Tuesday, May 13, 2008

MQM's minister trafficking illegal arms busted

KARACHI, April 17: Farzana Mushtaq, Link Judicial Magistrate, Central, on Saturday admitted two alleged activists of the Muttahidda Qaumi Movement to bail against a surety of Rs50,000 each in a case of being in possession of illegal arms.

The applicant/accused Mohammad Sami and Hashim alias Tutal were booked by the Sharifabad police under Section 13-D of Arms Ordinance following recovery of two T.T. pistols from them.

The accused were nabbed by the Pakistan Rangers during a snap checking while travelling in a car having a government number plate. The car was said to be in the use of a provincial minister.-APP


Monday, May 12, 2008

12th may 2007 massacre - One year on

‘Bodies of victims lay unattended on road’

By S. Raza Hassan

KARACHI, May 11: It was around 10.30am on May 12, 2007, when I left my home for the airport. Listening to the news of the happenings in the city the night before, I was not sure how I would be able to reach the airport. As I stepped out of the house, I found the entire neighbourhood deserted: there was uncertainty in the air.

Coming from Gulshan-i-Iqbal, I first tried the airport route, which passes behind Gulistan-i-Jauhar. As I reached a spot near Pehlawan Goth, Rangers personnel stopped me on the outer cordon. Behind them, at a distance, a convoy comprising minibuses with youths sitting on the roofs holding flags of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement was visible.

Besides me there were employees of the airport who were arguing with the Rangers to allow them to pass, but some party activists who were standing along the Rangers were asking them to turn back. A Rangers official told me to use the Malir Cantonment route. Acting on his advice, I reached Malir Cantonment, but was also declined entry.

Finally, I came to main Rashid Minhas Road and reached the COD intersection at Sharea Faisal. Starting from Drigh Road, there were numerous buses and coaches parked with activists holding MQM flags and sitting on the roofs of the vehicles, while some roamed on motorcycles and on foot. Some cars and motorcyclists were seen using Rashid Minhas Road or the COD bridge from the wrong direction, ie entering the bridge from the ramp against the traffic. But there was no traffic. Resorting to this method, I descended from the bridge in front of the Drigh Road railway station.

However, the road ahead was packed with a rally comprising public transport vehicles and there was hardly any space to drive. Yet I managed to reach near the Natha Khan bridge.

At this point in time, I spotted a friend in a hi-roof belonging to a private television channel. Subsequently, I strategically placed my car behind the hi-roof, which was painted with the channel insignia.

We negotiated our way till the Shah Faisal Colony flyover and decided there we could not drive through Sharea Faisal as it was tightly packed further ahead.

In a desperate attempt, we drove up the flyover, but its exit was blocked by a water tanker with deflated tyres. Finally, we drove back on Sharea Faisal and parked our vehicles. Thankfully, a tanker driver guided us to an alternative road, which runs along Sharea Faisal through Shah Faisal Colony.

However, in order to reach the alternative road we had to pass through strict security checks where boys demanded our IDs. After crossing the security check and hitting the road, it felt like a major achievement.

We stopped for a brief period at the Falak Naz apartments, where a number of people belonging to the area were standing complaining to some media-persons about the blockade of the main thoroughfare by MQM activists.

At Malir 15 we saw a People’s Party welcome camp. From there we reached Malir Halt intersection and took the Security Printing Press Road (Cantt Road), feeling that finally, we had made it to the airport.

However, at the tri-road intersection where the Model Colony graveyard is located, there was another blockade. Minibuses were parked in such a manner that even a person on foot could hardly pass through. The intersection was being guarded by activists of the MQM holding party flags.

We decided to park our vehicles close to the pavement and walk to the airport. Luckily, two activists offered us a lift on their motorcycles, which we happily accepted. On our way to the terminal, I saw some passengers walking holding their luggage.

Show of strength

As I approached the airport, I witnessed a rare sight: a seemingly unending queue of Rangers were standing as if they were guarding a nuclear installation or the Pakistan-India border. We could not stop ourselves from criticising them and making sarcastic remarks after passing through the seemingly impossible barrier. I wondered what they (the Rangers) were actually guarding and from whom?

Our arrival at the airport coincided with the landing of deposed chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry’s plane. The news of his landing spread like wild fire and questions arose about what would happen next.

Soon after the CJ’s plane had landed, there was sheer excitement in the media ranks about what would be his move, as none of his associates in the legal fraternity were able to reach the airport due to the siege-like situation in the city.

‘Biryani and water bottles’

However, the apparently impregnable wall of Rangers posted at the entry and exit of the airport premises was soft enough to allow a small rally of MQM workers through.

The workers started chanting slogans against the lawyers and the deposed CJ. They kept on chanting slogans at the domestic arrivals and departures area till they got exhausted. Later, they were provided biryani and water bottles. After being sufficiently nourished, they resumed their job.

Meanwhile, the nearby crackle of gunfire reached the airport. As I climbed to the first floor, I could see black smoke billowing from Drigh Road. Soon enough, smoke started to rise opposite the airport terminal in front of the Falak Naz apartments and at different spots all along the stretch of the road from the airport towards Malir 15.

Intermittent sounds of gunfire reached us loud and clear. Soon, there was news that bodies were lying on the road at Malir Halt and Security Printing Press Road.

As I was in contact with my workplace, I was asked to try to head to the office. I left another Dawn reporter at the airport. A fellow reporter gave me a ride on his motorcycle to the spot where I had left my vehicle.

As I was about to get into my car, I noticed a teenager holding a pistol in his hand. Another man was holding a repeater gun and seemed quite hyper. However, they spared us and didn’t ask any questions.

