With April 20’s Panamagate verdict in the public sphere, speculation is rife over just how fruitful the formation of a joint investigation team (JIT) can be in investigating Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his sons’ business dealings abroad.
In Pakistan’s experience, JITs have produced unpredictable results against varying political backdrops.
Pakistani law allows both federal and provincial governments to set up JITs on matters they deem necessary to investigate.
JITs usually consist of five to six members, including intelligence officials, experts, police officials and so on. They are tasked with taking no longer than 30 days to present the findings of their investigation. If the investigation is still underway at the 30-day mark, under certain circumstances an interim report is required to be handed in to the relevant court.
The JIT formed by the Supreme Court for the Panamagate case has been afforded 60 days to submit its findings. Given that the focus of its investigation will be a man with complete executive authority over the institutions charged with investigating him, this particular JIT will be the first of its kind in Pakistan.
Bringing together Dawn’s past reportage, here is a look back at incidents of political and public importance in Pakistan’s recent history that have involved JITs, and what has come of their investigations.
JIT implicates PAT workers, declares Rana Sanaullah and Shahbaz Sharif ‘innocent’
On June 17 2014, clashes erupted between workers of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and police over what the police termed an ‘anti-encroachment’ drive on the peripheries of Minhajul Quran, the PAT’s secretariat in Lahore.
The encounter resulted in 14 deaths and over 100 injuries.
A judicial commission that investigated the matter reached a conclusion, but its findings, to this day, have not been made public.
In the commission’s report, contents of which were leaked to media outlets, Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif and Law Minister Rana Sanaullah were held responsible for events that unfolded on June 17 in Model Town, Lahore.
With findings of the judicial commission suppressed, the Punjab government instead initiated a JIT on Nov 13, 2015, five months after the Model Town incident.
Out of mistrust, PAT’s leadership refused to accept the newly formed JIT, which was headed by Quetta Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Abdul Razzak Cheema.
Before the JIT could begin its investigation, Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif sacked Law Minister Rana Sanaullah to make way for the JIT to ‘conduct a fair probe’.
Both Shahbaz and Rana were also interrogated by the JIT.
The findings of the report were made public in May 2015, after a six-month period — and were immediately rejected by the PAT, whose leadership had refused to appear in front of the investigating team for examination.
The JIT completed its probe and exonerated Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Law Minister Rana Sanaullah from charges of ordering or abetting the police action, which is what the PAT had accused them of.
According to the report, all JIT members unanimously declared Shahbaz Sharif and Rana Sanaullah ‘innocent’ and dismissed allegations levelled against them in the FIR lodged by the Minhajul Quran director administration as ‘baseless and without any evidence’.
Rana Sanaullah, who was re-instated to his ministerial post, reportedly ‘thanked God’ that truth had prevailed and the facts had come out. He said the JIT had submitted its report and now it could not be denied.
PAT President Raheeq Abbasi rejected the JIT report and termed it a ‘pre-planned script’. He said he feared the report would give a clean chit to the “actual” murderers of the PAT workers.
JIT finds no merit in Mirza’s death row confessions
Saulat Mirza had been in custody of law enforcement agencies since 1998, in connection with the murder of Karachi Electric Supply Company (now K-Electric) Managing Director Shahid Hamid and two others.
He was sentenced to death in 1999 by an anti-terrorism court.
By 2015, with the moratorium on death sentences no longer in place, Saulat’s execution was on the cards when mysterious video statements began to surface on television.
In one of his televised video statements, which appeared hours before his execution, Saulat named a prominent MQM leader, Babar Ghori, as culpable in the Shahid Hamid murder case.
President Mamnoon Hussain swiftly suspended his execution and directed the Sindh government to constitute a JIT to examine the claims made by Mirza.
Around ten months later, in January 2016, the JIT offered its findings. Mirza, however, had already been executed, back in May 2015.
The JIT eventually chose not to recommend reopening of the high-profile case, saying it has “already attained finality in trial”.
“Keeping in view the stage of the case, court verdict and inconsistencies in his statements before police in 1998 [when he was arrested], before the magistrate under Section 342 of the Criminal Procedures Code and before the present joint investigation team, the JIT considers that his current statement regarding involvement of Mr Babar Ghori in the murder case requires further corroborative evidence for instance some other material evidence or independent witnesses or statement of one of the co-accused in the Shahid Hamid murder case if arrested,” read an excerpt from the JIT’s report.
However, the JIT found a different lead in one of Mirza’s statements. Based on that they recommended that the government reopen a 17-year-old murder case pertaining to the killing of the chairman of the Board of Secondary Education, Karachi, Ismail Memon, who was shot dead in Soldier Bazaar in 1998.
JIT recommends Uzair be tried for espionage by military court.
Uzair Baloch, chief of Karachi-based banned outfit People’s Amn Committee, was arrested by Rangers in January 2016.
