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Satti and police highhandedness

Huzaima Bukhari

“Is adult amusement killing our children, or is killing our children amusing adults”―Marilyn Manson

The year 2021 opened with the tragic death of Usama Nadeem Satti, a 21 years old Pakistani civilian youth, resident of the capital city, who was mercilessly killed by the Islamabad police because he allegedly did not stop his vehicle when signaled. If so, was it such a terrible crime that called for being shot multiple times in the face and leg? Even if he was speeding away, then one can only marvel at the skill of the policemen who shot the windscreen from behind. How worthless is the life of a young citizen in the eyes of authorities that in the heat of the moment it can be extinguished like a candle flame! Is this how our taxes are utilised, to acquire guns only to be turned against us? There seems no regard for either lives or legal standard operating procedures for nabbing an accused.

Perhaps the first judicial killing occurred in 1960 when Communist leader Hassan Nasir was killed during interrogation in Lahore Fort but this atrocity found new impetus during the rule of General Zia-ul-Haq, when he took over the country after the 5th July 1977 coup and stayed in power until his death in an air crash on 17th August 1988. Zia’s rule of 11-years witnessed innumerable incidents of torture and police encounters as activists agitated against the illegal occupation of the country by a military dictator, challenged his position and strove to restore democracy. Obviously, these loathsome acts were not performed by the president himself but they were carried out by the police and intelligence agencies. When authorities are used by the leaders to serve their nefarious interests then it must be remembered that these will certainly resort to malicious application of resources for their self-aggrandizement. Thus began a new era of judicial killing where the accused, political opponents and the undesirable, were conveniently eradicated before proper trial. Successive democratic governments too have engaged in this malpractice.

There are many instances that can be quoted of brutalities committed by authorities some of which are cited below:

In September 1996, Mir Ghulam Murtaza Bhutto, member of Sindh Assembly and brother of then sitting Premier Benazir Bhutto was shot dead along with six associates in a police encounter near his home in Clifton, Karachi.

In 2007, Sabzazar, Lahore five persons lost their lives in a fake police encounter.

In 2010 several protestors who were agitating against a constitutional amendment in Abbotabad, were killed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police.

In 2011 in Kharotabad, five Russian and Tajik citizens were shot dead by the Frontier Corp after falsely accusing them of being suicide bombers. Even Dr. Baqir Shah who testified against this story was attacked in a Quetta restaurant and later shot dead by unknown gunmen.

In June 2014 Punjab Police opened fire on civilians protesting the removal of barricades around the residence of Dr. Muhammad Tahirul Qadri, Chief of Pakistan Awami Tehreek. Reported by the media live, this incident left a dozen killed and almost eighty injured. 

In 2015, two young brothers Zeeshan and Shakil riding a motorbike on their way home from work, did not stop at a checkpoint near Holy Family Hospital Rawalpindi were subjected to many gunshots that left them both killed.

2018 saw the killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in a fake police encounter by Senior Superintendent Police, Karachi Rao Anwar.

In 2019 Punjab Counter Terrorism Department ambushed a family travelling on a highway near Sahiwal, killing the parents, the driver and a teenage girl, rendering four children orphan.

In 2020, an Afghan refugee Amir Tehkal was tortured in custody by Peshawar police after a video went viral where he was seen abusing the police while drunk.

These were some of those that were actually recorded. There are innumerable incidents that have occurred and still occur in which people have become victims of atrocities or highhandedness of the police and other law enforcing agencies.

Command of authorities is undisputable and there cannot be two opinions that agencies should be aptly empowered to perform their functions for the peace and security of the country. At the same time, power without accountability leads to corruption and/or highhandedness of the worst order. Power of gun in the hands of the unscrupulous can be extremely damaging as is apparent from the many examples mentioned above. Only those who have the ability to handle this heavy responsibility should be assigned such tasks. In the United States of America, a black youth was killed by white cops that caused nation-wide demonstrations but unfortunately, in Pakistan the civil society is too laid back to stand together against these monstrosities and the judiciary is too overburdened to take serious cognizance of miscarriage of justice on the roads.

Personal grudges, political animosity, egoistic mood syndromes and the need to appear ‘more loyal than the king’ are some of the reasons for the committal of these wanton acts. The perpetrators have no feelings for the families of these souls nor do they seem to have any regard for the outcomes their viciousness can have on their own kin. Imagine the plight of the young children who saw their parents and sibling succumb to gunshot wounds, the mother from whom her son was mercilessly snatched by a handful of cops who wanted to settle their personal grievance with the young Satti, the father who is now struggling to get justice for his son and the countless people who have lost their dear ones at the hands of some foolhardy members of law agencies.

To make matters even more bizarre, such killings are termed as martyrdom which immediately lessens the gravity of the tragedy. Consequently, everyone relaxes knowing that the ‘martyr’ is having a great time in heaven and so the momentum of agitation is quelled preventing the public from rising like an iron wall against these mercenaries. In Islam, to die a martyr tantamount to a noble death but then there are certain pre-requisites which are easily forgotten. A crime committed under section 302 pf the Pakistan Penal Code hardly provokes attention of the people or those who matter in the land.

Not unless the unsub who dare to hurt or kill an innocent member of the public, an accused in custody, a truant who failed to stop (for whatever reason) on being signaled to do so, a political opponent on the behest of the sitting government, these gruesome acts will continue to take place and homes and families will continue to be destroyed in addition to creating revengeful spirits who might want to retaliate their relative’s death at some time in the future. Most importantly, the head of the government where such fake encounters occur should be made personally accountable being under his/her administration, for there are incontrovertible evidences of the fact that they spearhead some of these missions. Just a couple of strong verdicts against such leaders would be sufficient to bring security to the people and peace in this land.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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