homes with families,” said Bilawal.

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Recent developments have revealed that 16 CTD officials have been arrested at the orders of CM Punjab Usman Buzdar. Now, the PTI leadership and the entire country are anxiously waiting for the final JIT report, in the wake of Buzdar’s refusal to “execute someone at whims”. “Due action will only be taken upon obtaining the findings unearthed by JIT report by 5 pm on Tuesday”, he declared.

Mina Jahangir with additional input by News Desk.

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