Has the judiciary been fair in letting a number of notorious sectarian figureheads and preachers of hate go scot free because the police were ‘unable to offer enough evidence’; or is it a case of the judiciary only willing to take politicians to task on the flimsiest of evidences?
Recently, I received an email from a deluded young man asking whether Pakistan’s judicial system has ever seriously sentenced men who spout hatred and take part in acts of violence in the name of faith.
The answer is, yes it has.
But the examples in this respect are few. Far too few for comfort.
It might be true that the police are unable to create more convincing cases against even the most known extremists, but there is a feeling among certain segments in the society that the courts have generally been rather soft on religious radicals.
Nevertheless, the Pakistani state and courts were once rather overactive in not only sentencing terrorists, but also in sending them to the gallows.
But no, none of them belonged to any sectarian or Islamist outfits. That still seems to be an area requiring ‘clean-cut evidence.’
Between 1983 and 1985, six people were termed as ‘terrorists’ by the courts and hanged. They were all men associated with the Pakistan Peoples Party or its student-wing, the Peoples Students Federation (PSF) who, after being harassed, tortured or jailed by the reactionary Ziaul Haq dictatorship, bailed out from the fire (Zia regime) but landed in the frying pan (Al-Zulfikar Organisation).
When I was researching the stories of these young men, their crimes paled in comparison to the ones associated with sectarian hate-mongers and extremists of today.
Relating their stories here might give us some insight into understanding why some sections of the society and politics continue to believe that the judiciary and the establishment of Pakistan has been ‘lopsided’ in its handling of ‘anti-state elements.’
Born in Rawalpindi in 1962 into a struggling lower-middle-class family, Beig joined the Peoples Students Federation (PSF) at a government school in 1978 at the age of 16.
When on April 4 1979, former Prime Minster and Chairman of the PPP, Z A. Bhutto was hanged (through a sham trial) by the Ziaul Haq dictatorship, Beig took part in a number of protest rallies against the dictator.
He went underground when the police came looking for him at his home. Then with the help of some Pushtun members of the communist Mazdur Kissan Party (in the country’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan), Beig managed to escape to Kabul where Bhutto’s two sons, Murtaza and Shahnawaz, had set up the Al-Zulfikar (AZO) – a pro-Soviet Marxist urban guerrilla organisation formed with the help of the radical Libyan and Syrian governments, and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) to carry out attacks against the Zia regime inside Pakistan.
At the time of AZO’s formation in Kabul, Afghanistan was under the rule of a Soviet-backed communist regime.
In November 1981, Beig, along with two other AZO operatives, Idrees Toti* and Usman Ghani*, were sent back to Pakistan by Murtaza to assassinate Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Anwarul Haq.
*(For Toti and Usman’s profiles, see below).
Justice Anwarul Haq had become an AZO target because he had upheld the death sentence given to Bhutto by the Lahore High Court. He was also instrumental in giving legal and judicial cover to Ziaul Haq’s military take over and regime.
Another AZO operative, Asif Butt (another PSF man who had joined AZO), was sent to Rawalpindi to procure secret hideouts, weapons and transport for the three young AZO men.
However, after securing the weapons, Butt was hurled up by the police in Bhawalpur and severely tortured.
Under torture, Butt spilled out the assassination plan and the police immediately set up checkpoints in Rawalpindi to apprehend the would-be assassins.
Beig and his partners were stopped at one such checkpoint. They broke through and were chased by a dozen or so policemen.
The cops fired at the escaping men. Beig got shot in the leg and fell. Toti and Usman returned fire and shot dead two cops. This gave the desperados enough time to escape into Rawalpindi’s congested streets.
They spend the next few days hiding in a graveyard where Beig’s wound got worse and so did his condition.
Afraid to take him to a doctor, Toti and Usman got in touch with a low-level PPP leader, Abdul Khaliq, who helped them properly dress Beig’s wound.
For this ‘crime’ Khaliq was put on Zia regime’s ‘terrorist list’ in 1982. He had to escape from the country and landed in the then communist East Germany. He still lives in exile (in France.)
After being helped by Khaliq, Beig decided to find a hiding place in the Tench Bhata area of Rawalpindi where he had grown up. Here he contacted an old friend who was a mochi (cobbler), and asked him for a hiding place.
