You would have to be exceptionally callous to be able to forget the image of a woman being shot in broad daylight; unarmed and seven month’s pregnant. She was amongst the five foreigners, who were shot in Kharotabad by security officials.
Caught on tape, the video of the security personnel of Frontier Corps firing at unarmed civilians was all over news channels, explanations followed. Officials from the Frontier Corps insisted that the five foreigners were trained terrorists. There were too many unanswered questions, how did one of the FC men die? Why was the inquiry initiated after much delay? What triggered the gunfire from the security officials?
The explanation was, and as proven partly true, that the foreigners were trained terrorist and the gunfire was triggered by grenade attack at the FC check post.
Fortunately, The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights was quick to critique the judicial report that was no less than a cover up for the crimes committed by our security personnel. Moreover, the report was unashamedly presented with praise of the agencies for their successful crackdown on a racket.
An inquiry ensued.
The five men and women were killed in cold blood, no weapons were found in their custody, no signs of the suicide jackets that the FC claimed they had seen. There was much that needed to be told. Jamal Tarakai, the cameraman who captured the images of the shootout, was tortured after he had produced the video in front of the inquiry committee. The images showed one of the women, unarmed and raising her hand thrice while being shot at continuously by the Frontier Corps.
Police Surgeon Baqir Shah who was responsible for the forensics, testified that no grenade attack was carried out. Dr Shah was threatened, attacked and tortured. A committee was formed to investigate the moves to destroy evidence. Dr Shah is dead, attacked by ‘unidentified gunmen’ who opened fire on his car, as he was returning from the hospital yesterday. The committee is yet to reveal it’s findings.
Despite being threatened, attacked and tortured, a courageous Baqir Shah spoke in front of the cameras “Bilkul nahin daronga, main tribunal par jaonga, Justice Hashim say poochounga yehi sila diya hai? Mainay haq ki gawaahi di, uss pay mujhay yeh sila mila?” (I will not be scared; I will go to the tribunal and ask Justice Hashim if this is the treatment I deserve for being truthful? Is this what I deserve for siding with the right?”)
His courage and defiance helped the judicial tribunal in concluding that the Frontier Corps were responsible for the extra-judicial killings of the five foreigners.
“The judicial tribunal on the Kharotabad incident has found Col Faisal Shahzad of Frontier Corps, former Quetta police chief Daud Junejo and other FC and police personnel guilty of killing five foreigners and recommend legal action against them.”
Despite the threats, Dr Shah testified against the tribunal, a testimony that helped the tribunal recommend legal action against the culprits. But, as Dr Shah better said it himself “Kya sila diya?”
So, who do we blame for the death of a key forensic investigator? The provincial government that should have provided him with security? The judges who he testified to? Maybe the absence of a witness protection law?
But let’s not even talk about blame, let’s talk about responsibility. Who will take on this responsibility, so that no more of our brave men and women are killed in cold blood? Because this will happen again and continue to happen unless we put an end to it. Rhetorics won’t count, actions will.
There’s a lesson to be learned here and we need to say it loud and clear. For years now human rights organisations have raised concern over the misconducts of security officials in Balochistan. In the face of innumerable allegations of extra judicial abductions and killings, this particular case glimmered a bleak hope that no one is above the law. However, with the murder of Baqir Shah, that hope has become a mockery.
We can not absolve our institutions from taking responsibility while brave men and women continue to be abducted, mutilated and dumped on road sides. Unless substantial actions are taken to ensure the protection of key witnesses and investigators as mandatory by law, unidentified gunmen will continue leaving piles of dead bodies and bundles of human rights report for us, their silent spectators.
Sana Saleem blogs at Global Voices, Asian Correspondent, The Guardian and her personal blog Mystified Justice. She recently won the Best Activist Blogger award by CIO & Google at the Pakistan Blogger Awards. She can be found on Facebook.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.