Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A nation thirsty for revenge

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As I watched in disgust the video of the two teen-aged boys beaten to death by the mob near Sialkot, I wondered who those murderers were, what drove them to this fury, and why those who stood by and watched did not intervene.

When I watched closely the grainy TV video, I realized that I knew one of the accused very well. No, he is not the one beating the boys. But he has been accused by the TV reporters of not rescuing the two boys. He was the district police officer of Sialkot and it was his police force that stood idle. In fact, Geo TV broadcasts accused dpo Waqar Chauhan of being a passive witness to these senseless murders.

It was in 1989 that I first met Waqar who was then a soft-spoken, considerate young engineering student. He was a regular visitor to our house along with other friends of my younger brother who were civil engineering students at Taxila University. Over the next four years, our conversations focused on designing concrete beams, columns, and slabs.

Waqar remained a close friend of my brother through the university years and beyond. My younger brother was a committed engineer. He enjoyed designing infrastructure and thus he practiced civil engineering. Waqar was more like myself; an engineer interested more in the society than in the infrastructure that shapes it. I graduated from the engineering university in Peshawar and became a journalist. Waqar opted for the civil service and appeared in the qualifying exam for Banking and Finance Services Commission of Pakistan. He was ranked 7th in the entire country. He later earned a Masters in economics from Punjab University.

His quest for knowledge didn't end there. He later won a scholarship to study law at the prestigious London School of Economics. Waqar returned with a Master of Laws from LSE and resumed his duties as a public servant.

Over the past few weeks I have been perplexed to see his name mention on the TV networks along with the names of other accused in the Sialkot murder trial. I have been asking myself several questions. Is he the same soft spoken, gentle and considerate person that I have known for the past 20 years? Or has the police service changed him? Could these allegations against him be true?

I started digging in to the story myself after realizing that the media coverage remained far from satisfactory. I was alarmed even further when I read excerpts from Mr. Kazim Ali Malik’s report, which he had prepared for the Supreme Court. The report did not establish the chain of events on the morning of August 15 that left three, not two, people dead and another three injured with bullet wounds.

I contacted my former colleague from The News, Ansar Abbasi, who had already written about this tragic incident based on the reports from the intelligence agencies, which suggested that the crowd murdered the two brothers after another person from the Buttar village had been killed and another three injured in the early hours of August 15. Justice Malik's report remained silent on who was behind the first killing and the earlier shootout; a matter now to be resolved by the apex court.

I asked Ansar Abbasi if his investigation showed Waqar to be present while the crowd lynched the two brothers. His response was an emphatic no. Ansar mentioned that according to eyewitness accounts, Waqar reached the spot after the deaths had occurred and he prevented the crowd from further desecrating the dead bodies. Justice Malik’s report also confirmed that dpo Waqar Chauhan arrived at the scene after the murders had taken place.

Why did then the TV outlets present Waqar as an accomplice by sandwiching the clip, which shows Waqar on the scene after the murders, between the graphic footage of lynching? Geo TV broadcasts also repeatedly accused Waqar of being an accomplice. I emailed Geo TV representatives asking for the contact details of the reporter who narrated the story on Geo TV. A direct conversation with the reporter could have cleared the matter even further. I have, to date, not received any response from Geo TV.

Geo TV, however, is not alone. Even today (September 26), Shiraz Hasnat of Express 24/7 reported that "DPO Waqar Chauhan was also present" at the crime scene suggesting that he stood idle and did not attempt to save the lives of two brothers. It is surprising to see the false account is being repeated by the media even after the Supreme Court documents and several eyewitness accounts suggest otherwise.

This is not the first lynching incident in Pakistan. Unfortunately, it will not be the last. However, this is the first time that the mob brutality has been brought to our living rooms giving us the front-row seats to the brutal mob justice that many in Pakistan had naively desired and praised in the past after seeing the Taliban conducting public executions on the pretence of delivering speedy justice.

The brutal murders in Sialkot should have induced some introspection in the nation. Instead, it provoked even more rage in Pakistan, which has become one of the most violent places on the planet. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, the terrorist violence in Pakistan has left 32,000 dead since 2003. Sectarian violence alone has killed another 3,400 people since 1989.

The rage has also spilled on the Internet into the comments left after the YouTube videos of news reports about the Sialkot tragedy. I was equally disgusted to read the disparaging remarks and threats made against dpo Waqar Chauhan and his family by fellow Pakistanis. The filth disguised in anger is characteristic of the society. The most vulgar of expressions were targeted at Waqar by his own people, who relied on false reports by the news media.

What I find equally reprehensible is that the broadcast media in Pakistan in particular, and print media in general, depict the same lynch mob mentality. The media is out with a vengeance busy inciting even more rage that has already engulfed the entire nation.

