On The Side

The rowdy Rao Anwar

Updated 20 Mar, 2018 11:25am
Illustration by Maria Huma
Illustration by Maria Huma

Whichever way one looks at it, former senior superintendent police (SSP) Malir, Rao Anwar, appears to be a butcher. According to a police report submitted in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, he has been accused of killing 444 people in 192 encounters between July 25, 2011 and January 19, 2018 in the Karachi district under his charge. Let that number sink in. 444.

So when former president Asif Ali Zardari recently called him a “brave kid” on a private news channel, the backlash from people – already horrified at the brutal fashion in which a Waziristani youth had been killed allegedly by Anwar and his men – was anything but misplaced. Zardari later retracted his statement through his spokesperson, but the incident confirmed that Anwar has friends in high places. How else could a man responsible for killing nearly 500 people (or more), and declared an absconder by the country’s top court, still remain a fugitive — and be praised by a former president!

It is not just politicians who are said to have a soft spot for Anwar. Recruited in the 1980s as an assistant sub inspector, he became known for arresting and killing a number of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) activists during a long-running security operation in Karachi between 1992 and 1999. And when the MQM came into power after the 2002 general election, Anwar got himself posted to Balochistan only to return to Karachi when the Pakistan Peoples Party assumed power in 2008. By this time, he had become even more influential.

In April 2015, he made an explosive – but unsubstantiated – revelation in a fiery press conference against the MQM and its chief, Altaf Hussain, who, the police official said, was working on India’s behest to destroy Pakistan. The refrain sounded familiar. The army had made the same accusation back in the 1990s — when Hussain and his men were accused of carving out ‘Jinnahpur’, an autonomous state, out of Sindh. The Rangers, too, have been using the same allegations to cut the MQM’s street power down to size. Anwar has friends in very high places indeed.

But even powerful friends cannot justify young Naqeebullah Mehsud’s cold-blooded murder, allegedly at the hands of Anwar and his team of trigger-happy touts. They cannot explain how a man held responsible for killing 444 people can roam free, let alone be a policeman. They cannot explain how a policeman with a salary of less than 100,000 rupees a month can make 74 trips to Dubai since being appointed SSP (though holding the rank of an SP) and that too without completing the requisite paperwork.

A story published in the Herald in October 2015 narrates an anecdote: “On a March morning in 1994, a police inspector was having a nap on one of the back benches in court room number one on the second floor of the [Sindh High Court] — this is where the chief justice of the province, its highest judicial official, sits in the middle chair to adjudicate and dispense justice. Soon a court official called out the inspector’s name — Anwar Ahmed. Woken up from his slumber, he was told to present himself in front of a two-member bench of the court headed by then Sindh Chief Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid.”

That Anwar Ahmed is today’s reviled Rao Anwar. But he is not the one in need of being shaken from slumber. It is the courts, police and the state at large that need to wake up to the realisation that extrajudicial killings are not part of the solution. They are part of the problem. A problem that trigger happy police officials such as Rao Anwar, Abid Boxer and even Chaudhry Aslam could not solve by killing aspiring models, businessmen, Pakhtun labourers or, for that matter, those known to have links with extremist organisations. They all deserve a lawful treatment. No one should take the law into their own hands to inflict punishment on anyone. The ones responsible for upholding the law should be doing that – uphold the law – and not damage it for personal glory and the political and security imperatives of their friends in high places.

This article was published in the Herald's March 2018 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.