JIT report on Model Town firing

A joint investigation team (JIT) formed by the Punjab government last November to hold an inquiry into the Model Town police firing incident at the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) headquarters has released its report. Eleven PAT workers were killed and 60 others sustained bullet wounds in the incident almost a year ago. And in the FIR registered under a sessions court orders due to stiff government resistance, the party had accused Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif and a close confidante the then law minister Rana Sanaullah of having ordered and abetted the firing. The five-member JIT has unanimously declared both men “innocent”, rejecting the allegations against them as “baseless and without any evidence.” Furthermore, the JIT said the federal government had no role in the province’s law and order affairs nor was any evidence found to support the abetment charges against it. The PML-N government, in particular the CM and Rana Sanaullah, can take a big sigh of relief – at least for now.

The JIT comprised three senior police officers, an ISI colonel, and a Director of the Intelligence Bureau. The inclusion of an army officer in JITs of course is meant to ensure impartiality of investigations. This one, however, is neither here nor there. It gives a detailed account of the people interrogated, including the CM and the former law minister, identification through TV footage of PAT workers allegedly involved in attacking police vehicles and personnel with stones and petrol bombs, but leaves the key questions unanswered, or half answered, such as that who is responsible for police firing directly into a political workers gathering – as shown in live TV broadcasts- and causing so many fatalities, and why? The report offers a ludicrous explanation as to why the police did what they did, saying ” on rumours that PAT activists had abducted two policemen, and that another policeman had been killed, some personnel of the force opened fire either on the orders of then superintendent of police (security), Salman Ali, or at their own.” First of all, it is absurd to suggest the police took the extreme step merely on the basis of rumours about something happening in small place. Even if for arguments sake, it is a correct version, did the JIT identify the people who gave the policemen wrong information, if not why not? Second and most importantly, why the JIT has failed to determine who exactly was responsible for the carnage? It should not have been so difficult to establish if the SP ordered the firing or several policemen suddenly decided to act on their own on the basis of rumours. Policemen are not supposed to shoot at people without orders from above.

The JIT report is an important part of the case preparation for legal proceedings. Notably, however, PAT had refused to accept the JIT right at the start. The party’s president, Raheeq Abbasi, has now rejected its report as well, calling it a pre-planned script. Besides, families of the dead and the injured are unlikely to give up pursuing the case in courts. Whatever the real story, the Model Town firing is going to haunt the PML-N leadership for quite some time to come.

The text appeared as the editorial of Business Recorder today.