A JIT formed to probe the case reported that Baloch had allegedly worked for an Iranian intelligence agency. It recommended that Uzair Baloch be tried by a military court for ‘espionage’.
The JIT was formed in February 2016 and presented its findings in early May 2016, taking a little over two months to resolve the investigation.
According to the JIT report, Uzair Baloch was involved in “espionage activities by providing secret information regarding army installations and officials to foreign agents (Iranian intelligence officers) which is a violation of the Official Secret Act 1923”.
On April 12, 2017, DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor revealed in a tweet that Uzair Baloch had been taken into military custody, where he remains to this day.
Baldia factory fire
JIT blamed for ‘exonerating owners from all responsibility and negligence’
September 2012 was a month of horror for Karachi’s Baldia Town. 259 factory workers were burned to death in a clothes manufacturing factory at the Ali Enterprises center, located in a densely populated area.
A JIT report that touched upon the Baldia factory fire case appeared in early 2015. Faisal Siddiqi, counsel for the victims of the factory fire, dismissed it by stating that it only contained “a paragraph on the factory fire”.
Amidst pressure from European and local labour rights agencies, a JIT was set up in March 2015 to specifically focus on the Baldia factory fire. It came out with a report roughly a year later, in February 2016.
The JIT concluded that the blaze that engulfed the factory was a “planned sabotage and terrorist activity”.
The investigation team believed that non-payment of extortion (bhatta) was a fundamental factor behind the attack and was surprised to note that nowhere in the initial FIR was ‘bhatta’ mentioned.
The JIT considered this omission as an ‘element of prime and critical importance’ as well as a ‘defining factor’ that shaped up later investigations. As a result, the JIT members suggested a fresh FIR be lodged.
Executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Rights, Karamat Ali, had expressed in 2015 his views on the importance of investigating a “lack of precautionary measures at the factory” besides examining the aspect of ‘bhatta’.
Speaking at a press conference at the Karachi Press Club, he said; “Three inquiries were conducted in the factory fire case. The first by a committee of police officers, the second by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the third was a judicial inquiry by a judge of Sindh High Court. All three looked into and rejected the extortion [being the prime reason behind the fire]. But the cause that came up time and again was the lack of precautionary measures at the factory.”
The JIT report proposed that the suspects/accused absconding to foreign countries should be brought back and arrested.
The victim’s counsel came out with a scathing review of the report, speaking at an event held at the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) house in March 2016.
“So far, the only conclusive thing about the report is that it exonerated the owners from all responsibility and negligence. The JIT only submitted a copy of the original report rather than the required original report in the trial court,” said Faisal Siddiqi.
“Nowhere it is mentioned in the report that a political party is involved. They named suspects who happen to be affiliated to a political party, that is all,” explained Siddiqi, the victim’s counsel.
More generally, the JIT report recommended police reforms.
“The JIT therefore strongly recommends introduction of police reforms in order to avoid recurrence of such catastrophic investigative failures in future.
“The in vogue archaic policing system should be replaced with professionally independent but accountable policing system including up-gradation of its technical facilities, especially forensic laboratory that currently is devoid of modern facilities and fire experts,” the report read.
One of the main culprits accused of of the attack on the Baldia factory, Abdul Rehman, was eventually arrested in Bangkok and brought back to Pakistan.
Imran Farooq murder
One JIT disbanded, another formed.
Dr Imran Farooq, 50, a prominent Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader was stabbed and killed outside his London home on September 16, 2010.
A JIT was formed to investigate Dr Farooq’s mysterious murder five years later, in April 2015.
The JIT, given seven days to report its findings, was tasked with investigating the role, political association and history of the prime suspect, Moazzam Ali Khan, who by then was in custody of law enforcement agencies.
“The JIT had been formed because there was documentary evidence to prove that an individual had committed an offence,” Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar is reported to have said regarding formation of the JIT.
The JIT report threw up three suspects’ names, based on which an FIR was launched and the men were to court by the FIA.
The investigating team observed that MQM chief Altaf Hussain had perceived Dr Farooq as a threat and wanted him eliminated.
The investigation report also noted that all three accused were members of the All Pakistan Muttahida Students Organisation (APMSO), the MQM’s student wing.
However, the first JIT was disbanded after it submitted what Chaudhry Nisar kept referring to as a “unanimous report”.
The investigation culminated in a fresh FIR against the suspects.
As the suspects were being taken to court, the interior ministry announced the formation of another JIT in December 2015, having it pick up the investigating where the first one let off.
The outcome of the second JIT is not entirely known; however, the suspects have neither been acquitted nor handed a sentence so far.
Parveen Rehman’s murder
JIT fails to investigate possibility of land mafia behind Rehman’s murder
Parveen Rehman was a renowned philanthropist and social worker based in Karachi. As the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) director, her work concerned some of Karachi’s most densely populated slum areas.
