Routine freaks and leaks - By Asha’ar Rehman - Tuesday, February 01, 2011

FREAKISHNESS is routine in the Punjab capital these days. Midway through the month of January, we had a young man falling from a plane on to a rooftop close to the runway. A son has been accused of plotting or carrying out the murder of his elderly parents.

Another son has been found out just as he must have been planning how to use the money he expected to extract out of his father. A man belonging to the mightiest power on earth has been detained for killing two youngsters in a shootout at the Qurtaba — or Cordova — Chowk. Some Islamists are predicting a Muslim renaissance from the very spot and, inspired by the locale, are itching to spearhead a second successful conquest of the West.

The world of crime is a black and white world. There are no grey areas in the territory where the policemen discover their clues. They shuttle between the completely guilty and the undoubtedly innocent — until they run into a situation where they have to simultaneously cater to the demands of public and the desires of those who suddenly rediscover the Geneva conventions to save a `diplomat`.

The police in usual times have a standard manner of doing it and they may resort to filling their registers with the same details again and again to complete their black-and-white picture. The effort is ultimately aimed at proving that criminals live in isolation from our civilisation, and to reassure the majority.

One fresh demonstration in how the senior police and administrative officers help us plug gaps in our psychological defence was provided by the not-so-freak Jan 25 suicide attack at Circular Road in Lahore. As the city`s dwellers sought to assure themselves that not them but someone else had been the target of the attack, this endeavour of theirs had the full support of their protectors.

We were initially told that the boy-bomb was aimed at the policemen manning the first of the three security rings the law-enforcers had put in place on the day. Later on, as word went around that some non-police persons had also been killed in the attack, the provincial law minister surmised that no one from the Chehlum procession, who the security officials had been there to protect, had been hurt.

It was this logic which enabled the Punjab administration to boast that it had been successful in its security objective. The people who had been killed were either security men or those outside the group that was sought to be protected, and hence, not part of us. This is what the explanation suggested and honestly, as always, the resultant impression did make people feel relatively secure.

Policemen saved the situation again when the news was out that a son — how could he? — had faked his own kidnapping to force his old father to cough up millions in ransom money. The men in uniform soothed society`s conscience by pointing out that the accused was no ordinary son; he was a wayward version corrupted by his exposure to the West and other bad things such as drugs.

The details of these incidents show that there is always something in the history of the individual that enables the investigators to place the criminals outside the honest, God-fearing majority that must, for its own conscience and security, stay at a distance from these pariahs. Without these stereotypical criminals, life would have been much more insecure. This is what we want and this is what we get, which will raise the question of whether we should then ridicule and whip the boys who do it for us?

The policemen who die at the pickets and those who must come up with all these reassuring facts for us are cast in the most unenviable of roles. And they are in real distress when they are sometimes caught between two powerful forces, each one demanding certain lines of action and words from them. Last Thursday`s shootout involving an American citizen created just that kind of a situation.

As the news of the shooting that left two young men dead was flashed on the channels, the initial thrust betrayed an effort to paint the deceased as criminals out to rob a foreigner. A gun was found on one of the two dead bodies and we had at hand a senior enough policeman telling us all that the man had a criminal record. This line was then pursued by the media by and large for a while, before other policemen were compelled by other strong societal cravings to volunteer information about the shooter in this case.

If the details emerging from the lockup are to be believed — and chances are they are believed by many — the accused American, Raymond Davis David, is not really pleased with the interrogation techniques prevalent in Pakistan. In some of the news stories, whose sources are obviously men on the police force, he is heard taking a threatening, arrogant tone in answering questions put to him by his interrogators.

These dangerous leaks about the accused and the damaging information on his victims have been fed to a wide and desiring audience despite a ban placed by the Punjab government on official comments on the case. Apart from the ban, senior officials, including ministers, have said on record that nothing conclusive could be said on the matter until it is thoroughly probed by the court. These senior officials who control the police should not be selective in their imposition of the ban. The ban should hold forever and must extend to all cases. The courts must decide.

The writer is `s resident editor in Lahore.

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