As my other reporter friend was also following me, we soon reached the Malir Halt intersection. We decided to park our vehicles in the narrow streets and walked up to the intersection.

As we entered the streets, I saw an injured man, who was bleeding, being consoled by the area residents, who were trying to tend to his wounds.

Meanwhile, an ambulance belonging to the Khidmat-i-Khalq Foundation was seen in the narrow lanes. To my utter shock, the ambulance was full of injured persons; they also took the injured man I had seen earlier and sped away.

Tension in the air

After witnessing the ambulance scene, we walked up to the Malir Halt signal at Sharea Faisal. But there was tension in the air, as smoke billowed from two vehicles. Ironically, a plastic banner, inscribed with welcome slogans for the deposed chief justice, was lying on the road.

We saw a police mobile approaching and as we walked close to it, we saw that it contained several bodies. It was a horrific sight.

Soon, some activists appeared on main Sharea Faisal, along with a few policemen in civvies, holding weapons. Among them were the SHOs of Khokhrapar and Malir City, wearing bullet-proof jackets, along with the sector in-charge of the area.

They did not appear to be perturbed or tense, but looked quite calm, as if nothing extraordinary had happened.

As I stood at the same intersection, I saw a small convoy of Sindh Rangers head for the Security Printing press Road. A little later the same convoy returned, escorting the minibuses and vehicles which were used to block the airport approach road from Cantt Road.

It was only later that I learnt I was standing at the same spot where four to five persons were shot dead. The bodies and the car they were in had been removed when I reached the spot.

All the bodies collected by the police were dumped at a spot and later, ambulances shifted the bodies to hospitals.

I went back to the airport, but this time the blockade had been lifted. It was around 5pm when I came to main Sharea Faisal from the airport and drove up to Drigh Road. The stretch of road from the airport to Drigh Road was completely deserted.

At the Natha Khan bridge I witnessed buses carrying activists holding MQM flags slowly driving back towards the downtown area.

A reporter friend advised me on the cellphone not to come from the FTC, as there were reports of firing there.

Subsequently, I turned to Bahadurabad to pick up an associate and headed back to the Baloch Colony bridge. As I approached the PAF chapter of the City School, I saw that the road leading to the DHA was blocked by a deflated trailer.

At that point a white car with no silencer and dark black glasses appeared and crossed us. It was quite a fright as we expected a burst of bullets from the car. Fortunately, that did not happen.

I drove on the wrong track of the expressway and finally reached the office at around 5:30pm.

Perhaps the most shocking scenes of May 12 I witnessed were of the several dozen wounded people who were injured in the firing at Sharea Faisal, Malir 15 and Malir Halt, who later succumbed to their wounds on the main road. Their bodies lay unattended for several hours on the city’s main thoroughfare as death kept dancing.


Helplessness of judges and the masses

By Imran Ayub

KARACHI, May 11: For Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali in Clifton and Asghar Khan in Landhi, the morning of May 12, 2007, held no hint of what was to come. There was no similarity between the ordinary routines of the deposed judge of the Sindh High Court on the one hand, and that of the home appliances trader on the other. Yet that grim Saturday brought to both the realisation that their city was under siege and held hostage by lawless elements, in the face of which they were entirely helpless.

Two rival rallies had been planned in the city that day, one to welcome the deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, to Karachi and the other organised by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in protest against what the party termed “the politicisation” of the issue of the presidential reference against Mr Chaudhry. Though a certain amount of fear and uncertainty had prevailed in the city, neither man had any notion of the deeply disturbing events that were to follow.

Justice Jamali intended to go to the Sindh High Court to listen to the deposed chief justice address a ceremony being held by the Sindh High Court Bar Association. Mr Khan, meanwhile, was headed towards Quaid-i-Azam International Airport to welcome the deposed chief justice when he landed.

Travelling with the then Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court Sabihuddin Ahmed and escorted by a police mobile, Justice Jamali’s car was forced to stop before it could cross Clifton Bridge, its way blocked by parked vehicles. On Sharea Faisal, meanwhile, Mr Khan’s car came under fire near Malir Halt. As Justice Jamali contemplated his helplessness in the face of the turn of events, Mr Khan watched two of his friends die from bullet wounds before he too lost consciousness.

Travelling in two different districts of the city, Justice Jamali and Mr Khan became aware that Karachi had been under siege since midnight – main roads, highways, connecting arteries and access roads to the airport had been blocked with containers.

“The police and Rangers watched silently as we were intercepted by armed youths just yards from the high court,” recalls Justice Jamali. “We were deeply disturbed and embarrassed since despite being judges of the high court, we were entirely helpless before the lawlessness of that day.”

Rampant lawlessness

In anticipation of the two rallies, law enforcers had been put on high alert a day before, on May 11 last year. The fire brigade was directed to remain on standby and hospitals were asked to ready themselves for any emergency. But the next day, hapless citizens found that the city had been abandoned by the law-enforcement agencies and armed youths were wandering at will. Asghar Khan met a few of them at Malir Halt.

“With my ANP [Awami National Party] friends, I managed to cross the blockades near Quaidabad to reach the airport,” he remembers. “But when we reached the railway crossing near Malir Halt, we were attacked. I was too fearful and confused to identify the people who were shooting at us. But before I lost consciousness, I watched two of my friends die of bullet wounds and my left shoulder was grazed by a bullet.”

Mr Khan escaped with his life and was able to reach a nearby private hospital for first aid. But fear and terror stalked the city the entire day and by the time dusk fell, 50 people had died – most of them workers of opposition parties.