The mochi tucked him in a rundown flat, but the flat was soon raided by the police and Beig was arrested.
The mochi, who was a known PPP sympathiser, had been picked up by the police in a routine raid (yes, picking up anti-Zia dissidents in those days was quite a routine).
Believing the cops had come to know about Beig, he told the police about his whereabouts. The mochi was never seen again.
Beig’s arrest and torture led to the arrest of Toti and Usman as well. A case of terrorism and murder were registered against them in January 1982 and all three were sentenced to death in 1983.
Between August 1 and 10, 1984, they were all hanged. At the time of their hanging, Beig was 21 years old, Toti was 21 and Usman was just 19.
It is believed that the two cops that were killed were put down by Toti’s bullets. Beig didn’t fire a shot because he was shot in the leg by the cops.
Born in a lower-middle-class family in the Dharampura area of Lahore (in 1963), Toti joined the PSF in 1979 at the age of 16.
He escaped to Kabul after his house was raided by the police and his parents harassed.
In August 1981 he was hanged, along with Idrees Beig and Usman Ghani. The same rope was used to hang Toti and Usman. It is believed it was Toti who returned fire at the chasing cops after Idress Beig was shot in the leg.
(For details of his case, see Idrees Beig)
Usman Ghani was born into a lower-middle-class family in Rawalpindi in 1964.
He joined PSF at school in 1979 and in mid-1981 he escaped to Kabul to join AZO after police raided his house to arrest him for indulging in ‘anti-state activities’ (mainly leading protest rallies against the Zia dictatorship and writing anti-government pamphlets).
In August 1984 the young PSF ‘jiyala’-turned-AZO-operative was hanged by the Zia regime.
(For details of his case, see Idrees Beig)
Usman’s elder sister, Shahida Jabeen, joined PSF after her brother’s hanging.
She was arrested and tortured by the Zia regime. After Zia’s death, Jabeen left PSF/PPP and joined a small Marxist organisation.
However, in 1993, she rejoined the PPP and has been its member ever since.
Razzaq Jhanra was born into a working-class family of Bhakar in South Punjab (in 1957).
His uneducated and impoverished father enrolled him into a government school from where Jharna passed his matriculate and joined a state-owned college in Bhakar.
As a college student, Jharna joined the PSF in 1976 and began taking active part in student politics.
He was a huge fan of films and wanted to become an actor and then a singer.
However, during his second year in college (in 1977), he decided to go to the Middle East in search of employment.
The Z A. Bhutto regime had opened up numerous avenues for Pakistanis to travel to oil-rich Arab countries for employment, and Jharna was encouraged to do the same by a PPP leader in Bhakar.
After quitting college he began applying for jobs in the Middle-East.
Murtaza & Shahnawaz Bhutto talking to the media in March 1979. After their father was hanged in April 1979, they moved to Kabul in November 1979 and formed the AZO with the backing of Soviet Union, Syria, Libiya and PLO.
In 1979 his employment papers finally arrived (from Dubai), but just weeks before he was to leave, he met Tanvira Begum, the wife of radical Marxist Urdu poet and PPP supporter, Rashid Nagi.
In 1978, Nagi had set himself on fire to protest against Zia’s military regime but was saved by the people who’d gathered to watch the spectacle.
Nagi was picked up from the hospital by the police arrested and thrown in jail where his half-burned body was lashed as a punishment for ‘indulging in the un-Islamic act of trying to commit suicide.’
And here we are today in a Pakistan where masterminds and simpathisers of suicide bombing roam scot free, some even managing to appear on mainstream media.
Fearing further harassment, Nagi escaped to Kabul.
Tanvira Begum told Jharna she was planning to visit Nagi in Kabul and if he wants he could accompany her. Jharna being fan of Nagi agreed.
In Kabul, Jharna was introduced to Murtaza who convinced him to join AZO.
After going through some training in urban guerrilla warfare, AZO sent Jharna and another young man, Rehmatullah Anjum, to Pakistan. Anjum was a law student at the Peshawar University and member of the PSF.
Rehmatullah Anjum was law student & PSF member at Peshawar University before he escaped to Kabul and joined AZO. He was killed in Peshawar in 1983 when an explosive device he was carrying exploded in his hand.
Jharna and Anjum were assigned to assassinate Justice Maulvi Mushtaq, the conservative judge who had been put in charge by Zia to conduct Bhutto’s controversial murder trial.
