Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Business Recorder Editorial Dec 6, 2017

The Najafi report Although the Justice Ali Baqir Najafi report made public on the orders of the Lahore High Court (LHC) appears to have delivered a serious blow to the Punjab government, on closer examination it has raised more questions than provided clear answers. The report describes the gruesome events of June 17, 2014 at the Minhajul Quran headquarters of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) in Model Town, Lahore as the police having done exactly what it went for. The police, the report says, participated actively in the ‘massacre’ and the reader can easily fix the responsibility for the unfortunate incident. However the report does not name any individual in this respect and appears to hold the Punjab government as a whole responsible. Regarding the incident that resulted in the dearth of 14 workers of the PAT through police firing (a figure disputed by former LHC Chief Justice and retired judge of the Supreme Court Justice Khalilur Rehman in his review of the Najafi report), the report accuses the Punjab government of concealing facts and hindering the investigation, while its officials tried to cover up for each other, preventing the one-man Justice Najafi tribunal from arriving at a definitive conclusion. The report recommends the Punjab government draw up legislation to empower the magistracy to issue orders to fire by the police so that responsibility could be clearly fixed in future. This implies a return to the executive magistracy done away with in the Police Order 2002. It also reflects the question the tribunal was unable to find an answer to: who gave the order to the police to fire? The report says the police response to the stone pelting, etc, by the PAT workers was not commensurate. It describes the claim that Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif ordered the police to ‘disengage’ as soon as he came to know of the incident as either an afterthought or passed on ‘lazily’ (and therefore to no effect). While there is a great deal more to the report, none of it very complimentary towards the Punjab government, there are also glaring anomalies. The police feel hard done by as their version does not find adequate reflection in the report, particularly the claims of the charged up PAT workers being armed and having fired on the police first. Then the reports of the ISI, IB and Special Branch, most contradicting each other, were not reconciled in a satisfactory manner in the report. Predictably, the Tahirul Qadri-led PAT has received the report with joy, while the Punjab government has rejected it as defective in the eyes of the law and having no legal impact. The latter describes the report as inconclusive, ambiguous and incomplete. While a whirl of controversy therefore surrounds the report after its release, the public is still nowhere near the truth or in possession of a verifiable description of the events of June 17, 2014. Partisan celebration or rejection of the report does not provide any satisfaction. Whether the police acted imprudently and harshly to quell the resistance of the PAT workers to the removal of the barriers they had erected before the Minhajul Quran headquarters or the PAT workers were responsible for initiating what the police describe as an armed clash would need a Solomon to decide. The revelation of the report has set off a new storm of accusation, counter-accusation, defence and counter-defence that leaves the public still clueless about the truth of the whole affair. The Najafi report does have flaws, as Justice Rehman has pointed out, but the truth probably lies somewhere between the Najafi report findings and what may be self-serving claims by the Punjab government and police. Whether, despite the LHC’s direction that the revelation of the report’s findings must not colour the trial in the matter, it has sufficiently muddied the waters to thwart the course of justice is a moot point. Perhaps the only way out of this conundrum is to consider a fresh judicial commission of inquiry to ascertain the facts and pin responsibility for the whole sordid mess.

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