BY: |Hamid Mir|

What can I say about how my heart feels today? It is badly bruised. There is a sense of helplessness behind these wounds, piercing my heart like a spear. Today, not only me, but my compatriots also have wounded hearts. Whomsoever has seen the faces of those children from the Sahiwal incident, the sadness and helplessness etched on their faces, must be feeling sad and helpless themselves.

Whenever an innocent is slain after being labelled a terrorist, a reel starts playing in my mind of all such past incidents, where grave injustice was carried out and an innocent was first brutally killed and then that injustice was hailed as an achievement and glorified.

Around noon on 19th of January something similar happened in Sahiwal. Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) officials opened fire on a vehicle coming from Lahore near Sahiwal toll plaza, bursting the vehicles tyres. The car screeched to a halt near the central reservation of the road and was then fired upon from three directions. When the women and children sitting inside the car started making hue & cry, the CTD officials, some of them in plain clothes, came nearer to the car to have a closer look. Sitting on the passenger seat and by now badly wounded from gunshot wounds, was Khalil, the head of the family. Khalil said to CTD personnel please take whatever you want from us but spare us, we are unarmed and have kids in the car. Don’t kill our kids.

A CTD personnel then asked him to bring the kids out of the car, but Khalil had passed out by then, his wife Nabila and their 13 year old daughter Areeba had also fallen completely silent on the backseat. Two CTD officials then opened the backdoor of the car & took out 10 year old Umair, 7 year old Muneeba and 4 year old Hadiya from the car. They then very callously started shooting at the car again, making sure all the remaining occupants of the car, which included two men and two women, never make it out alive.

By now the CTD personnel had realized their mistake and were busy calling their higher-ups on phone & wireless, telling them that the kids recovered from the car are calling the dead their parents, but the higher-ups were adamant that CTD carry on making this grievous mistake seem like an achievement. CTD officials, now looking to glorify their injustice, came up with a story that those killed in the car were terrorists, part of an international terrorist outfit DAESH or IS.

Two of the three children had sustained gunshot wounds and CTD officials had no choice but to take them to a hospital for treatment. Journalists who got there questioned 10 year old Umair, who told them about the tragedy that had befallen his family and turned his world upside down. When CTD lies were exposed on media, CTD officials took up a new narrative. They said the car driver Zeeshan was a commander of the terrorist outfit DAESH or IS, the people travelling with him were unaware of his terrorist activities and due to the black tints on the car windows, CTD officials were unable to see the kids and women in the car. CTD was now resorting to one lie after another to cover up their tracks.

It later on came to light that Zeeshan was actually Khalil’s neighbour and used to provide his services as a driver. CTD maintained that they were fired upon first from inside the car and their crossfire resulted in the death of the terrorists. All Eyewitnesses negated this and said the only shots fired were fired by CTD personnel.

The sad part was when the media had exposed white lies of CTD, Punjab police issued a handout stating that four terrorists have been killed near Sahiwal. If they were indeed terrorists and as dangerous, why were the CTD officials involved in this operation dressed in colourful, casual clothes and not one bothered wearing a bulletproof vest? After I had heard 10 year old Umair’s mobile video message, I immediately contacted responsible people from the Punjab government. Everyone knew that the CTD had carried out a grave travesty of justice, even the Sahiwal district administration had called CTD story a lie, but rather than taking action against those responsible for this incident, the Punjab government had decided to formulate a JIT (Joint Investigation Team) on the matter.

This was the moment when Dr. Shahbaz Gill, spokesperson for Punjab Government, contacted CM Punjab Sardar Usman Buzdar and told him that it was now impossible to defend CTD’s white lies, please announce arrest of CTD officials. Sardar Usman at the time was on an official trip to Mianwali, surrounded by a security entourage that included mobile jammers, which made it impossible for him to be contacted via mobile phone. He realized the gravity of the situation only when Prime Minister Imran Khan himself contacted him & told him to take action. The CM was initially in two minds about issuing arrest orders of CTD officials involved, but when he was warned that the Prime Minister himself might take a U-turn and turn him into a scapegoat, he ordered the arrest of the officials.

PM Khan tweeted a day after the incident that the CTD had made great headways in the fight against terror but the law was equal for everyone. He forgot to mention that it was the previous CM of Punjab, Shehbaz Sharif, who converted the CID into CTD on 23rd June 2010 and CTD might have made good headway against terrorism, but they were being paid for this and were in no way doing any special favour to the nation. Another bitter reality is that CTD in the past has made many innocent individuals disappear, some were killed in fake encounters, some were handed over to other law enforcement agencies and declared missing. On 13th January 2018, Muhammad Ishaq, who was killed along with Naqeeb-Ullah Mehsud in a fake encounter in Karachi, was arrested in front of his entire neighbourhood from his hometown of Ahmedpur Sharqiyah by the CTD. No one knows how he was handed over to Rao Anwar and ended up in Karachi? Perhaps, if Rao Anwar had been punished for his crimes then maybe the incident in Sahiwal could have been avoided?

CM Punjab Usman Buzdar says he will turn those responsible for Sahiwal tragedy into an example. But, when a police officer will investigate murders committed by other policemen, then what kind of example would be set? First and foremost, injustice-glorifying Punjab Polices head, IG Punjab, should be fired. Well then see who you turn into an example? The helplessness of the children that survived Sahiwal tragedy have left wounds in our hearts, this helplessness has driven us to shouting and screaming and the prayers of helpless & wronged can also turn those in power an example for all to see.