Though a paramilitary federal law enforcement force and part of Pakistan’s civil armed forces, Pakistan Rangers is officered and administratively controlled by the Pakistan army, which makes it Rawalpindi’s most trusted asset for performing ‘extraordinary’ operations throughout the country in order to preserve the military’s supremacy.
It goes to the credit of Pakistan Rangers that it has lived up to expectations of the military’s top brass by implicitly following orders, even when they are patently illegal and one such example is the 20 days long Faizabad Interchange sit-in organised by Tehreek-e-Labbaik [TLP], a far-right Islamic extremist political party in 2017 that held the Nawaz Sharif government hostage and blocked the major highway in the capital city.
A week and a half into the Faizabad sit-in, Islamabad High Court ordered authorities to clear the Faizabad blockade. Al Jazeera quoted Mushtaq Ahmed, a top local administration official saying that “We have been told to enlist the services of the Rangers and FC [Frontier Corps] as well, if required.” [Emphasis added]. He revealed that “We have been told to clear the protest, by hook or by crook.” On November 25, 2017, the government issued a notification calling-in the military to control law and order in the national capital and the army- Rangers duo did just that by pandering to the protesters!
The sit-in ended after the Rangers brokered a shamefully populist agreement with TLP that saw Director General of Punjab Rangers Maj-Gen Azhar Navid Hayat distributing cash envelopes to protesters and even expressing solidarity with them. Another embarrassing highlight of this agreement was that while it was signed by Pakistan’s Interior Minister and the Interior Secretary, it was the then Director General Inter Services Intelligence [ISI] Maj Gen Faiz Hameed who endorsed his signatures as ‘Guarantor’.
While the entire Faizabad sit-in episode does reveal an ISI-Rangers nexus, inclusion of the sentence- “We are thankful to him [army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa] as he has saved the nation from facing a huge disaster,” in the agreement leaves no room for any doubts. And with DG ISI endorsing the agreement the first sentence of which reads “Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah is a peaceful party and does not believe in violence and unrest,” it’s clear that Rawalpindi has no issues with this fundamentalist entity.
Just three years after the Faizabad sit-in, Pakistan Rangers once again grabbed headlines when they behaved with the arrogance reminiscent of Nazi storm troopers. In what came to be known as the infamous 2020 ‘Karachi incident’, Rangers alongwith ISI officers abducted Inspector General of Police [IGP] Sindh Mushtaq Mahar and compelled him to sign an arrest warrant for Nawaz Sharif’s son-in-law on charges of allegedly “violating the sanctity of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s mausoleum.”
Subsequent removal of officers involved in the Sindh IGP’s abduction from their assignments confirms that ISI and Rangers were guilty of committing a criminal act and as this tarnished the army’s image, one expected that the defaulters would be dealt with severely. However, with Pakistan army’s media wing Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR] pronouncing that the officers involved had merely reacted “rather overzealously” it’s amply clear that the unlawful actions of the Rangers were condoned and this reveals the unbelievingly high degree of Rawalpindi’s patronage that Rangers enjoy!
Five months ago, the Rangers once again came into limelight for arresting and abducting former Prime Minister Imran Khan from Islamabad High Court premises. While this action was sanctioned by the competent authority, using Rangers rather than the police for bundling away a prominent citizen who had come to court to appear in another case is, to say the least, illegal and in extremely poor taste.
This highly provocative act expectedly proved to be the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back and Khan’s enraged supporters took to the streets triggering the May 9 anti-army protests riots. Surprisingly, while Rawalpindi is going hammer and tongs after PTI leaders and rioters, it has not even considered it necessary to inquire as to why Rangers [which is a paramilitary force commanded by Pakistan army officers] were used to make this routine arrest and that too in the highly secure court environs?
The recent operation in Sindh’s Sakrand village launched by Sindh Rangers on September 28 is yet another addition to its hall of shame. In this action, innocent civilians were killed and injured due to indiscriminate firing, which exposed the cavalier ways of this trigger happy paramilitary force. Differing versions of this incident given out by Sindh Rangers, police and locals lend credence to suspicions of a massive cover-up to shield the culprits.
In its statement, the Sindh Rangers claimed that this operation was conducted as “There were reports of high-value criminals in possession of explosives and firearms,” and maintained that “Upon seeing Rangers and police, the armed miscreants opened fire, injuring four Rangers personnel. In retaliatory fire, three miscreants were killed.” However, the police version is completely different.
Dawn.com quotes Benazirabad Senior Superintendent of Police Hyder Raza saying that the operation was launched to apprehend members of proscribed Sindh Revolutionary Army [SRA] and four civilians were killed in the firing by Rangers. He also expressed ignorance regarding injuries suffered by the Rangers and whether their injured personnel had been admitted in People’s Medical College hospital.
The fact that it’s not clear whether the joint Rangers and police team were seeking out “high value criminals” or SRA fighters is a clear giveaway that something is amiss and the absolutely different version of Sindh United Party [SUP] deepens the mystery. The SUP claims that the Rangers came to Sakrand alongwith Liaquat Jalbani, a veterinary student who had been arrested earlier and they attempted to arrest and whisk away another innocent local youth named Allahdad Jalbani from his home in the village.
SUP secretary general Roshan Buriro told Dawn.com that after the Rangers arrived, men, women and children of the village congregated at Allahdad’s residence and the crowd not only prevented the Rangers from arresting Allahdad but even managed to free Liaquat from their custody. This led to the Rangers opening fire on the crowd in which four villagers were killed and an equal number injured. This version appears most plausible.
In all probability, the double humiliation caused by forced ‘release’ of an apprehended youth and preventing the arrest of another person by locals would have most certainly enraged the Rangers and acted as the trigger for unprovoked and indiscriminate firing on unarmed villagers.
The detailed Human Rights Commission of Pakistan [HRCP] investigation report on this incident mentions that, “The mission notes with concern that this security operation, hastily executed and lacking a comprehensive strategy, resulted in chaos and the deaths of four villagers. There are incongruities between the statements of the district police, Rangers, state officials and the residents. While the exact nature of the threat prompting this operation remains unclear, the state and law enforcement officials [Rangers] must take responsibility for the deaths of four civilians and the injuries sustained by others.” [Emphasis added].
By observing that “With no history of such an incident taking place in the village before, and a lack of criminal history against the civilians caught in the crossfire, the actions of the law enforcement personnel involved must be gravely called into question” [Emphasis added], HRCP has placed the Rangers in the dock. It now remains to be seen whether Rawalpindi will act against the Rangers responsible for killing and injuring innocent civilians, or will this cold blooded murder also go unpunished as hitherto fore?