Mushtaq had ridiculed Bhutto throughout the trial and then pushed through Bhutto’s death penalty on the flimsiest of evidence.
Jharna and Anjum arrived in Lahore in August 1981 where they were joined by Lala Asad.
A young Karachi-based Pushtun, Asad was a PSF activist whose brother Lala Aslam too was a PSF member at the Karachi University.
Lala Aslam had been killed in Karachi in 1980 when a homemade explosive devise he was carrying blew up in his hands.
With Lala Asad was another young Karachiite, Javed Akhtar, a college student and PSF member who came from a lower-middle-class Mohajir family.
Lala Asad and Akhtar escorted Jharna and Anjum to a hostel room of King Edwards Medical College in Lahore where the student union was in the hands of progressive student groups.
Taking the idea of using hostel rooms as dumping places for weapons first popularised by the pro-Zia Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT), the four AZO men stored their grenades and AK-47s in the room.
Here is where they stayed as well because the college was close to Justice Mushatq’s resident.
On 25 September 1981, Justice Mushtaq’s car (driven by a chauffer) left the judge’s spacious bungalow. In the car were Mushtaq, M A. Rehman (a lawyer), and Chaudhry Zahoor Illahi (a staunch anti-PPP politician and member of Zia’s cabinet).
Jharna, Lala Asad, Anjum and Akhtar began tailing the car in their stolen vehicle. Akhtar was the driver.
They then overtook Mushtaq’s car and blocked its way. Jharna rolled a grenade under Mushtaq’s car to disable it, while Asad and Anjum got out with their guns and opened fire.
Mushtaq was the target, and according to the information the AZO men had received, Mushtaq usually sat in the front seat with the driver.
But that day, Mushtaq was sitting in the back seat with Rehman, while the front seat was occupied by Zahoor Elahi.
Zahoor died from his wounds and so did the driver, whereas *Mushtaq received serious injuries.
*(Mushtaq died of diabetes in 1984).
When Murtaza took responsibility of the attack (on BBC), his sister, Benazir Bhutto (who was in jail and heading the PPP in Pakistan), was furious and publically castigated AZO for its reckless adventurism.
She had already distanced the party from Murtaza after AZO’s 1981 hijacking of a PIA plane (see below).
After the hit, Lala Asad and Akhtar left for Karachi, and Jharna and Anjum moved out of the hostel room and in to a safe house in Gulberg, Lahore.
Anjum and Akhtar soon made their way back to Kabul, while Lala Asad stayed in Karachi.
Jharna on the other hand, decided to rob a bank so he could raise some money for his impoverished parents.
Carrying the same weapons used on the Mushtaq hit, Jharna hired a rickshaw and began looking for an easy target to loot (a small bank branch).
But he ran into a police check-post. Asking the rickshaw driver to slow down, he threw the bag carrying the weapons in a nearby canal.
The bag was discovered by the police the next day. In it not only did the police find the weapons but also some papers, one of which contained an address.
Following this lead, the police managed to nab Jharna. Severely tortured by the police and military intelligence, Jharna spilled out Lala Asad’s name.
Asad’s residence in Karachi, a flat in Karachi’s Federal B. Area, was raided.
Asad tried to shoot his way out of the quagmire, but was shot dead by the cops.
Jharna was tried for murder by a Martial Law court and sentenced to death. He was hanged in January 1983. He was 26 years old.
A Sindhi-Baloch, Nasir was born in 1955. His struggling family moved to Karachi in the early 1970s.
Nasir left school soon after his matriculation and got employed as a bus driver at the Pakistan Steel Mill in Karachi that was constructed by the Soviets during the Z A. Bhutto regime (1972-77).
In March 1981 he was recruited by the former PSF hothead from Karachi, Salamullah Tipu, when he came from Kabul to hijack a PIA plane from Karachi.
Tipu, who was the president of the PSF in Karachi, had escaped to Kabul in February 1981, after a member of the pro-Zia Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT) was killed in an exchange of fire between PSF and IJT at the Karachi University.
Tipu’s name was mentioned in the FIR that was registered by the IJT.
In Kabul, Tipu at once joined the AZO.
On his return to Karachi, Tipu also recruited another PSF activist Nasir Jamal, a student of history at the Karachi University. Also recruited was Arshad Tegi, who was a clerk at the Still Mill and Tipu’s childhood friend.
