It’s again a bouquet of good and bad news as well as a set of amazing coincidences from Pakistan that border on the para-normal. The bad news is that the car in which senior Pakistani journalist Ayaz Amir was travelling was intercepted by some masked men in Lahore’s busy Abbot Road on Friday. Another related bad news is that two men who “unleashed blows” on Amir, decamped with his mobile phone and wallet. The first good news is that though badly battered and bruised, Amir is safe. The second good news is that the Lahore police has assured the senior scribe that the culprits would be traced with the help of CCTV footage.
However, if the past track record of Pakistan police in tracking down assailants with the help of CCTV footage is any indicator, then the sad news is that it’s quite unlikely that the culprits will ever be caught, and the abduction of senior journalist Matiullah Jan is a case in point.
Readers may recall that on July 21, 2020, Jan was abducted in broad daylight by a group of men wearing anti-terror squad uniforms from outside the school gate in Islamabad while he was waiting to pick up his wife, and this entire incident was captured on the school’s CCVT. However, even though nearly two years have elapsed, leave alone apprehending the abductors, the police haven’t even been able to establish the identity of the group that perpetrated this serious crime in the country’s capital!
While hearing the petition regarding Jan’s abduction and his subsequent release 12 hours later, Islamabad High Court [IHC] Chief Justice [CJ] Athar Minallah questioned as to “How did anyone, wearing a police uniform, dare to abduct a person?” and expressed surprise as to “How could this happen in the federal capital?” Maintaining that “the entire state is responsible” for this incident,” IHC CJ went on to say, “… the CCTV footage [of the abduction] is available. This is a test case for the police and the federal government.”
Unfortunately, both the federal government have failed this “test case”!
As public memory is short and since abductions, roughing up of journalists, and even murdering them aren’t rare occurrences in Pakistan, Jan’s case was largely forgotten and would have continued to be so, had the IHC CJ not referred to it last month while hearing the case of former Federal Minister Shireen Mazari’s illegal arrest and confinement in Islamabad. During the hearing, while making it clear that “This court will not compromise on its jurisdiction,” CJ Minallah pulled up the deputy attorney general by reminding him that “The abduction of Matiullah Jan has not been probed till date.”
Coming to coincidences between the physical assault on Amir and the abduction of Jan, there are plenty. Firstly, both are senior journalists who are critical of the army’s interference in government and state institution functioning. Secondly, both the assault and abduction came just before, or immediately after these scribes had made/were scheduled to make remarks that were critical of the Pakistan army. Thirdly, both incidents took place in crowded areas which indicates that those involved weren’t afraid of being caught by the police or passerbys.
Jan was abducted just days before he was due to appear in court on contempt charges for having tweeted IHC judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui’s controversial speech delivered at the Rawalpindi District Bar Association. In this speech, Justice Siddiqui had openly accused ISI of complicity in manipulating the judicial process by ‘fixing benches’ and lamenting that independence of the judiciary had been compromised as it was “in control” of the army.
Amir was assaulted a day after delivering a speech on ‘Regime Change and its Fallout on Pakistan’ at an event organised by IHC Bar Association. During his address, Amir referred to the Generals of the Pakistan army as “property dealers”. Some may maintain that by equating Generals with property dealers, the senior journalist had hit the Pakistani military establishment below the belt and thus deserved what he got. However, with Lahore High Court Chief Justice Mohammad Qasim Khan calling Pakistan army “the biggest land grabber in the country,” what Amir said isn’t something really outrageous.
Amir and Jan aren’t the only journalists critical of the extra-constitutional powers being wielded by the Pakistan army who have ended up being abducted by “unidentified men.” In fact, senior journalist Amir is the latest entry into the club of Pakistani journos who have been waylaid or even picked up from their homes and after being given a sound thrashing in situ or at an undisclosed location, set free. But despite the pain and indignity, they have undergone, surprisingly none of them have given any worthwhile clue about their attackers or abductors. Many view this silence as a physical manifestation of the ‘discretion is the better part of valour’ adage!
Pakistan army denies any involvement in such cases, but then, the obvious question is that who else would take on the risky job of breaking the law just to ‘discipline’ anti- army journalists by assaulting or abducting them? Rawalpindi may be trying to divert public attention from this burning issue by portraying itself as the victim of ‘fifth-generation’ warfare. However, the 2018 abduction of British-Pakistani journalist Gul Bukhari who is known for her criticism of Rawalpindi’s involvement in politics leaves no doubts in anybody’s mind of Pakistan army’s complicity in this abduction.
The car in which Bukhari was travelling was intercepted at 11 PM on June 5, 2018, in Sherpao Bridge area of Lahore cantonment, and she was whisked away in another car to an unknown location. Due to security imperatives, Lahore cantonment is a virtual fortress with meticulously monitored and strictly controlled entry/exit. In addition to an elaborate network of CCTV cameras that cover almost every road in the cantonment, vehicle-based mobile ‘quick reactions teams’ continuously patrol the area to pre-empt any terrorist/ illegal activity.
Hence, security experts are sanguine that Bukhari’s abduction from Pakistan’s fortified Lahore Cantonment could not have succeeded without Pakistan army/ISI’s complicity. And even though her driver later confided to a colleague that while the men involved in flagging down the journalist’s car and abducting her were in civil clothes, soldiers in uniform were also present at the site and had cordoned off the area. However, the most credible proof of Pakistan army/ISI involvement in this abduction is Bukhari’s refusal to disclose the identity of her abductors, and instead give a cryptic hint that “everyone seems to know who my abductors were,” which unambiguously says it all.