During the course of the evening a private television channel’s offices, located on Business Recorder Road near Guru Mandir, also came under attack during crossfire between two rival groups.

“I had to report on what was happening, hosting the live transmission while my colleagues lay on the floor to save themselves from the bullets that were being shot at our offices,” recalls Nadia Mirza, a news anchor at Aaj TV. “We were hostages … it was the most terrible experience of my life.”

The channel was attacked apparently for broadcasting live footage of armed youths engaging in a shootout with their rivals. The guns fell silent after about two hours but the channel’s parking area then became a fresh target for the gunmen. Ms Mirza was unfortunate enough to have to report live on television as she watched her own car being attacked, and her colleague’s vehicle being set on fire.

Investigation pledged

The violence triggered deep criticism of President Pervez Musharraf, who was at that time a serving member of the armed forces. Opposition parties blamed the ruling coalition for the blood shed on May 12.

Yet the judges’ concern, as expressed by Justice Jamali, failed to inspire the then authorities to hold an independent inquiry, which has now been pledged by the new provincial government, led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

“May 12 was a day of grave injustice and no one can deny this,” says Shazia Marri, the Sindh Information Minister under the new set-up. “We are confident about investigating the issue since we hope for a final report that would satisfy all true political forces, rather than threaten their credibility.”

The minister sounds keen to discover the “reason and the hands” behind the planned episodes that took place on that day, when the deposed chief justice was confined to the airport and city life was brought to a halt by gunfire and blocked roads. The events of that day also raised questions over the Sindh government’s role in controlling the violence, since the measures taken by the authorities came as a shock.

On the first anniversary of that bloody Saturday, however, the MQM leadership argues that the “overwhelming majority won by it in the Feb 18 polls negated the opposition propaganda” and says that the party is willing to see an independent inquiry into the incidents.

“May 12 was a sad day for the MQM since the party lost 14 workers,” says Faisal Sabzwari, an MQM MPA and the party’s deputy parliamentary leader in the Sindh Assembly. “Unfortunately, some parties tried to capitalise on the incident for their own political gains. We have never been against the investigations, since we believe that an independent inquiry would identify the people actually responsible for the violence and bring them before a court of law.”


Heart of darkness

By Qazi Faez Isa

KARACHI: Why have a judiciary? Is it better to decide matters wrongly or not at all? Should people be induced to seek justice when the decision would favour an oppressor? After all in the jungle there is no court.

On May 12, 2007 thousands of rounds were fired. At least 234 people received bullet wounds and 50 others were killed. From the building of the High Court it was proclaimed that “this is not a fit case where the Court should extend interference.” ‘Interference’ was not extended because “the members of the law-enforcement and other agencies have filed their respective affidavits/counter-affidavits in which they have assured that they have discharged their functions to the best of their capability.” The ‘capability,’ which oversaw 50 deaths, 234 bullet wounds, four destroyed properties and 110 torched vehicles.

On May 11, 2007 the High Court (in C.P.No.D-1020/2007) held that, “it is the duty of the Federal Government and Government of Sindh to accord foolproof security/protection for the Hon’ble Chief Justice of Pakistan” and had directed “the Federal Government as well as Government of Sindh to ensure that such security measures are taken during the visit of Hon’ble Chief Justice to Karachi.”

“The first duty of a government is to maintain law and order, so that the life, property…of its subjects are fully protected by the State” (Quaid’s address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, Karachi, August 11, 1947). The federal and provincial governments’ self-evident performance on May 12 confirmed that they, firstly, violated their first duty, secondly, violated the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution and, thirdly, violated the specific directions of the High Court.

The seven-member bench constituted to hear the May 12 case conducted a number of hearings. The court was getting to the truth. They ordered that “all the material information/record available with them [TV channels] as to the incident which took place in Karachi on May 12, 2007” be provided. Amongst the television channels that submitted live recordings were Aaj, Geo, ARY One World, KTN News, Sindh TV and ARY. These recordings captured on film some of the shooters.

The next date of hearing was Nov 5, 2007, but on Nov 3, 2007 General Musharraf struck. Judges who did not take the oath of personal loyalty to him were forcefully removed. The case was fixed for hearing before another bench – a five-member bench, none of whom were members of the seven-member bench. Two of the judges who formed part of the original seven-member bench (Azizullah Memon and Ali Sain Dino Metlo, JJs) despite having taken the fresh oath were not made part of the new five-member bench. Of the new bench, two had just been appointed by Musharraf.

Many have questioned why the new five-member bench diverged from the path taken by the seven-member bench? The heirs of the victims and their loved ones wonder whether the tapes, CDs and DVDs submitted to the High Court have been consigned to the dustbin. Whether the shooters and the arsonists have been exonerated? The eye of the camera had captured many a perpetrator. The jungle may not have a court but pride and ruthless power are not the cause of death in the animal kingdom. Sindh’s Sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif captures the sentiment in Sur Dharou, Risalo, thus:

The birds in flocks fly;
Comradeship they do not decry
Behold, among the birds there is more loyalty
Than among us, who call ourselves humanity.
(wagar keo watan pirth na channan paanmein
passoo pakhay run maruhaan meath ghannu)

Should we call ourselves humanity when the fallen remain un-avenged a year to a day since that fateful day in May?

On March 1, 2002 an establishment known as the Best Bakery was burnt down by a Hindu mob and 14 persons died. The attack was in retaliation to avenge the 56 persons burnt to death on the Sabarmati Express in the Indian State of Gujarat. The Indian Supreme Court (2004, 4 SCC 158) held: “If the State’s machinery fails to protect citizen’s life, liberties and property and investigation is conducted in a manner to help the accused persons, it is but appropriate that this Court should step in…”.

