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Pakistan: Evidence in Perween Rahman’s case must be brought on public record

23 May 2015

print version of this article print version - May 21, 2015

Crushing impunity

Nazish Brohi

WHO exactly targets and shoots Ahmadis dead we don’t know. Who targets and kills Shias, we kind of know, or their organisational association in any case. Who targets and kills women suspected of sexual transgressions we precisely know, right down to the address. It is usually the same as the victim’s. But the effect is the same. The entire system is tilted against them.

This is the nature of impunity in Pakistan. It is not just that perpetrators are exempt from punishment. Structurally, the state has derived its legitimacy in part through impunity trade-offs. Instead of asserting a monopoly on violence, it has historically allowed enclaves of violence as a power-sharing formula. Authority over violence was extended to the jirga, the wadera, the sardar; the extremist militants; non-interference agreements that vested legitimacy and underwrote the state’s writ.

There seems to be a creeping change. The state seems to be asserting its direct presence for the first time in the most unregulated periphery of all: private space. Underage and forced marriages are now outlawed; domestic violence criminalised; violent acts, defended as culture, prohibited.

The changes have gone beyond legislation. In KP, jirga members have been arrested for allowing the exchange of women as conflict resolution; in Punjab, families have been rounded up by law-enforcement for child marriages; in Sindh, police have started to deal with honour killings. These are building blocks for asserting the state’s sole authority on violence.
Evidence in Perween Rahman’s case must be brought on public record.

This is why redress in cases such as Sabeen Mahmud’s and Rashid Rehman’s killing is so critical. They are not just quests for individual justice but a public diagnosis, biopsy and surgery that display the state’s healing capability.

Consider Perween Rahman, director of the Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi, the exceptional woman who spent 28 years working for poor people’s right to land and basic services. Her case, taken up by the Supreme Court, has come this far because of the commitment of her family and colleagues.

Immediately after her death, the police announced they had killed her murderer, Qari Bilal of TTP. Later they alleged the killer was Mahfuzullah Bhallo, also killed. The court dismissed both these claims.

The police blamed Karachi’s water mafia, the Rs50 crore per annum enterprise of industrial water supply in which the TTP is involved. The Special Branch pointed out specific TTP groups who controlled the area where she was killed. Various religio-militant groups have targeted community workers and civil society leaders across Pakistan, and threaten to continue doing so, especially women. Perween had mapped the nodes of the water mafia, a risky venture, but her work on that was finished. The findings were made public in 2009.

The judicial commission report identified land politics as a pivot of the case. Perween had been working to map and regularise goths in Karachi’s periphery.

She managed to get over 1,000 goths regularised in Gadap, Bin Qasim, Baldia and Keamari towns. This led to a massive increase in land value and ensured residents could not be evicted and had to be given compensation such as alternative housing in addition to land payments. This has meant escalation from Rs50,000 per acre for non-regularised land, to upwards of Rs600,000 an acre for regularised land. Each goth averages 25 to 30 acres. There are over 2,000 such goths. Roughly three million people. Do the math.

According to the Supreme Court petition, no goths of the area have been regularised since Perween’s murder, despite 1,000 pending applications, and petitioners want to know why not, and who is buying the land instead.

The police have now arrested Pappu Kash­miri who was apprehended from Manse­hra. This has led to the identification of a suspected contract killer, Rahim Swati traced as living in the same lane as the OPP office. His whereabouts are currently unknown.

The police must investigate not just the trail of Perween’s murder but the context within which her work, and eventually, her murder took place. Whether the murder was ordered by the TTP, as the police seem to be inclined to think, or the land mafia/developers, as the petitioners seem inclined to think, the evidence must be brought on public record by the police.

The case merits serious attention, for one because the logic given for institutionalising military courts for two years was to give the judicial and police investigation systems enough time to fix inadequacies. It defeats the purpose if they carry on as normal.

More systemic is the issue of corroded public trust in the state itself. That the state should provide security is not a demand for surveillance and securitisation, but for the state to revoke impunity and root out violent organisations, groups and individuals.

The writer is a researcher and consultant in the social sector.


The above article from Dawn is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use