The initial police statement said that a young motorist died in a police encounter after he was suspected of robbery when he fled a police checkpoint. But circumstantial evidence speaks another story. He had been shot from the front, through the windscreen of his car with 16 or 17 bullets.
Osama Satti – the 22-year-old who was killed on 2 January 2021 at 2 AM in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. The incident brought to the fore yet again the deep-seated systemic malaise that has caused incessant bloodshed by our law enforcement agencies.
According to the Human Rights Watch 2020 report, ‘Pakistani law enforcement agencies were responsible for human rights violations including detention without charge and extrajudicial killings’.
Because there are discrepancies between the number of reported cases and those that are actually occurring, it is difficult to authen- tically assess how widespread this problem really is, but the frequency of reports of extrajudicial killing is indicative of the magnitude of the problem. SSP Rao Anwar may be an extreme example, but it is nevertheless instructive to know he is accused of involvement in an astounding 444 extrajudicial killings.
Despite the persistence of this layered cruelty, there has been no substantive movement to structurally reform the state of Pakistan and the continued lawlessness that law enforcing authorities partake in. Some cases of extrajudicial killing have garnered national attention but the nation has not been able to summon the outrage requisite to bring about change.
On 13 January 2018, a 27-year old model Naqeebullah Mehsud was killed in a police encounter in Karachi, when he was shot in the back twice. Reports soon surfaced saying he was picked up along with his two friends by the squad of the famed SSP, Rao Anwar, who freed the other two after three days in captivity. While it became a fiery issue, the victim’s father died in the process of acquiring justice and the perpetrator continues to live unscathed.
On 19 January 2019, a couple along with their teenaged daughter and neighbour were shot dead in an alleged police encounter on a highway near the city of Sahiwal in Pakistan. Cell phone video footage that emerged later showed they had been murdered in cold blood. While there was some hue and cry over the incident, nothing of substance emerged and the accused were acquitted in late 2019.
Contrast this with the killing of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was reported for allegedly using a counterfeit bill at a gas station. A police team arrived in response to a distress call from the sales clerk. An altercation followed and one of the police officers knelt on Floyd’s neck for about nine and a half minutes, leading to his death.
Protests broke out across America as a video of the incident went viral. Throngs of Americans took to the streets in protest galva- nizing a movement upon the slogan of ‘Black Lives Matter’, transforming the dynamics of the American society.
A cursory look at the reforms that have been instituted following the case of George Floyd are enough to truly understand the seriousness that the matter garnered – made possible only due to the diligence of protestors parked outside crucial state authorities in the United States.
Why cannot Pakistanis launch and run this sort of a movement? It is important to understand that along with the lack of reforms and implementation void, the apathy of the populace is an essential element of the system. We are quick to pay lip service to stand with the oppressed, but we spend no time in returning to our lives regardless of the tragedies that continue to befall the victims of these tragedies.
If the same reaction as that of the Black Lives Matter movement was replicated in Pakistan, how much longer would it take for those in power and position to ignore the plight of those that go unheard?
As the noose tightens, it is indeed a heart-breaking sight as they come closer and closer. With the voices calling out in agony, what we fail to realize is that sometimes, voices may be heard but it is in fact physical agitation that paves the path.
What arguably became the distinctive feature of the American response was the strength of its people to spring forth in massive numbers and stand for a cause that could not be deferred any longer.
Consolations and condemnations are mandatory but not adequate. Until they physically stood before the concrete structures of power, there was little glimmer of hope for Americans. What, then, are we waiting for?
Perhaps, a messiah to steer us away from the gruesome details of the reality that we live through today. Or mayhap, an elusive mirage to sabotage the stupefying reality we are hostages to.
At the end of the day, allegations may be levelled on the govern- ments and administrations, but what truly matters is the capacity and empathy of the people to stand together as one. It would be foolhardy to expect real change as long as the movements to challenge the status quo erupt out of socially constructed tragedies.
For change comes from within when keyboard warriors transmit into dynamic revolutionaries, donning idealism and embracing the vision to bring about a change. We must join our hands together in a grand national accord to commit to the credo of resistance to injustice.
We must speak up for the first victim of injustice henceforth. For if each of us continues to condone injustice against another, nobody will speak for anyone – until nobody is left untouched by injustice.