Wednesday Jan 17 2018

Justice delayed and buried in Model Town

Police clash with protesters during the Model Town incident in Lahore in 2014. Photo: Reuters

Politics has often been cruel, particularly when it comes to any protest movement or agitation where casualties result. This is exactly what happened in Model Town, Lahore on June 17, 2014. Now the opposition has once again decided to relaunch the movement for justice, though many of their leaders have not even met the victims’ families.

Since the government has always been on the receiving end, it is held responsible and rightly so, because safety of life is the responsibility of the government of the day.

Eleven people were killed and around 80 injured at the compound of Minhajul Quran in Model Town, Lahore. The victims’ families are still in search for justice, while the opposition is seeking the resignation of Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Law Minister Rana Sanaullah in light of the report of Justice Baqar Najafi, which was released last month.

Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) leader Dr Tahirul Qadri, whose party's workers were the victims, never accepted Justice Najafi's commission and also boycotted the same, but is now demanding a new JIT after the report was released.

This is how both the government and opposition are playing politics in the name of Model Town, and the victims of this tug of war are the grieving families.

What happened in Kasur recently after the public protested over the recovery of the body of seven-year-old Zainab, who was killed after being subjected to sexual assault, clearly showed that Punjab Police seems to know only one way of handling protest: open fire and that too direct fire, which killed two protesters.

No wonder Punjab Police is infamous for its brutality. Some 40 years ago on April 9, 1977, when the political movement of the then-PNA was not picking up, police killed over a dozen protesters which gave real momentum to the movement, which ultimately resulted in imposition of martial law. What happened in Model Town in 2014 and in Kasur recently, only reflects the general mindset of Punjab police.

The Model Town tragedy refreshes old memories but it appears as neither the Punjab government has learned any lesson nor the Punjab Police, which knows only one way of handling the mob i.e. open fire.

Shehbaz Sharif, with an experience of over three decades, should have known the possible consequences and ordered 'no use of force' in one of the meetings over dealing with the opposition's long march and dharna.

The role of Shehbaz and Sanaullah and the decision taken in the meeting held a day earlier, on June 16, presided by the law minister, are key to this inquiry. The minister was clear that under no circumstances should Qadri be allowed to fulfill his objectives.

Sanaullah did resign after the incident but returned after the investigation, something which should not have been done by the chief minister, as his own role then became controversial in light of the inquiry report.

The strongest wording of Justice Najafi's report were the observations about the chief minister's claim of 'disengagement.'

It stated: "The collected reports from all the 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. It is shocking that everyone has deliberately but unsuccessfully tried to cover each other from possible adverse legal effects."

Justice Najafi's conclusion over the CM's role could put him in further trouble when he observed, "While putting all the facts and the circumstances in juxtapositions, it has become crystal clear that order of disengagement was never passed at all, rather position taken by the CM appears to be afterthought defense not taken before the nation in his Press Conference".

All this has made the CM's case weaker and even if he had no intention and one has little doubt that he could have issued such an order, the fact remains that all this happened under his nose.

Now, the politics played by Qadri and the opposition is as cruel as the incident itself.

Had PAT or PTI been so sincere to the incident, they would have made Model Town the centre of their protest in 2014. After the incident, providing justice to the victims should have been the focal point. But, the dharna was staged in Islamabad and suddenly one day, PAT called it off without getting anything except the registration of an FIR. Instead of following the probe, it boycotted both the Najafi commission and the trial.

Had Qadri and PAT taken interest in the probe and trial, and cooperated with the commission, the report would have been more powerful.

Secondly, even after the release of the report, PAT never submitted the same report before the trial court with a plea to include Shehbaz and Sanaullah's names as the main accused in the case and incorporate the report in the trial.

The PTI, on the other hand, only provided token support to PAT. The Model Town incident did not even figure during the PTI-government agreement, which remained confined to the judicial commission on election rigging.

The PPP, the other party which has joined those seeking justice for Model Town, did not even visit victims of Minhajul Quran for almost three years. Former president Asif Ali Zardari only recently met Qadri and demanded justice for the victims.

The Model Town victims are in search of justice for the last three and half years and yet, they are far from getting justice for the incident for which the Punjab government is responsible. It was the moral and constitutional responsibility of the Punjab chief minister to protect the lives and properties of citizens which he failed to do. So, even if he was not directly involved in the 2014 massacre of PAT workers, the administration under the CM's command did it and he was not aware of it.

The opposition, particularly PAT, too, plays politics on 'Model Town' and in the last three and half years only politicised the issue and has now been joined by other opposition parties as well.

I have serious doubts that except for PAT, any other opposition leaders even knows the names of the victims martyred during the Model Town massacre on June 17, 2014. 

I would not be surprised if any leader had visited the families of the victims in their native town. How many of them visited and inquired about the conditions of the 100 wounded in the most brutal police firing. Yet, they will all gather to demand 'Justice for Model Town victims' in Lahore, in what the opposition claims will be the 'beginning of the end' for Takht-e-Lahore [throne of Lahore].

Therefore, the purpose seems to be to use 'Model Town,' and now Kasur's Zainab case, for political mileage to topple the Sharif government in Punjab. But, at the same time, the Punjab chief minister could have eased the tension had he sacked Sanaullah after the report was released and should have himself approached the court to clear his name.

Thus, the case of Model Town is still wide open provided someone takes the Najafi report and the ongoing trial seriously instead of playing politics.

One can also hope that after three and half years, some opposition leaders would visit the victims' families, if nothing else then just for condolence.

The writer is the senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang. 

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO

Note: The views expressed in the article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Geo News or the Jang Group.