But in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan “Wherein the independence of the judiciary shall be fully secured” (Objectives Resolution and preamble to the Constitution), getting justice is a distant dream. “How long will you judge unjustly and show favour to the wicked? But you know nothing, you understand nothing, you walk in the dark while earth’s foundations are giving way.” (Psalm 82).

During the hearing of the May 12 case, the counsel for a minister protested that Advocate Raja Riaz had chided him for supporting Musharraf. Promptly lawyers were branded luchas and lafangas (rascals and scoundrels). A few days later Raja Riaz was shot dead at point-blank range. Musharraf’s second coup saw everyone on his team rewarded. The gentleman who was at the receiving end of Raja Riaz’s choice remarks was first appointed as the Chief Law Officer of the province and then elevated to the bench by Musharraf. Another gentleman representing the CDGK became a federal minister in the caretaker government.

However, lawyers fighting for an independent judiciary were beaten and tortured. They were thrown into the lock-up, whilst judges were booted out and detained. No law, justice or constitution for them. Violence against lawyers did not abate but intensified. On April 9, 2008 lawyers’ chambers were set alight, some were locked in their offices and burnt alive. “The agony scream…shrieked up to heaven” (The Iliad, Homer). “I looked for some to take pity, but there was none” (Psalm 69).

Peaceful protest has not resulted in citizens being massacred in such a large number anywhere in the 21st century. Is May 12 a modern day Karbala, a struggle between good and evil, between justice and injustice? The field in Iraq was left soaked in blood; so too were the streets of Karachi. Justice continues to elude this nation, leading us into “the heart of a conquering darkness” (Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad).

Post November 3, judges do not want to ‘extend interference’ whilst the earlier lot were the interfering sort. Which is the better? That is the fundamental question.

“I want to say this. Don’t come in front of the power of the people, you will be crushed.” (Musharraf’s speech delivered on May 12, 2007 from behind a bullet-proof podium in distant Islamabad). The blood spilled on May 12 fills the poet’s inkpot. “From the slayers and them that they slew and the earth ran streams of gore” (The Iliad, Homer). The few remaining lamps of humanity, of equity and of justice are being put out one by one.

“The modern day Neros were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and women were burning, and were probably deliberating how the perpetrators of the crime can be saved or protected” (Arijit Pasayat, J).

If courts cannot protect us from our Neros should we then teach our children the pragmatic truth? Bow before tyranny. Never stand up for justice. Power flows from the barrel of a gun. Make cowards of them. Protect their fragile bodies. Damn their souls for all eternity.


No progress in May 12 cases, lawyers’ killings

By S. Raza Hassan

KARACHI, May 11: With no resolution yet of the judicial crisis, little progress has been made in investigations into the May 12, 2007, violence in Karachi while the September killings of two senior lawyers have also been put into cold storage.

At least 50 people died on May 12 and although a recent report released by the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) quoted victims’ families as saying that they held the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) responsible, a senior police investigation officer conceded to Dawn that there had been “no progress” on the investigation.

Meanwhile, the families of lawyers Raja Riaz and Ateeq Ahmed Qadri await justice. Victims apparently of the lawyers’ movement, the senior lawyers were shot dead in separate incidents last year.

A grim chapter in the crisis that followed the ouster of chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, the May 12 violence was sparked off as the deposed judge was scheduled to visit the city to take part in a Sindh High Court Bar Association function. A large number of citizens, including lawyers and politicians, were prevented from reaching the airport to welcome him. Meanwhile, the MQM held a rally on M. A. Jinnah Road.

The police completed formalities by registering as many as 55 first information reports (FIRs), most of them registered by heirs of the May 12 victims but some registered by the police on behalf of the state against unknown persons.

Subsequently, a seven-member bench was constituted to hear the case and hearings were conducted during which television channels were directed to submit relevant footage before the court. However, the schedule was disrupted after the Nov 3, 2007, proclamation of emergency rule. The case was subsequently fixed for hearing before a different five-member bench, which did not include any of the judges who had formed part of the original bench.

Since then, according to a senior investigation officer contacted by Dawn, there has been “no progress”. However, the Provincial Police Officer of Sindh, Dr Shoaib Suddle, said that “the government has already said that the May 12 cases and April 9 [2008] incidents would be investigated. The police are on it”, he stated.

Targeted killings

The lack of progress on the May 12 cases is echoed by the slow pace of investigations into the deaths of lawyers Raja Mohammed Riaz and Ateeq Ahmed Qadri.

Despite a change in the provincial government and the home minister, the case of Raja Riaz remains in cold storage. The lawyer was shot dead on September 10, 2007, the day when the hearing of a case regarding the May 12 violence was scheduled to be heard at the Sindh High Court.

The 52-year-old senior lawyer was going to the Sindh High Court in a cab when he was targeted on Deen Mohammed Wafai Road by two persons on a Honda-125cc motorbike. He suffered a single bullet in the head and although the cab driver, Mohammed Aamir, drove straight to the Civil Hospital, Karachi, the lawyer was pronounced dead on arrival.

As was pointed out by the secretary of the Karachi Bar Association, Naeem Qureshi, the targeted killing took place barely half a kilometre from the SHC premises where a large number of MQM workers had started gathering to attend the hearing of the May 12 case.

“There has simply been no progress in the case of Raja Riaz,” remarked a senior police officer of the Investigation Wing, on condition of anonymity.

Advocate Amjad Iqbal, who was a close associate of the slain lawyer and pursued the case, told Dawn that “the police did not cooperate in the investigation. The basic flaw was that they did not record the statement of Khawaja Naveed.”

