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Editorial | Rao Anwar: Blacklisted By US, Protected In Pakistan

As far as international public opinion is concerned, Pakistan stands alongside Saudi Arabia and Myanmar in having produced human rights violators whose alleged crimes are so egregious that even the United States feels compelled to blacklist them. And so, alongside Myanmar’s military leaders and the former Saudi consul general in Turkey who was involved in the murder of journalist Jamil Khashoggi, we have former SSP Malir Rao Anwar representing Pakistan in the ranks of such alleged perpetrators of horror.

In Pakistan, proceedings against him were different. When a hue and cry was first raised over his activities in the aftermath of the brutal murder of a young man Naqeebullah Mehsud, SSP Rao Anwar’s first instinct was to go underground.

He hid from authorities, citing a lack of confidence in the very same police institution under whose auspices he allegedly murdered hundreds of people in “encounter” killings. When he finally deigned to appear before judicial authorities, he spent a brief stint in prison before eventually walking out on bail.

The message going out to Pakistani citizens, especially victims of the kind of state-sanctioned death squads that Rao Anwar led, is unfortunate but clear. The whole world might be able to recognize the horrific violence that serving officials of the state inflict on our people. But the rules in Pakistan are different from what they are beyond its frontiers. In Pakistan, the public is given to understand, there are certain considerations that outweigh the need for Rao Anwar to face justice for his alleged mass-murdering career.

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What might these considerations be?

Mainstream media and drawing-room wisdom proffer an easy answer: that Anwar was a favourite of certain political parties – more specifically the top leadership of the PPP. Former President Asif Ali Zardari, after all, referred to him as his “brave child” (bahadur bacha). That he was a useful pawn in the blood-soaked tussle between PPP and MQM for a bigger slice of Karachi is beyond doubt.

But some might not be convinced by such an easy narrative. They might be inclined to think a bit more critically about issues. And they might wonder: are his links to powerful political parties the main reason for why he has so far escaped justice?

Pakistani citizens – particularly the communities that Rao Anwar targeted – are being asked to believe something extraordinary. They must believe that a politician who cannot ensure even his own liberty can, nevertheless, bend the functioning of the state and judicial system to the extent that his favourite police official can dodge it all.

Meanwhile, even an art installation at the Karachi Biennale which draws attention to Rao Anwar’s crimes is not spared the attention of authorities. Such is the might and reach of the hand(s) protecting the former SSP.

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