—Punjab govt suspends CTD Addl IG, DIG, DSP, SSP, orders terror case against five cops
–Law minister dodges questions on fixing responsibility on spy agency
–Says operation was ‘100 per cent’ authentic, Zeeshan’s case to be further probed
LAHORE: Punjab government on Tuesday sacked officials of the Punjab Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD), including additional inspector general (AIG), deputy inspector general (DIG), senior superintendent of police (SSP) and deputy superintendent of police (DSP), after the preliminary report of the joint investigation team (JIT) found them responsible for the Sahiwal encounter.
Talking to the media alongside Punjab Senior Minister Abdul Aleem Khan after a high-level meeting to review the initial report, Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat said that the JIT has found the CTD responsible for the killings of Khalil’s family in the Sahiwal encounter.
“In view of the JIT report, the government has decided to remove the AIG and SSP CTD from their posts,” he told the media.
“Five CTD officials involved in the killing have been booked under Section 302 (of Pakistan Penal Code) and they would be tried in an anti-terrorism court,” he added.
The law minister further said that challan of CTD officials will be presented before the anti-terrorism court (ATC) on Wednesday.
Although the minister evaded most of the reporters’ questions saying an “in-camera briefing” will be held for media representatives on Wednesday to reveal all facts, he maintained that the Sahiwal operation was “100 per cent correct” despite the family members’ killings.
He said that the JIT head had asked for further time from the government to investigate the background of Zeeshan, who was also killed with the members of the Khalil family.
“It is our commitment with the nation that we have to fulfil the requisites of justice and leave no stone unturned to provide justice to the affected family,” Basharat said, adding that the provincial government will treat the incident as a “test case” to ensure justice is done.
When a journalist asked him whether the country’s premier intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), will be held accountable for the incident, the provincial law minister said, “Do not involve state institutions in this. Punjab government cannot trespass its jurisdiction.”
Earlier, Additional Inspector General of Police (Establishment) Ijaz Hussain Shah, who is heading the JIT formed to probe into the Sahiwal tragedy, sought two more days for submission of a report on the incident. However, an initial investigation report was submitted to Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar.
A high-level meeting headed by the chief minister was held to review the report and receive a briefing from the JIT head. Besides Raja Basharat, Abdul Aleem Khan, the chief secretary and additional chief secretary for home, Punjab Inspector General of Police (IGP) Amjad Javed Saleemi as well top officials from relevant agencies attended the meeting.
Shah revealed that six officers of the CTD were under detention and statements of five eyewitnesses had been recorded so far. “It is difficult to compile a report of such a ‘big’ incident in a short span of time,” Shah said during his visit to Sahiwal on Tuesday. “It is not even possible to submit an initial report right now. We will conduct investigations on a scientific basis and determine what the truth is,” he added. “Nothing can be said till all things are clear. Six CTD officials are under custody and their statements have been recorded, meanwhile, we are collecting evidence,” he further said.
He also said, “We can only reach a conclusion after initial statements are recorded and lab results are received. We will present a report to CM Buzdar after we receive lab reports.”
The eyewitnesses, who were present during the media briefing, said that “the JIT did not inform us before visiting and there were dozens of people present on the site at the time of the incident, however, statements of only three to four people were recorded”.
According to one eyewitness account, the police opened fire on the vehicle first. The woman fell victim to the police’s bullets and fell onto the children, at which point the security personnel took the children out of the car and proceeded to fire at the occupants again, he claimed.
The JIT members also examined the crime spot. However, some critical evidence has been lost after clearance of the crime scene. Besides, bullets and the car’s forensic tests could not be performed either. Authorities have recorded statements of concerned officers for compiling the report when eyewitnesses refused to record their statements at the police rest house. The team has also collected evidence from the video footage recorded by media and citizens. Meanwhile, CM Buzdar has asked the general public to have patience and wait for appropriate action after the JIT report.
On Saturday, three members of a family were killed during a shootout between the CTD and suspected terrorists near Sahiwal. Khalil, a grocer in Kot Lakhpat, Lahore, his wife Nabeela, their 13-year-old daughter, and their neighbour, Zeeshan, were on their way to a wedding in Burewala when they were killed in firing on their car near the toll plaza on GT Road in the Qadirabad area. The counter-terrorism officials claimed that the operation was conducted to capture an “Islamic State (IS) commander” on a tip-off by an intelligence agency. The Punjab government insisted that CTD personnel had carried out the “Sahiwal operation on the basis of solid evidence and a Da’esh [Islamic State] terrorist Zeeshan was killed resultantly”.
The operation was led by CTD Sub-Inspector Safdar Hussain, with other officers, including Ahsan Khan, Muhammad Ramzan, Saifullah and Husnain.
LHC SUMMONS PUNJAB IGP:
The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Tuesday summoned Punjab IGP Amjad Javed Saleemi as it took up a petition demanding an impartial inquiry into the Sahiwal encounter case.
On Monday, lawyer Mian Asif Mahmood had submitted a petition in the LHC questioning the legitimacy of the JIT, which includes police higher-ups and representatives from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
He had argued that the JIT formed by the Punjab government “would not be able to find out the truth and hold police staff accountable”, and a judicial commission should have been created to look into the matter. The government did not want a “transparent” inquiry in the matter, he argued.
He contended that the high court holds the authority to investigate the matter pertaining to human lives and called for the formation of a judicial commission headed by a sitting judge to look into the matter and award punishment to those responsible for the deaths.
He had also referred to official statistics of Punjab police which stated that the law enforcement agency conducted 247 encounters in 2017, 91 in 2018 and about seven were reported in January 2019 so far.
The petitioner contended that the court should direct the prime minister to form a judicial commission so an “unbiased inquiry” can be conducted. The Punjab chief minister should also furnish a copy of a detailed report on the incident among other ‘encounters’ undertaken in the past and action taken against the involved police personnel, he directed.
Mahmood also demanded that the Punjab police chief should instruct his staff not to shoot at fleeing suspects and deprive them of automatic weapons.
He further requested that the Punjab government should initiate a compensatory relief package for the victims of the Sahiwal incident and execute the guilty cops within 90 days as had happened in the case of Zainab Amin, a minor who was raped and murdered in Kasur.
As the court heard the petition on Tuesday, Justice Sardar Mohammad Shamim Khan commented that it is within the centre’s mandate to form a judicial commission in the matter. At that, the Punjab government’s counsel told that a JIT has already been formed to investigate the incident as the government is “very serious” about the incident.
As he accepted the petition, Justice Khan summoned IGP Saleemi to court on January 24. Stating that it was a matter of “personal interest”, he ordered him to bring along all of the documents pertaining to the case.