A week before the killing, Raja Riaz had an altercation in the bar room of the Sindh High Court with Khawaja Naveed, advocate, for Mr Waseem Akhtar who was then the adviser to the chief minister on home affairs.

Referring to this, Advocate Iqbal pointed out that “legally, taking his [Mr Naveed’s] statement was mandatory. If the police were serious about pursuing the case, all the facts and circumstantial evidence were quite obvious.”

Days after the killing of Raja Riaz, lawyer Ateeq Ahmed Qadri was shot dead near his house in Landhi No. 4. A senior member of the Karachi Bar Association, Mr Qadri was called out of his house on Sept 14, 2007, by two strangers pretending to be prospective clients.

Quoting accounts given by the area’s residents, the police said that when the 49-year-old lawyer appeared, the men opened fire on him and then walked away. The lawyer sustained six bullets on the head, face and chest and died later in hospital.

Families’ anguish

The real victims of the unresolved judicial crisis are families such as that of Raja Riaz, who left behind a widow and five children, the eldest of whom has just passed her intermediate examination.

The slain lawyer was self-made person, according to advocate Iqbal, and his family inherited little by way of resources. The government of Sindh announced a compensation of Rs600,000 for Raja Riaz’s family and a cheque was sanctioned by former caretaker chief minister Halepota but the family never got anything.

A fund created by the Sindh High Court for lawyers who suffered financially or were killed during the lawyers’ movement has similarly failed to help Raja Riaz’s family. “When he died, dozens of people came to his house to condole,” remarked a friend of the family. “Since the burial, however, none of the people who delivered such hard-hitting statements then have bothered to find out how the family is faring.”

A similar lack of progress is evident in the investigations into Ateeq Ahmed Qadri’s killing, while his family also continues to suffer in silence.


Relatives of May 12 victims blame MQM for violence

By Bhagwandas

KARACHI, May 9: The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) was behind the May 12, 2007 violence in the city, says a report quoting the family members of the victims.

The report, titled “May 12, 2007 – Black Day of Karachi” and prepared by the Women’s Action Forum (WAF), a non-governmental organisation, was launched at the Karachi Press Club on Friday.

It contains interviews of the family members of those killed in the violence that day.

On May 12, 2007, the deposed chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, was scheduled to visit the city and take part in a function of the Sindh High Court Bar Association. Members of civil society, including lawyers, were not allowed to reach the airport to welcome the chief justice. Nearly 50 people lost their lives and hundreds others were wounded.

The MQM held a rally on M.A. Jinnah Road the same day.

In the interviews, conducted by WAF’s teams, a number of families blamed the MQM and President Pervez Musharraf for the May 12 massacre.

The report quotes Rahmat Khan, father of Muntazir Khan, who was killed, as saying that all this was done by the government and the Muttahida, and now they should talk to “our elders” so that peace in the city could be restored.

Gul Rehman, younger brother of Fazal-ul-Rehman, another victim, says: “We think that the government and the MQM had got it executed, and now we will abide by our party’s decision.”

The widow of another May 12 victim Umer Sidique has been quoted as saying that she was informed by her husband’s colleague, Iqbal Hussain, that they were told by activists to get out of their vehicle on Sharea Faisal as they wanted to conduct a body search and as they came out of the vehicle they were shot dead.

Umer Sidique’s younger brother says: “This was done by the MQM on the directives of Musharraf.”

Speakers at the launch ceremony called for setting up of a commission comprising non-PCO judges to probe the May 12 mayhem so as to initiate action against all those found involved in the violence.

The WAF chief, Anis Haroon, said that nobody, not even the government, had the right to say “forgive and forget”. She urged the relevant authorities to arrest the culprits who, according to her, should be made to confess to having committed the crime before the victims’ families and to ask for their forgiveness. “If the families do not forgive the culprits, they should be tried in a court of law,” she said.

Ms Haroon argued that national reconciliation was necessary to bring about peace and tranquillity in the country, but it should be based on justice.

Referring to the emotionally-charged speeches made by the family members of the May 12 victims and other speakers, Sindh Information Minister Shazia Marri said that it was up to the people to decide what exactly they wanted.

“Do they want revenge and more blood on the roads or do they want a peaceful city where their children can grow and live without any fear?” she wondered.

Citing the example of the slain chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Ms Marri said Ms Bhutto had lost her father and two brothers, but she chose to move on and interacted even with those involved in the murders as she believed in forgiving.

“By doing so, Ms Bhutto did not mean to forget her dear ones. What she tried to teach the people was that they should direct their emotions towards bringing about peace so that everyone in the city, the province and in the entire country could live in peace and free from all sorts of fears,” she explained.

The president of the Sindh High Court Bar Association, Rasheed A. Razvi, demanded a probe into the May 12 carnage to be conducted by non-PCO judges. He urged the relevant authorities to expose and punish the culprits. Mr Razvi deplored that those elements who were being accused of inflicting the massacre on the city had been made part of the ruling coalition.

He also criticised the government’s attitude towards the handling of the judges’ issue. He said that people at the helm of affairs seemed to be more concerned about the protection of the judges who had taken the oath under the Provisional Constitution Order.

Describing the MQM’s attitude towards the PPP’s first government in the late 80s as ‘betrayal’, Iqbal Haider of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan predicted that the present coalition would meet the similar fate. He demanded that terrorists be banned from taking part in elections otherwise they would continue to blackmail political parties to remain in power.

Khursheed Tanvir of the Karachi Union of Journalists said that WAF had taken a bold step by publishing a report of this nature. He said that journalists were exposed to a lot of pressure from religious, ethnic, sectarian and political groups and they were performing their duties in a hostile and utterly intolerant environment.

