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October 26, 2020

Political significance of Sindh IGP incident

National

October 26, 2020

Whatever happened between Oct 18 and 19 at the IGP Sindh House, followed by a revolt within the Sindh police top brass in solidarity with their commander, IGP Mushtaq Mehar, will have far-reaching political and administrative consequence, though Prime Minister Imran Khan termed it 'comedy' and a non-issue.

Two high-level inquiries are under way, one by the army on a directive of army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and the other by the Sindh government's ministerial committee. The recent development of 22-hour disappearance and return of Geo News senior reporter Ali Imran also raised many questions and it is good that Prime Minister Imran Khan has constituted a joint fact-finding committee, headed by Additional Director FIA, to probe the matter. It is premature to say what was the motive behind the alleged kidnapping of Ali Imran, but if it was in connection with his ‘breaking story’ regarding CCTV [closed-circuit television] footage of the arrest of PML-N leader Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar, it could give a new angle to the events of Oct 18-19. It will be interesting to see how far the premier's committee will go.

Interior Minister Brig (retd) Ejaz Shah's statement that the IGP Sindh was not kidnapped, but he went out in his own car also seems to be quite intriguing, because the issue was not how he went out but whether he went on his own will or was asked by someone or called upon.

There are two or three major issues involved in it. (1) Intra-institutional conflict. (2) Unprecedented police revolt and (3) Political consequence. One thing is for sure that the issue was not going to die down so easily. Some employees of the hotel as well as those present at the IGP House were also questioned by the other committee.

Sources said the top-level inquiry would look into all these three aspects while the ministerial committee would also go into details about the role of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) local leadership and whether the federal government was directly behind the whole episode or not.

But Prime Minister Imran Khan Friday, in an interview with a local TV channel, tried to underplay the IGP Sindh incident and apparently did not take it seriously.

"I believe it is a comedy. When I think about it, I laugh," he said when asked about his reaction to the reported incident of alleged kidnapping of the IGP Sindh.

IGP Sindh Mushtaq Mehar, a grade-22 officer, generally enjoyed a good reputation even among those who matter, but he also had a reputation of a weak administrator as well. So, it is important to find out what really went wrong in the early hours of Oct 19 that he decided to go on leave as a matter of protest against humiliation, and who exactly forced him to get Capt Safdar arrested and an FIR registered. Who was in such a hurry and why, knowing fully well that it was a routine matter.

Sources said reports suggest that when the IGP did not respond to all important telephone calls in the early hours of Oct 19, some officials were sent to the IGP House to ensure the 'action’.

It is not yet confirmed whether the IGP recorded his statement or not about the incident and about the telephone call, followed by the action at his official residence. This in itself determined who allegedly pressurised him and why.

The other aspect of the inquiry would be of more significance and that is the collective reaction from top brass of the Sindh police as more than 60 police officers including additional IGP decided to go on leave.

While the army probe would look into the circumstance which led to the situation where IGP Sindh Mushtaq Mehar and other senior police officers went on silent strike and the IGP refused to go to his office.

The inquiry would also look into the revolt and whether it was a natural reaction from top police officials or politically motivated, as alleged by some federal ministers and a government spokesman.

All this made the final outcome of inquiry more significant. The reaction from the Sindh police was said to be unprecedented in the history of the province, but some of the federal ministers including Information Minister Shibli Faraz suspected foul play allegedly from Bilawal House and the Sindh government.

Surprisingly, the Sindh government had not taken up the issue with its own Sindh Public Safety Commission, which was supposed to look into such matters under the Amended Police Order, 2017. Instead, it has constituted a ministerial committee, comprising four ministers and an adviser.

Third is the political aspect of the whole event. To start with, there is no denying the fact that there is a law in place about the sanctity of Mazar-e-Quaid, which included clauses under which political sloganeering on the premises fall under the breach of law. Thus, the best way was for Capt (retd) Safdar and Maryam Nawaz to apologise after they came to know about the said Act.

Secondly, the police station concerned should have registered an FIR without much hesitation under the Sanctity of Mazar Act. Any person booked under the relevant law could have got bail within hours.

The PTI local leadership overreacted and tried to take political mileage out of the situation and in the end succeeded in a way that since then the whole debate revolved around Mazhar-e-Quaid and Capt Safdar rather than the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) public meeting. So, attention was completely diverted.

Irrespective of the fact that the complaint himself was a proclaimed offender, he was not even present at the Mazar at the time of the incident. Thus, it would have been better had the police registered the case on the application put forward by the Mazar-e-Quaid Committee.

What followed next made turned things bad to worse. The PTI local leadership wanted to use the event as its counter attack on the PDM, particularly on Maryam Nawaz and politicise the whole issue, and it succeeded in turning the whole case as a matter of debate instead of the PDM jalsa and speeches.

Ideally, had the original Police Order, 2002 been enacted, we would not have been facing police problems as recently witnessed, both in Punjab and Sindh. There were so many checks and balances in that law that it would not have allowed the kind of interference recently witnessed. In Punjab, five IGPs had been changed and at times caused tension among the police officers.

Lastly, the Supreme Court has set the rules in regard to police in general and for posting and transfer of the IGP, and tenure posting in particular in the AD Khowaja case.

Whatever allegedly happened with one IGP today could happen to another tomorrow. Intra-institutional conflict or interference in each other's domain would only bring bad name and impact particularly in a province, where law and order was looked after not merely by the police, but also by paramilitary rangers and other security agencies.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO