After a hiatus of around one year, the Canada-based Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) Chief Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri has once again returned to the country with a bang.
Soon after his arrival in Lahore on August 8, he addressed a congregation in which leaders of different political parties participated along with a large number of PAT supporters. The next big show was a sit-in organised on August 16 which was mostly attended by women, including the female members of the 14 victims of Model Town tragedy.
On both these occasions, Tahiri demanded the Syed Ali Baqir Najafi tribunal inquiry report be made public, a larger bench be set up by the Lahore High Court (LHC) to hear the case and the political leadership and senior bureaucracy that ordered the killing of PAT workers be tried and “hanged on charges of homicide”.
However, there are apprehensions among different quarters that he has returned on the behest of certain forces that want to increase pressure on the already cornered PML-N leadership. The timing, they say, is also quite important because Nawaz Sharif has been disqualified and Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif is likely to face accountability cases against him and his family. The elections are not far away so it is the best time for witch-hunting.
Qadri and his aides question why the government of Punjab is afraid of making the inquiry report public. “If the report does not hold anything against Sharif brothers and absolves them of homicide charges, then why are they afraid of making it public?” he asks.
Noorullah Siddiqui, Central Spokesman Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) says, “How unfortunate that Rana Sanaullah, who was briefly removed from his post after the Model Town ‘massacre’, was appointed the provincial law minister. Dr Tauqeer Shah, the then Principal Secretary of Punjab who should have been jailed for issuing instructions on the operation is serving as ambassador of Pakistan in the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Mushtaq Sukhera, the then Inspector General of Police, Punjab, got a stay order to get exempted from appearance before the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) and has never appeared there.”
Siddiqui says that they have received positive signals about the fulfillment of their demands during the sit-in, and that is why they have decided not to hold any further protest or sit-in till Eid-ul-Azha. “But if there is no breakthrough after this deadline, we will start province-wise protests starting from Faisalabad and Multan which may spread to other cities. At a later stage the protests could be extended to the whole country,” he warns.
A source in the Punjab government terms these demands unjustified, saying the tribunal report cannot be shared as the matter about formation of one-member tribunal is sub-judice at the moment. “The plea taken by the petitioner is that an LHC judge shall not head the tribunal as it would be against his dignity to appear for cross-questioning in front of the officials reviewing the report.”
He adds that PAT leadership and supporters must wait for the final decision on this and must not take law in their hands.
Secondly, the source says, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) formed to inquire this tragedy has not held those accused by PAT responsible for the incident, and “there are also accounts about opening of fire from both sides”. The timing, he adds, “is also relevant and it is quite likely that Qadri has just emerged from nowhere as part of a greater conspiracy”.
Siddiqui agrees the timing is important but “there is no conspiracy”. “It is the best time to demand justice because the Supreme Court has issued orders against the all powerful Nawaz Sharif. The winds of change are blowing and there is hope the LHC will also not spare the culprits,” he adds.
He also challenges the claims that the heirs of the Model Town tragedy have received blood money. “The aggrieved families only want qisas — eye for an eye or blood for blood — and nothing less than that.” He says though Rs300 million had been transferred to the district government account for this purpose, the victims’ families rejected this offer right away.
He also terms JIT report inadmissible on grounds that it was submitted without signatures and the dissent notes by the Military Intelligence (MI) and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) were also not given weight.
A bench has been formed to hear the case and decide on the legality of the tribunal. But one question here is that whether the government is justified in holding back the findings of the report for the matter being sub-judice.
Abdullah Malik, President, Civil Society Network Pakistan (CSNP) does not buy this argument and says there is no instruction by the court not to make it public. “The inquiry report shall be shared as the government’s policy to withhold it is doing no good”.
Malik had been attending the proceedings of the tribunal and even assisting it as a representative of the public at large. He offered his services when the tribunal was set up and an ad was placed in the media, asking people to come forward and share any information/evidence they could provide in this regard.
He shares with TNS that he made a request under the freedom of information law to get access to the report but it was not accommodated. The Punjab home secretary, in a letter available with Malik, refused to comply on grounds that contents of the report were sensitive and if shared could lead to “bloodshed”.