Following a Lahore High Court (LHC) directive to make Justice Baqar Najafi’s report — compiled after a judicial inquiry into the 2014 Model Town incident — available for public consumption, the Punjab government on Tuesday evening released the report through the website of its public relations directorate.
From a reading of the conclusions of Justice Najafi’s report, it is understandable why the provincial government fought tooth and nail to prevent its release.
It is also understandable why its publication was preceded by a lengthy press conference by Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah in which he sought to highlight the report’s flaws, including what he called its reliance on “secondary evidence” and it, therefore, having no legal status whatsoever.
He kept referring to it as “defective”, and the Punjab government made sure the Justice Najafi report was accompanied online by a one-man committee’s report on a review of its flaws.
Delineating the chronology of events, Justice Najafi reports that then Punjab Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Rana Sanaullah seems to have already decided on June 16, 2014 that Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) Chairman Dr Tahirul Qadri would not be allowed any opportunity to hold a long march from Rawalpindi to Lahore, as the latter planned to do on June 23, 2014.
This single-minded determination of the minister to thwart Dr Qadri’s political objectives ended up influencing the police’s heavy-handed strategy in dealing with the situation, which resulted in the needless loss of lives the very next day, Justice Najafi argues in the report.
Though Justice Najafi himself does not affix responsibility for the tragedy, he invites readers to review the facts and circumstances and “easily fix the responsibility of the unfortunate Minhajul Quran incident” themselves.
Some troubling observations made by Justice Ali Baqar Najafi
“The operation planned and designed under the chairmanship of the then law minister resulted in gruesome killings could have easily been avoided.”
“The facts and circumstances of the bloodbath clearly show that the police officers actively participated in the massacre.”
“The apathy and recklessness of all authorities in Punjab in the matter under hand created genuine doubts about their innocence.”
“The actions of police of firing and severely beating the people on the crime scene is irrefutably suggestive that the police did exactly for which they were sent and gathered over there.”
A damning appraisal of events
In his report, Justice Najafi recalls that, during the June 16 meeting, Sanaullah was told that the PAT was seeking to overthrow the government and bring a “revolution”, which Sanaullah made clear that Qadri would not be allowed to achieve.
The commissioner Lahore is then said to have briefed the minister about the barriers placed on roads around the PAT-run Minhajul Quran Academy, which were technically illegal and could be considered and treated as encroachments by the authorities.
Going by Justice Najafi’s account, Sanaullah seems to have seized on this ‘excuse’ to disperse the PAT supporters from Minhajul Quran’s vicinity.
It was “decided to remove them [the encroachments] with immediate effect,” Justice Najafi writes.
“Dr Tauqeer Shah also consented on behalf of the Chief Minister, Punjab, [Shahbaz Sharif] for the removal of the barriers,” he sates, hinting at the possible involvement of the provincial chief executive.
The police were sent over to take action. They reached the spot around midnight of June 16, 2014 to execute their orders, but “the furious mob and [PAT] sympathisers commenced pelting stones on police”, reads the report.
“The police, as [a] retaliatory measure, resorted to firing towards the protesters, leaving many persons injured at the site of the incident […] some of whom succumbed to their injuries afterward,” the report states.
Justice Najafi observes that the “level of offensive” used by police was not “by any stretch of imagination” commensurate with the resistance offered by the “unarmed PAT workers”.
He also regrets the non-cooperation of the police in helping him dig out the truth. “[…] No police official from top to bottom, whether those who actively participated in the operation or not, […] uttered a single word about the person under whose command the police resorted to firing upon the PAT workers,” he writes.
“Understandably, all [police officials] were in unison in withholding the information from this tribunal… unfortunately, such are the facts and circumstances under which 14 persons have been shot,” Justice Najafi states.
The judge also notes that the order to open fire must have been given specifically by an officer of the police not below the rank of an Assistant Superintendent or Deputy Superintendent of Police, according to Section 128 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898.
“The tribunal, therefore, remained conscious of the deliberate silence and concealment of facts by police officials/officers […] creating circumstances to think that the police had to abide by the command announced secretly (or openly) to achieve the target at the cost of even killing the unarmed but precious citizens of Pakistan.”
“This led the tribunal to say that this motif of betrayal of law by the police aimed at burying the truth speaks volumes of their high handedness,” he states.
More worryingly, Justice Najafi recalls that when the federal government was asked why the Punjab police chief and DCO Lahore were changed in the run-up to the Model Town “bloodbath”, it did not provide any satisfactory response. “Such facts and circumstances obviously lead to an adverse opinion,” his report states.
There is more for the casual observer to wonder about: “The day (Jun 17, 2014) and time (between 10.30am to 12pm) both are very vital as the IG Punjab did not practically take over the command of Punjab Police [by then] and at the same time the honourable new chief justice was about to take oath. Had this tribunal been empowered to investigate, the hidden truth [regarding the government’s behind-the-scenes machinations] might have been exposed,” Justice Najafi writes.
Doubts are also raised regarding the intentions of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.
“According to him, having seen the standoff at 9.30am on TV, he immediately contacted his secretary, Dr Tauqir Hussain Shah, on phone to order the police to disengage forthwith,” recalls Dr Najafi. However, he notes, this statement does not corroborate with what Rana Sanaullah or the Punjab home secretary deposed before him.
“The collected reports from all concerned and the affidavits submitted by the police officers in the field do not depict that any order of ‘disengagement’ by the chief minister, Punjab, was ever conveyed/received,” the report states.
“It is shocking to note that everyone has deliberately but unsuccessfully tried to cover each other from possible adverse legal effects.”
“While putting all the facts and the circumstances [together], it has become crystal clear that [the] order for disengagement was not passed at all. Rather, the position taken by CM Punjab appears to be an afterthought defense not taken before the nation in the press conference,” Justice Najafi states.
The report also expresses disappointment over the fact that the Punjab government did not empower the tribunal under Section 11 of the Punjab Tribunals Ordinance, 1959.
“The entire gamut of facts and circumstances speak volumes that there was no good intention of the [Punjab] government to arrive at a definite and truthful result,” it states.
‘Najafi report doctored by government’
Following the release of the Najafi report by the Punjab government, Dr Qadri rejected the report while talking to DawnNews, alleging that the report released by the government was a doctored version of the original.
He said that the government had released the “doctored” version of the report after he announced to march towards Civil Secretariat with his supporters.
The PAT chief claimed that the provincial government was hiding the original version and vowed to bring it to the fore while announcing to go ahead with his plan to march towards Civil Secretariat.