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Sahiwal Tragedy: CM Buzdar refuses to form judicial commission

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News Analysis |

Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar on Thursday refused to form a judicial commission on Sahiwal incident.

Talking to journalists after one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan, CM Sardar Usman Buzdar said that investigations were being carried out by a joint investigation team (JIT) transparently into the Sahiwal incident and added that on this stage, the formation of the judicial commission was not needed.

Muhammad Jalil, brother of Khalil who was gunned down along with his wife and a teenage daughter in the brutal ‘encounter’, had approached the Lahore High Court on Thursday and requested the court to restrain the JIT from further investigation. He said since a top official of the law enforcement agencies (LEAs) are also ‘involved’ in the killings, the JIT made by the government lacks the capacity to reach a just decision.

After videos of the incident and children of Mr. Khalil, a man killed in the operation, surfaced on social media the entire country stood up and demanded justice for the family.

The petitioner also asked the court to issue an order for the constitution of a judicial commission under section 3 of Punjab Tribunals of Inquiry Ordinance 1969 or under section 3 of Pakistan Commissions of Inquiry Act 2017 to dig out facts of the Sahiwal incident. He argued that the formation of a judicial commission is critical owing to the non-seriousness of the government to provide justice to the victims.

On the other side, the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) officers who allegedly killed four people have reportedly reiterated their earlier stance that they did not open the fire. According to sources, JIT probing the case investigated the four CTD officials — Mr. Safdar, Mr. Ramzan, Mr. Saifullah, and Mr. Hasnain– who are in custody for their alleged involvement in a suspicious encounter on Jan 19.

Read more: Sahiwal Killings: A legal perspective

During the investigation, the CTD officials refused that they had opened fire first, claiming that the four people sitting in the car died as a result of firing by their accomplices on a motorcycle that was accompanying them when anti-terror squad intercepted the vehicle. Moreover, when asked whether they resorted to firing on someone’s orders, the officials said they only opened fire in as a “retaliatory measure”

The CTD officers’ outright refusal to confirm their involvement has raised some serious question since videos available on social media suggest that the officers themselves killed all four people and there was not cross-firing from the car.

Arif Hameed Bhatti, a prominent analyst, has said that the Sahiwal incident is not like the Model Town massacre but if the government now decides to cover up the CTD, it will be the same thing for the majority of Pakistanis in the future.

It is important to mention here that the CTD officials killed four people, including a couple and their teenage daughter in an alleged “encounter” in Sahiwal, triggering a national outcry that prompted the government to take the security officials into custody and order an investigation into the incident.

Initially, the CTD said those killed in intelligence-based operation (IBO) were kidnappers but kids clarified on social media that they were their parents. Later on, the CTD said that those killed in the operation were terrorists. Moreover, they were killed by their companions who managed to flee, it added. But this was refused by the eyewitnesses who kept on saying that the CTD officials started firing on the vehicle without any intimidation.

After videos of the incident and children of Mr. Khalil, a man killed in the operation, surfaced on social media the entire country stood up and demanded justice for the family. Protests were seen in Lahore where main roads were blocked and a few police officers abducted by the citizens were insulted and dragged.

Read more: Foul play in the Sahiwal Police ‘Encounter’?

Opposition parties took up the matter in the National Assembly on last Monday and demanded a stern against the officers involved in the operation. The leader of opposition in the National assembly Mr. Shahbaz Sharif demanded a parliamentary committee to probe into the matter. PPP and PML-N leaders demanded the government to behave responsibly and punish those found guilty.

Later on, opposition parties jointly demanded a judicial commission to probe into Sahiwal tragedy. Segments of media and civil society along with the victims’ families also agreed with the opposition and urged the Prime Minister to announce a judicial commission so that justice is seen being done. Interestingly, Senate standing committee on the interior after meeting the families of the victims has also recommended the Prime Minister to constitute a judicial commission to probe into the matter.

Now the analysts and experts also suggest the government to form a judicial commission in order to conduct a free and independent inquiry of the tragedy which sent shockwaves across the country. The government has not completely rejected the demand but it is yet to determine if the judicial commissioner is really required. Chief Minister Punjab spokesperson Mr. Shahbaz Gill has assured the nation that if the government feels that a commission is formed then there will be a judicial commission. “We are on the case and we will stay on it uncles the victims are served with justice,” he added.

Read more: CTD kills four in suspicious encounter in Sahiwal

As a matter of fact, after the refusal of the involved officers to confess their involvement it has become more important and urgent that the government takes serious and immediate action to ensure that the justice is served. Arif Hameed Bhatti, a prominent analyst, has said that the Sahiwal incident is not like the Model Town massacre but if the government now decides to cover up the CTD, it will be the same thing for the majority of Pakistanis in the future. Therefore, the PTI government is left with only one option and that is a judicial commission. Moreover, it is worth noting here that Prime Minister Khan is yet to announce a comprehensive reform package to reform the Punjab police.