Tipu, Tegi and Jamal all came from lower-middle-class Mohajir families in Karachi. And it was these three men who hijacked the Peshawar-bound PIA plane to Kabul and then to Damascus, Syria.
Nasir Baloch had simply driven the men to the airport in his Steel Mill bus.
However, after the hijacking empowered Tipu to get Zia to release 54 political prisoners rotting in Zia’s already overflowing jails; Zia came down hard on members and supporters of anti-Zia outfits.
Unable to get its hands on the three hijackers, the regime hurled Nasir Baloch in Karachi.
As a military court deliberated about the extent of sentencing that Baloch’s involvement should receive, Ziaul Haq himself ordered that he should be sentenced to death.
In August 1984, Nasir Baloch, who was busy giving his intermediate exams in Karachi’s Central Jail, was sentenced to death and then hanged.
Tipu stayed in Kabul after the hijacking and became AZO’s second-in-command. But soon he had a falling out with Murtaza Bhutto who accused him of trying to take over the AZO.
After eliminating an AZO dissident (on Murtaza’s orders), he was thrown in a Kabul jail by the Afghan security agency also on Murtaza’s insistence who denied that he had ordered the hit.
Tipu had become a menace. His drinking and violent behaviour became to be seen as dangerous by the Afghan police who agreed to Murtaza’s suggestion of ‘elimiating Tipu.’
He was executed by a firing squad in 1984. He is buried somewhere in Kabul.
Nasir Jamal and Tegi too stayed in Kabul, but left for Libya just before Tipu’s death. They were last seen in that country in 1992.
Born in 1959, Ayaz Sammu came from an impoverished Sindhi family. In college he first joined the Sindhi nationalist student outfit, Jeeay Sindh Students Federation (JSSF), but switched to PSF sometime in 1977.
Sammu was recruited by AZO in Karachi, trained and then sent back to Karachi as leader of a hit squad that was ordered to eliminate a member of Zia’s ‘Majlis-e-Shura,’ Zahoorul Hasan Bhopali.
With Sammu were Javed Akhtar* (who was also involved in AZO’s assassination attempt on Justice Mushtaq); and Illyas Siddique, a member of the PSF at the Urdu Science College in Karachi who was arrested, tortured and then jailed by the Zia regime. He was one of the 54 prisoners who were released on Tipu’s demand).
*(Javed Akhtar was arrested in Vienna in 1986 along with five other AZO men who’d been sent there to take over the Pakistan Embassy. Akhtar and others were given jail terms between 6 and 9 years by a Vienna court. Akhtar was released in 1992, and returned to Pakistan but was put in a Pakistan jail by the Nawaz Sharif regime. He was finally bailed out in 1995. Today he leads a quiet life)
In September 1982, Sammu’s men drove to Bhopali’s office in PECHS Karachi, burst in and shot dead Bhopali and two other men. But apart from Bhopali and his guests, another body lay dying: That of AZO man, Illyas Siddiqui.
Sammu escaped the scene with Akhtar.
According to eye-witnesses, someone fired back at the AZO men. A bullet hit Illyas who fell but was still breathing. Some reports suggested that Sammu shot him dead because he feared that had Illyas been captured alive, he would have given away the names of Akhtar and Sammu.
Sammu continued to refute the allegations and insisted that the shots that came from Bhopali’s office (fired by a bodyguard or a cop), killed Illyas.
Sammu returned to Karachi in 1983 for another operation but due to an anonymous tip-off was arrested by the police, tried and sent to the Karachi Central Jail.
In early 1985 Sammu was sentenced to death and hanged on June 26 1985. He was 26.
• The Terrorist Prince: Raja Anwar
• Daughter of the East: Benazir Bhutto
• Songs of Blood & Sword: Fatima Bhutto
• DAWN (March 1-April 30, 1981)
• Author’s interviews with Tipu’s maternal uncle; journalist Abbas Nasir (who was student activist at KU in 1981); relatives of Javed Akhtar; and Akram Qaimkhani (a progressive student activist at KU in 1981 who was arrested and tortured by Zia but sprung out on Tipu’s demand during the hijacking. He continues to live in exile).
• Al-Zulfikar: The Unsaid History: Nadeem F. Paracha
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