According to her sister, Parveen regularly campaigned against land and water-tanker mafias, investigating and documenting their activities
Rehman was shot dead by two men on a motorcycle on Manghopir Road, Karachi, on March 13, 2013.
A petition requesting the government to investigate Perween Rehman’s murder was admitted in January 2014 and five months later, the apex court ordered the Sindh home department to set up a JIT to investigate the matter.
In August 2014, according to a local news outlet, a 15-page JIT report was presented in the SC. “It has been revealed that Mehfoozullah Bhallo — who has been affiliated with Abid Muchar Group of TTP — and his group might be involved in the murder,” read an excerpt of the report.
The Human Rights Council of Pakistan and 11 other petitioners expressed dissatisfaction over the JIT’s failure to probe the connection Karachi’s land mafias may have had with Rahman’s assassination.
At the time of her murder, Rahman had been working on a Sindh government project aimed at archiving and mapping Karachi’s slums and much of her work was a source of discomfort and hassle for some in the underworld.
In a Dawn article titled Perween Rahman’s murder: the great cover-up, Naziha Syed and Fahim Zaman’s journalistic investigation reveals the extent to which the police had ‘spoiled the evidence’ of the case.
Benazir Bhutto’s assassination
10 years, two JITs and a UN Inquiry Commission report later, pertinent questions remain largely unanswered
Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan on October 18, 2007, to contest the upcoming general elections. She narrowly escaped an attempt on her life when a bomb attack hit a PPP rally in Karsaaz, killing scores of jubilant political workers.
A second assassination attempt proved successful.
Benazir Bhutto was finally killed in a gun and bomb attack on the peripheries of Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh, on December 27, 2007.
A JIT was set up immediately following her assassination, as under Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act, when a terrorism offence is committed, formation of a JIT is mandatory.
The JIT presented its findings about two months after Bhuttos murder, in February 17, 2008, leaving a number of questions unanswered. It was reported in the UN’s inquiry commission report that the JIT accepted evidence presented by the ISI without independently verifying it — noting it to be “against best practices” of fair and effective investigations.
The first JIT did not implicate Pervez Musharraf for culpability in the PPP Leader’s assassination.
A UN report probing Bhutto’s assassination pointed out that the first JIT “lacked direction, was ineffective and suffered from a lack of commitment to identify and bring all of the perpetrators to justice. This delay further hampered the gathering of evidence. Despite indications that there are links between the Karachi and Rawalpindi attacks, there has essentially been no communication between the investigators on those two cases.”
A second JIT was formed 18 months after the PPP government assumed power. This team was lead by the FIA’s Qureshi.
Qureshi admitted the team had not investigated those who were nominated by the slain prime minister in a “declaration” before her assassination.The finger of the JIT, instead, pointed at Pervez Musharraf.
During a cross-examination before an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi, Qureshi is reported to have said that the JIT had not investigated the former ISI director-general Lt Gen Hamid Gul, former director general of the Intelligence Bureau retired Brig Ejaz Shah and former Punjab chief minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, who were nominated by the former prime minister in a letter she wrote to US lobbyist Mark Siegel in 2007.
The second JIT however, implicated former president Musharraf, DIG Saud and SSP Shahzad on account of washing the crime scene to destroy evidence and not providing adequate security to Benazir Bhutto. It also established that the attack on Benazir Bhutto was planned in Akora Khattak by former students of Madrassah Darul Uloom Haqqania.
The second JIT report resolved that Benazir Bhutto’s assassination was a “broad-based conspiracy” carried out by terrorists based in Waziristan. It also stated that former president Musharraf had “aided and abetted the terrorists through series of criminal acts attributed to them.”
In 2013, Musharraf was charged with criminal conspiracy by a court in Rawalpindi. The Taliban combatants known to have masterminded and committed the act were all reportedly killed on different occasions.
Benazir Bhutto’s murder trial is on-going, but with a number of key witnesses reported to have either been killed, or having withdrawn their statements for reasons unknown, it is unclear when the trial would conclude.
Safoora Goth massacre
JIT report details Saad Aziz’s journey to radicalization
The Safoora Goth massacre was a brazen attack on members of the Ismaili Shia community in Karachi in May 2015.
One of the accused was Saad Aziz, a university graduate from Karachi.
A JIT formed to probe the attack largely detailed the accused’s journey to radicalisation.
“Saad studied up to O’ Level at a Beaconhouse School branch in Gulshan-i-Iqbal, but twice attacked the branches of the same school. Saad, alias Tin Tin, alias John, gained exposure to militancy when he joined a multinational company.
“In 2009 he [Saad] went to Unilever company for a four-week internship where he met one Ali Rehman who was employed in the Demand Planning Department,” the report stated.
Courtesy: HASHAM CHEEMA
NOTE: This feature brings together reports filed by Dawn’s Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi bureaus.