I had the good fortune of learning the art and science of news reporting from the giants of Pakistani journalism, such as late Azeez Siddiqui of The Frontier Post, D. Shaw Khan and Salim Bokhari of The News, and M. Ziauddin of Dawn. I wonder who now trains the budding journalists, who are armed with ambition, cameras, and ignorance. With the exception of a few channels, the broadcast media in Pakistan did not train or equip its workforce, especially those involved in current affairs programming. It should therefore not come as a surprise that the new breed of broadcast journalists practice the TV-equivalent of tabloid journalism.

Albert E. Pillsbury in the prestigious Harvard Law Review wrote: “Lynch law [mob violence] is actual and concrete anarchy… It is idle to denounce anarchism in the abstract, or punish by special laws the killing of presidents or other officers of the government by anarchists, in a community where there is no system of laws adequate to protect the life of any and every person against mob violence.”

Pillsbury’s warnings should resonate with us as we demand justice for all in Pakistan. The former attorney general of Massachusetts warned Americans in May 1902 against the ills of mob violence in all its manifestations. It is sad to see that Pakistanis are undergoing the same social discord and chaos that the Americans had faced 108 years earlier when streets were ruled by gangs and mob justice prevailed.

DPO Waqar Chauhan has been an honest and upright officer. As recently as in June 2010, National Assembly's standing committee on human rights commended him in writing for his actions against the influential men who had abducted and raped a Daewoo hostess in Sialkot. He is also a brave officer. While serving in Wazirabad in 2003, he arrested the proclaimed offenders who had killed a former provincial minister, Chaudry Farooq.

In a police force badly in need of educated officers, Waqar Chauhan is an exception: he is well-educated and dedicated. His guilt or innocence has not yet been established, but he has already been sentenced by the news media. He is one of those dedicated and accomplished Pakistanis who could have left, but decided to stay in Pakistan. For this, he deserves no special treatment. However, the media and the viewers should also not be in a haste to lynch him. He is innocent until proven guilty.


  1. Very informative article... an eye opener.... specially for those who don't know Mr. Waqar Chohan...

  2. I saw the Express News report (mentioned in the post) after Mr. Chohan was released on bail. The real problem with the media is they are now not ready to take the responsibility of their outright lies. The problem is they are not accountable to anyone.people complain about lack of action by Mr. Chohan when they have no idea regarding what actions he took against those who were involved..... instead of questioning Mr. Waqar Chohan's conduct without information, why don't they question the inaccurate information and the authenticity of the source that has brought this information to them.

  3. Everybody who knows Mr. Waqar and his family personally knows that such good upbringing manners and everything related can never be a pretence for years and years... It is a dilemma that good people in PAK are blamed while the real culprits roam about...

  4. Your post ended with the same thought i have been voicing on this matter. I know Mr. Chohan as well and i would say the same things about him as you have. He's a very well educated, very bright person who is committed to his profession. Anybody who has known him and his family would think twice before accusing him of such an act.
    I agree with you about our reporters in general not being trained or qualified to be reporting in the first place. Pakistani media underwent a mushroom growth in the past ten years and hasn't really had the time to mature towards responsible reporting. It's the hungry broadcasting channels that need to fill minutes and hours. There's no time to verify the authenticity of the report before its blurted out on air and no laws to ensure that people such as Mr. Chohan are not defamed. I have said this before and i will say it again. Mr. Chohan is a citizen of Pakistan. He has the right to justice and fair trial. He should be tried in a court by those who have the competence to do so. He is indeed innocent till he is proven guilty.
    I believe there are a couple of vital insights to be gained here. First and foremost, i believe that this incident shows how frustrated and illiterate our people are to pick up a stick to beat to pulp random strangers. This frustration is a result of many years of economic and political depression. Its frustration at a flawed and weak state that instead of nurturing brilliant minds, promotes anarchists and criminals. Its frustration at a repressive regime thats filling its foreign bank accounts instead of honoring its promise towards a better future. Its frustration towards a bigoted and hypocritical social system.
    Secondly, i believe it gives us insight into the monster that Pakistani media has become, trying a man on air for a crime he may or may not have committed without any fear of law suits or accountability. I believe better laws need to be formulated to address that.
    My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families. We cannot undo what has been done. But we can ensure that this incident does not bring any more suffering to the innocent. I wish Mr. Chohan a free and fair trial and i hope justice prevails.

  5. Re: Waqar Chohan

    I have known Waqar from his college and university days and I fully agree with the comments made by Murtaza in the above article. Waqar is a true gentleman with moral values.

    I tried contacting him from UK soon after the incident but was unable to get through the police land line numbers/excnages.
    Anyone with his latest contact details please pass them on to me.

    Kind Regards

    Mudassar Khokhar
    MEng BEng (Hons) DIS DIC MIStructE
    Structural Engineer