Mr Tanvir urged the government to ensure an environment enabling the journalists to perform their duties without any fear or pressure. Tasneem Siddiqui said that the city had been a victim of state-sponsored violence for the past 20 to 25 years. It all started when General Zia created groups in urban Sindh mainly to divide the PPP’s vote bank, he said, adding that various other sectarian, religious, and ethnic groups were also created to divide the strength of popular political parties. He said that civil society and concerned citizens had to wage a long struggle to bring about a lasting peace in the city, the province and the country.

Linking justice to a lasting peace in the city, Barrister Qazi Faez Isa said that if justice was not done such incidents would continue to recur.

Shazia Batool of the Awami National Party, Ali Rehman, and Mir Akmal, father and brother of those killed on May 12, said that they were not seeking revenge. They said that they just wanted the government to take legal action against all those involved in the May 12 mayhem. Amar Sindhu, Abrar Kazi, Afia Zia and others also spoke. Zakia Sarwar presented her poetry.


No inquiry into missing file of housing ministry

By Ahmed Hassan

ISLAMABAD, May 10: Neither any inquiry has been ordered as yet nor is any explanation forthcoming about the mysterious disappearance from the housing ministry of the master file of Rs450 billion federal government property in different parts of Karachi.

The master file, according to ministry sources, was last seen in possession of Abrar Alam, a senior joint secretary of the ministry on February 15, who retired the next day but did not return the file.

Federal Minister for Housing, while confirming the biggest property scam in the country’s history in Senate recently, admitted that his ministry had not only lost record of the master file but also of inquiry reports submitted on the basis of which any action would have been taken against the culprits.

The minister also admitted that his ministry had also failed to implement his orders of suspension of a former Estate Officer, Ghulam Abbas, who is suspected to be involved in issuing fake Eligibility Certificates of 3282 houses to the people now occupying the property.

Estate Officer Sher Afzal Khan, who not only investigated and reported the scam to the government in black and white, also made videos of the federal government properties under illegal occupation of the people in Karachi.

The inquiry report submitted to the government reportedly advised the former caretaker government to take immediate steps for revoking fake eligibility certificates and take back the government property by force from ‘illegal’ occupants.

The issue was reportedly referred to the law ministry which had approved the recommendations and the estate officer was in process of seeking federal security forces’ help to take back the property upon which commercial plazas and shopping malls had been built.

Talking to Dawn on Saturday, ministry of housing secretary Samiul Haq Khilji said that facts were being collected about the missing files and an inquiry officer would be appointed according to law if efforts failed to bear fruit.

The minister for housing has blamed the former minister and three officials of the housing ministry -- Ghulam Abbas Baloch, former estate officer; Sohail Sarwar Jaura, joint estate officer in Karachi; and Abdul Hafeez Murry, joint estate officer in Quetta – for the scam.

While the last two officials have been suspended, the former is still in his office, defying the suspension order and threatening to disclose many hidden names in the scam, sources said.

As the estate scam came to surface, some senators mounted pressure on inquiry officer Sher Afzal Marwat on basis of some petty allegations.

Besides raising various questions about his honesty, Dr Muhammad Ali Barohi, chairman of Senate standing committee on housing, wrote a letter to the ministry that all 11 members of the Senate committee investigating the matter, desired estate officer Sher Afzal Khan, who was instrumental in highlighting the scam, to be changed or transferred to some other place. Nine of the 11 members of the committee have, however, distanced themselves in writing from Dr Barohi’s letter.


Minister confirms removal of housing scam traces

Thursday, May 08, 2008

By Rauf Klasra

ISLAMABAD: The mysterious disappearance of the official master file of the biggest real estate scam of Rs450 billion from the record of the Housing Ministry shocked the senators on Wednesday, amid another stunning disclosure by Minister Rehmatullah Kakar that not only the master file, but 300 pages of the file containing evidences collected by the estate officer Sher Afzal Khan into the scam during his visit to Karachi were also stolen.

The disclosure of the minister confirmed the fears already being aired in the capital that the Ministry of Housing and Works did not give due importance to such an important file and because of this traditional official lethargy, the file was stolen. A joint secretary of the Ministry of Housing who retired only last month is now being suspected of involvement in stealing the master file.

The admission of the minister made it clear that now the Housing Ministry has no official record of the master file and that of inquiry report files on the basis of which the whole scam was built and action was being planned. However the minister claimed that still the ministry was in possession of some official record.

Earlier, the Housing Minister Kakar pointed the finger at the former minister Safwanullah and his private secretary who, according to him, had evolved the whole plan of issuance of eligibility certificates to 3,128 persons in Karachi without any legal authority. The minister told the house that cancellation of these certificates was also under consideration but he did not give any reason as to what was stopping him from proceeding further in this regard when the law division had already approved the recommendations of the Housing Ministry including cancellation of eligibility certificates.

Earlier, Senator Babar Awan stood up on a point of order to blast the Ministry of Housing in the light of a report in The News that how a master file containing the details of Rs450 billion scam was stolen from the ministry. Babar Awan referred to a relevant law under which the ministry and its officials were supposed to protect the national record, official secret and government documents. But, he regretted that the report had established the fact that the ministry had failed to protect the official national record pertaining to such an important issue. He said this was very serious issue and demanded that the minister should explain the whole situation.

Rehmatullah Kakar stood up only to confirm the report of The News that the file was stolen from the ministry and the investigations were underway to determine the facts. He said that two officials had already been suspended.

