Accountability of security agencies needed to end the culture of fake encounters, cover-ups
The Sahiwal fake encounter carried out by Counter-terrorism department (CTD) which claimed four lives has given rise to multiple questions. According to officials, the operation was conducted on intelligence information suggesting that those killed were linked to terror group Islamic State (IS) and were planning a terror attack. The newer official version says Zeeshan Javed, one of the four people who were gunned down, was the only culprit. This means that three other people who lost their lives on that fateful day were innocent.
Meanwhile, CTD’s claims that Zeeshan had links with IS are contradictory and have been denied by his neighbors as well as others who knew him. The department is therefore under severe criticism for taking innocent lives in the most inhumane manner. This also raises the broader question as to whether it is time to strip law enforcement agencies of the excessive powers that were granted to them in the past few years due to the increased rate of terror attacks.
Inter Service Intelligence Agency (ISI) was a part of the operation as the intelligence information on basis of which the operation was carried out reportedly came from the ISI.
The Punjab government sacked four officials of the CTD including the director. But will mere suspensions solve the long standing issue of fake encounters by police and security agencies? More importantly, will those who shared flawed intelligence information also be held accountable?
Analyst Ejaz Haider says it was the political and public pressure over the Sahiwal incident that led to the suspensions of the CTD officials, but inquiry should correctly and transparently determine where the responsibility lies.
When decisions are made in a haste before competition of the formal investigation, they are merely an attempt at fire-fighting and responding to the public outrage. Should such critical decisions be made on basis of public sentiments? In an apparent reference to the ISI, Haider said, “In this case, the most important questions are about who developed, collated and analysed this intelligence, who cleared and commanded the operation.”
Analyst Ayesha Siddiqua is of the opinion that such incidents will happen with or without the excessive powers of the law enforcement agencies. “The solution lies in better policing and a policy that is simply not made by bureaucrats”, she said.
Siddiqua further says that the tradition of fake encounters dates back to the 1990s. “Punjab police’s DGs and IGs are chosen on the basis of their ability to conduct such fake encounters.”
In response to a question, she said that the power enjoyed by security agencies did not come with the terror incidents but had always been there. Lack of accountability in such cases has deepened the culture of encounters, she says. She adds that a tradition of accountability in security agencies must begin so they cannot get away with taking lives without a due process.
Siddiqua also criticized the National Counter-terrorism Authority (NACTA) for its inefficiency. The intelligence wing of the NACTA is controlled by the military, she said, adding that there are layers of problems when it comes to the issue of fake encounters and extra-judicial killings.
“A better coordination of all agencies and departments that are involved in intelligence sharing is needed.” While commenting on the need for police reforms, Siddiqua says the culture of police officials taking to social media to publicise their actions must end. She added that police reforms should not mean an authoritative control over the department, because this would not guarantee accountability of the higher officials who approve these actions.
“Better management and accountability of the security agencies is the solution to end the culture of fake encounters”, she concluded.
The author is Managing Editor, Naya Daur Media. She covers counter-extremism, human rights and freedom of speech among other issues. She tweets at @AiliaZehra and can be reached at [email protected]