Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa has ordered an inquiry into the recent “Karachi incident”, a statement by the military’s media wing Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said yesterday.
“[General Bajwa] has directed Commander Karachi Corps to immediately inquire in to the circumstances to determine the facts and report back as soon as possible,” the statement said.
The statement by ISPR follows Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari news conference at Bilawal House in Karachi where he urged the army chief and Director General Inter-Services Intelligence ISI) Lt General Faiz Hameed to hold an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Captain (retired) Safdar Awan, husband of Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) vice-president Maryam Nawaz.
Safdar, who is the son-in-law of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, had raised political slogans at the famed and sanctified mausoleum of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah a day earlier. The law prohibits any political activity around the last resting place of Jinnah — popularly revered as the Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader).
Safdar was released on bail on Monday — the same day of his arrest — but the events surrounding the arrest have snowballed into a major controversy pulling in the arms of the Sindh administration and the security establishment as to who calibrated the arrest and the circumstances which led to the episode.
The Sindh government has publicly denied any role in the arrest with Bilawal apologising to Maryam Nawaz for the “embarrassment”, saying it was against “the tradition of Sindhi culture”. The arrest came hours after the two scions addressed a public rally on the platform of the newly-formed Pakistan Democractic Movement (PDM)
Addressing reports of the police being pressurised to register a police complaint against Safdar, Bilawal said that every police officer in Sindh, from a station house officer to senior police officers, were wondering who had “surrounded Inspector General (IG) Sindh Mushtaq Mahar’s office at 2am on Sunday night”.
“Who were the two persons who went inside the IG’s house at 2am and where was our IG taken at 4am in the morning?” he asked.
Bilawal urged Gen Bajwa and Lt Gen Hameed to hold an investigation into their institutions and determine how their people were operating in the province.
“Persons from these institutions should be focusing on matters of national security and the law and order issues of the province,” he said. “Our civilian institutions and these institutions have to work together [to uphold the law in Sindh].”
Bilawal said that interference in police matters was intolerable, adding that he had “condemned it in the strongest words.”
Later on, a statement by the Media Cell Bilawal House said that General Bajwa and Bilawal spoke on the telephone “to discuss the Karachi incident”.
According to the statement, the PPP chairman “expressed his appreciation” to the army chief “for taking prompt notice of the Karachi incident and his assurance of conducting a transparent inquiry on the incident”.
It came shortly after reports that several senior officers of Sindh Police, including IG Sindh Mushtaq Mahar, decided to go on leave citing demoralisation of the police force.
An application signed by AIG Special Branch Imran Yaqoob, which was making the rounds on social media, read that he wished to proceed on leave because the police high command has been “ridiculed and mishandled”, leading to demoralisation within the ranks of Sindh Police.
They maintained that in the recent episode of registration of FIR against Capt (r) Safdar in which police high command has not only been mishandled and ridiculed, but all ranks of Sindh police have been demoralised and shocked.
The police officials said that in order to come out of this shock and settle down, they need to go on leave.
Late last night however, Sindh IGP Mushtaq Mahar decided to defer his own leave and ordered his officers to set aside their leave applications for ten days, with the Sindh police asserting that the decision was taken “in the larger national interest” and pending the conclusion of the inquiry into how Safdar’s arrest took place
Interestingly, a day earlier, Sindh Police’s Digital Media Cell had tweeted, then deleted, then tweeted again a statement defending Safdar’s arrest, saying it was done “according to the law”.
The department’s Twitter activity, which indicated that not all was well within the provincial police, had raised eyebrows.
The controversy had already been brewing over the circumstances surrounding Safdar’s arrest, with PML-N representatives claiming that the police had been put under pressure to pick him up.
Representatives of the Sindh government had publicly distanced themselves from the arrest and condemned it, saying that while Safdar raising slogans at the Quaid-e-Azam’s mausoleum was not condonable, the arrest had been made without its knowledge.
Safdar was arrested in the early hours of Monday for, among other charges, allegedly violating the sanctity of Quaid-e-Azam’s Mazar (also called Mazar-e-Quaid).
The sanctity of the Quaid’s Mazar is protected by The Quaid-e-Azam’s Mazar (Protection and Maintenance) Ordinance, 1971, which explicitly forbids political activities within the premises of the mausoleum.
“No person shall organise, convene or take part in any meeting or demonstration or procession or engage in political activity within the premises of Quaid’s mausoleum or within a distance of ten feet from the outer boundary thereof,” reads the law on the matter.
In another news conference earlier in the day, Chief Minister Sindh Murad Ali Shah alleged that an attempt was made to put the police under pressure, with federal ministers of the Centre-ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) going to the police on two different occasions to register a case and on a third occasion accompanying the Mazar-e-Quaid board.
He also announced that a ministerial committee will be formed to investigate the arrest, adding that PTI lawmakers in Sindh had pressurised the police into registering the FIR, which he claimed was based on a “lie”.
“Certain facts have emerged and those will be investigated what occurred from 4:30pm on October 18 till the morning of October 19 will be probed,” he said, adding that he will also appear before the committee if required.
“They (PTI officials) were told by the police that a summary trial like the one sought falls under the jurisdiction of a judicial magistrate and it is not up to the police to register a case,” Shah said, adding the police had refused to fall under pressure.
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