Kakar told Chairman Senate Moahmmadmian Soormo who was presiding over the session that when he was the caretaker prime minister of Pakistan, an inquiry into the scam was conducted and completed before he took over charge of the ministry. The minister said during the investigations, it turned out that the then housing minister Safwanullah along with his private secretary had sat down behind closed doors to issue these eligibility certificates to people in Karachi occupying the governments houses. The minister said that his predecessor had done this without the approval of the competent authority. Neither the secretary of the ministry Rauf Chaudhry was involved in the process nor the competent authority was asked to stamp its approval. He said now the same file was missing and investigation was underway.

Senator Anisa Zeb Tahirkheli stood up and asked the minister whether the official file of inquiry report compiled by Sher Afzal Khan was also missing in addition to the master file. Kakar said unfortunately this file containing evidences compiled by estate officer was also missing. So, now two important files of the scam were missing from the official record of the Housing Ministry. He denied that Maulana Fazalur Rehman had made him a telephone call to show flexibility on the issue of Rs450 billion scam.

MQM Senator Mohammad Ali Brohi also tried to persuade the chairman Senate to refer the matter to the Senate Standing Committee on Housing. But the chairman understood his smart move as he knew that Brohi is the chairman of the committee.


Master file of MQM's Karachi real estate scam disappears

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

By Rauf Klasra

ISLAMABAD: The master file containing the secret official record and copies of 3,128 eligibility certificates of government properties sold in Karachi in open market and the official correspondence of former housing minister Safwanullah, has been stolen from the housing ministry.

A top source has confirmed that the government had been informed that the master file containing the lethal evidence against the former housing minister and couple of other favourite officials of the ministry who had collaborated with him in the issuance of these illegal certificates, is said to have landed at the headquarter of a political party in Karachi.

The file contained the relevant information and the hand written decisions of the former minister. The official order of inquiry into the stealing of the master file reads that “the master file was submitted to the minister housing Safwanullah and since then it was missing”.

The real estate officer of Pakistan Sher Afzal Khan had visited Karachi under physical protection of the law enforcement agencies to probe the scam. Copies of eligibility certificates were also part of this master file.

A joint secretary who belonged to Karachi and had just got retired, is now also being directly accused of collaborating in stealing this master file from his office on the last day of the minister’s job. He is said to have dispatched this master file to Karachi.

The outgoing secretary Rauf Chaudhry, who was removed on the complaint of MQM after he refused to stop proceedings on the multi trillions scam, had ordered an inquiry on April 28 to determine the facts of the shocking episode and fix responsibility.

According to the available copy of the order into the missing master file, Mr Saifullah Khan, section officer has been appointed as the inquiry officer to inquire into the whole affair. The notification said, the case regarding issuance of eligibility certificates to the residents of government quarters at Karachi was processed on VOLUME-V of the works section’s file No 6(21)/2002. The file was submitted to the then minister for housing and works. However, subsequently it was misplaced and it is not traceable since then. The notification said the competent authority has appointed Saifullah of this ministry to probe the issue of misplacement of file in question. He is required to submit the fact finding report in the matter within 15 days of the receipt of this letter.

Talking to The News, Housing minister Rahmatullah Kakar confirmed that he had been informed that the file had been stolen from the housing minister records. The minister told this correspondent not to publish this story as he feared this would create big legal problems for the housing ministry, as it would have no record to proceed against those who were given allotment letters of government properties worth Rs450billion without the approval of the federal government.

The minister also lost his temper when talking to this correspondent for publishing a story in The News on Tuesday in which it was reported that the minister had given up his efforts to cancel these letters in the face of mounting pressure of MQM.

Rahmatullah Kakar said, it was absolutely “one sided” view which was reflected in the news story as this was untrue to conclude that he had given up before the pressure of MQM senators. He claimed that he was not under any pressure to dump the scam issue was it was reported in the newspaper. The Minister also accused this correspondent of “blackmailing” him by publishing such kind of stories in the newspaper.

Kakar said, it was wrong to assume that Fazlur Rehman had made him a telephone call to show leniency in the case of eligibility letters and that was why he had sat down with MQM senators in the house on Monday to strike a compromise.

The last day of his retirement last month, he was in the possession of the master file which was given to him by the secretary Rauf Chaudhry. The Joint secretary was asked to discuss the file with the estate officer Sher Afzal Khan as he had unearthed the whole scam after risking his life. But, when the estate officer went to discuss the file with the joint secretary, he dropped a bombshell on his head that the file had gone missing.

When the secretary Rauf Chaudhry checked with the joint secretary about the file, he simply told on the face of the shocked secretary that he was never given any file. But, Rauf Chaudhry told him that he himself had handed over the file. After failing to find the master file, the secretary ordered an inquiry into the whole affair. However, the formal proceedings into the disappearance of the mater file had not been started despite lapse of one week. Only one week was left but the inquiry officer was yet to start his probe into the shocking disappearance of the master file.


Gilani cancels illegal allotments of plots made by MQM's housing minister

Monday, May 05, 2008

By Rauf Klasra

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has cancelled with immediate effect 3,281 eligibility certificates issued by outgoing MQM housing minister Syed Safwanullah for government properties and accommodations in Karachi estimated to be worth Rs 450 billion.

Bulk of these properties was quietly sold in the private market by those who had received these illegal certificates. The prime minister who may face political pressure from his party’s new coalition partner in Sindh after this decision, has also ordered the immediate ejection of all those now illegally occupying these government properties and houses. The buyers of most of these government properties were given eligibility certificates by the housing minister during 2005-2008 but they sold them in the open market and disappeared.

While a total of 3,281 occupants of these government properties worth Rs450 billion in Karachi were shown occupying government houses, only 413 certificates were given to government employees. Rest were either retired or private individuals who were occupying these properties without any legal authority.

