Sahiwal saga

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A price of Rs20 million has been named by Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar for the loss of three family members killed in an alleged encounter at the hands of the Punjab Counter Terrorism Department in Sahiwal on January 19. Initial reports announced a shootout between the police and a car allegedly carrying suspected terrorists with later ones stating the encounter was fake.

The officers implicated in the shooting of the three family members and one family friend are being investigated. In a change of pace, the case has been registered under murder and terrorism. Ironic though it may be that members of a counterterrorism police force are being investigated for terrorism, this is only in accordance with due process. We implore that there should be an expedited but fair inquiry into the killings but with a scope that reaches beyond naming suspects and reviews the circumstances under which the shootings were ordered.

A system of checks and balances can only work if there is accountability for all. This case demonstrates that we may be moving closer to adopting such a system, at least mildly, but that it certainly needs to be streamlined. Much of the action such as a financial package for the family was announced after the victims’ families protested the extrajudicial killings. Grieving families should not have to make a spectacle of their loved ones’ bodies and congregate to seek due process. That indicates a heavily flawed system of justice.

Although the quick notice by Prime Minister Imran Khan following the incident is notable, we hope the joint investigation team report (JIT) that is due out soon completes a thorough and fair review of the incident. Too many questions remain unanswered that perhaps cannot be answered in the three days allotted to the JIT report. These include on what basis or authority can law enforcement open fire on a vehicle that fails to stop at a toll booth – and a vehicle carrying a young unsuspecting family at that.

Improper training and poor judgement seem to be factors at play here. This was not a police shootout in a case of robbery or mugging, which earlier claimed the life of 10-year-old Amal in Karachi. The victims had no weapons in the surrounding according to published reports at the time of writing. The gruesome facts further spell that more than one officer participated in the whimsical shootout.

Trigger-happy persons have no place in police forces or counterterrorism departments who are assigned the duty to protect citizens. Instead, our LEAs make citizens feel threatened and unsafe. A monetary value may have been placed on the lives lost but who will ensure that the children who witnessed their parents murdered receive the appropriate therapy they will now need after experiencing such trauma? This was a shameful miscalculation on the Punjab CTD’s part. Extensive review and reform are demanded.