Before issuing these certificates, the former minister for housing Safwanullah had evolved a new method as he stopped the fresh allotment of the government houses in these areas to the civil servants. As such the accommodation vacated by retired officers in these three years, were also shown as occupied and later given to private parities who sold them in the open market to earn billions.

Even eight officers of estate office Karachi who had conducted a faulty survey of these houses were rewarded with eight certificates for their collaboration. These properties worth Rs450billion are located in Karachi's Martin Road, Clayton road, Jail Road, Jehangir Road, old Alkhhest, Patail Para, Jehangir Road West and Pakistan Quarters.

The letters were issued by MQM minister Safwanullah without getting the required approval from the cabinet of Shaukat Aziz or Housing Secretary Rauf Chaudhry. The certificates doled out by the MQM minister were being openly sold in the city markets in the range of Rs5 million to Rs15million and hundreds of people who have bought these certificates might see their billions going down the drain.

PM Gilani took action on a secret inquiry conducted by the estate officer of Pakistan, Sher Afzal Khan who despite serious threats to his life, visited Karachi with full protection from the law enforcement agencies to document what may be the biggest scam in the real estate history of Pakistan.

The PM is said to have appreciated the work of this intelligent, honest and bold officer who is said to have refused to yield before the threats and bribery offers from different quarters to stay away from the investigation.

The new housing minister Rehmatullah Kakar is said to have played an important role in getting the recommendations of the report implemented after he refused to come under pressure from the elements who wanted him to dump the report.

Earlier the explosive inquiry report was sent to the law division for its opinion which observed the certificate of eligibility did not have any legal authority or do not create any legal rights in favour of those who claimed to be deriving any benefit from those letters.

The state officer Sher Afzal Khan who had unearthed this scam confirmed to The News: "I have been conveyed the decision of the federal government regarding declaring eligibility certificate as fake and on behalf of federal government pronouncement that these certificates are immediately renunciated and revoked and cancelled with immediate effect. I have been further conveyed to intimate decision of federal government to all those concerned in whose favours these certificate were issued."

Sher Afzal said, "in consequence of this decision, the properties of the federal government remains exclusive ownership of the federal government and any instrument of sale or in transactions, struck regarding these properties, would have no effect whatsoever on the status of the ownership of the federal government."

He warned that the public at large was being advised in their own interests to refrain from entering into any kind of transaction in respect of the federal government property at all these locations. Any instrument of sales, or an instrument to alienate the properties or ownership rights upon an individual regarding these properties void and has no legal effect"

MQM minister Safwanullah had told The News that a cabinet committee under the then Prime Minister had recommended to re-develop the area. He was of the view that the recommendation was to give the present occupants shelter in the re-developed structures.

Safwanullah admitting that the said recommendation was never approved by the cabinet, said that he had issued the eligibility certificates to the residents of more than 3,000 government own houses/quarters in Karachi to ensure that the claimants of the ownership does not change once the government takes a decision on the cabinet committee's recommendation.

The former minister said that the title of the properties in question had not changed but only ownership eligibility certificates were issued.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has also directed the Estate officer of Pakistan to advertise his decision in the newspapers and tell the concerned that the properties worth Rs450billion which were sold during the period of housing mminister Safwanullah had been cancelled as these were sold without any authority and should be retrieved from those who were now occupying them after paying a massive money to the plunderers who had drafted fake allotment letters to sell those government houses in the open market.

Earlier, after coming to know that a high level inquiry report was ready, a high powered delegation of MQM is said to have met prime minister Gilani to remove the secretary housing Rauf Chudhry who was backing the estate officer Sher Afzal Khan to clean the department of corruption and corrupt practices.

However the MQM successfully got the secretary transferred the other day to block the action but prime minister also ordered the cancellation of sale. Efforts are, however, underway to target Sher Afzal Khan and get him removed from his present post to block the action.

The inquiry report said it was strange to note that the entire exercise of delivery of eligibility of ownership certificate which was aimed at transfer of valuable property of state worth billion of rupees was commenced on the desire of the then housing and works minister Safwanullah in the year 2005 without the approval of the federal cabinet.

No need was felt to cloth the exercise with proper legislation and even official instructions on the subject are conspicuous by their absence. In fact no policy decision was taken at the competent level and statements of inquiry witnesses confirmed that the matter remained confined to the state offices, Karachi.

The estate officer Karachi Ghulam Abbas Baluch was especially sent to Karachi on the personal instructions of the minister Safwanullah to accomplish the task. These eligibility letters were not even issued after consulting the law ministry as it is devoid of any legal wisdom and does not quote the authority or law as sanctioned behind it.

The report said, in most of the cases these certificates had nothing to do with the authorized occupants but only the names of persons were entered without any verification who were predetermined to be the beneficiaries. A further inquiry into the matter revealed that only a non verified claim of occupants was made a basis for declaring them eligible for certificate of eligibility of ownership.

The report said all the members of the survey teams were rewarded certificates of eligibility of ownership. Yasin Babar was the incharge of the survey team who admitted in cross examination that they conducted survey under the instructions of MQM people and had been directed by the minister of housing Safwanullah not to take any exercise had been directed to verify of occupancy.

The inquiry report said it is an admitted fact that these certificates in addition to the legal heirs of deceased allotees, widows and original allotees were also prepared, signed and issued to non entitled persons and even to private persons on the direction of the then minister.

In cases where certificates were issued to the government servants, no care was taken to certify whether those occupants had either been allotted any plots by federal employees housing foundation or they had their own residential accommodation at Karachi.