Real story’ of May 12

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May-12, 2007 could have been avoided had former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, and one of his closest aides, accepted some unanimous suggestions, information gathered from well informed sources revealed. The suggestions were given by top five or six senior officials of the Sindh administration, police, rangers and intelligence officials concerned about allowing the rally of former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. But one can’t say with certainty whether we would ever be able to know the real story and the actual culprits behind the tragedy.

The MQM too dragged itself into this Mush-Chaudhry controversy, though apparently its leadership had nothing personal against the latter. But, then its alleged militants were used to create law and order situation and till this day, the party could not recover from May-12 political loss, and faced isolation.

The incumbent government can learn few lessons from May-12 in handling the Islamabad lockdown by Imran Khan on Nov 2. Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad may not be an accused in this case, but can certainly be key witnesses if it is properly probed and the official secrets do not become a hindrance.

No one knows why former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf ignored official advice to allow former Iftikhar Chaudhry’s procession. At least 50 people were killed including those from Awami National Party, PPP and MQM on the main Shahra-e-Faisal near Jinnah International Airport on May 12. This case could take an important turn if it is established that the lives of the innocent people could have been saved had the rally been allowed or at least should have not been stopped forcibly.

Now, whether the purpose of a fresh probe into this case is to find out the actual facts leading to this carnage or just to make few more headlines, and close the file like many other such cases from 1986 Aligarah carnage to 1988 Hyderabad massacre or cases of lawyers burnt to death.

The fresh probe has already created doubts after it was initiated by powerful SSP Rao Anwar, who only on Saturday received a major blow after his high-profile case against three MQM alleged militants for their RAW connections dismissed by an anti-terrorism court, which acquitted all the accused.

Only a month back, Rao put himself in trouble when without any search warrants he led his team and raided the residence of leader of the opposition in Sindh Assembly Khwaja Izharul Hasan and put Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah in an embarrassing position, who later suspended him.

Anwar arrested Mayor Wasim Akhtar weeks before he was elected as mayor for his alleged role in May 12, 2007 mass   killings. A joint investigation team (JIT) was also constituted in the case but it appears it confined itself to the killing aspect only and did not investigate the conspiracy behind it.

It is true that as a Minister In-charge it was his responsibility to control law and order like that of the chief minister. It is also a fact that on that day, practically there was no government and no administration.

If the Sindh government is really interested in finding out the truth, it must appoint an independent and impartial high-level probe team comprising honest officers, who must be given complete authority to go into the depth of this deadly incident to unearth as to what actually happened and who planned it and why?

But, if the purpose is just to close the file and single out one party, we may not be able to reach any conclusion and its fate may not be different from the RAW story. If the case proceeded further, there is a possibility that some scintillating details may come to the surface about the role of some other characters in planning.

As the May-12 inquiry re-opens, it is important to know what actually happened a night before during the conference call between topmost officials of the bureaucracy, police, rangers and provincial intelligence officials at the Governor’s House. A collective, unanimous opinion was communicated to the former president that the Chaudhry had refused to postpone his visit to Karachi and serious law and order could be created if he was stopped. Sources said he was told that things could go out of control.

Sources said the president was almost convinced but said he would get back after a meeting. But, then the message was later communicated that former chief justice of Pakistan should be told “not to come” to Karachi or he should be stopped.

It is important to find out as to who actually spoke on behalf of the then president to MQM’s top leadership in London. The MQM too was divided on this issue and, in fact, feared that it could prove counterproductive for them. Yet, the final decision came after getting the message from Islamabad to stop the rally.

Sources revealed that the much-talked-about meeting at the Governor’s House was attended by five to six top officials of the police, rangers and local intelligence agencies. They all agreed that either Iftikhar Chaudhry be told to postpone his rally or be allowed if he did not agree.

The last bid attempt was made to convince the former chief justice and the Sindh High Court Bar Association to postpone the event due to fear of violence or terrorism. But, they refused and alleged that Musharraf was creating hurdles through its ally MQM.

All those five or six officials, who were present in that meeting, are still available, and also those who were looking after the affairs of the government in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.  The Sindh High Court Bar Association had made all arrangements for chief justice’s address and it also requested the administration in writing to make all necessary arrangements to avoid any law and order situation.

The MQM too was asked to postpone its rally at MA Jinnah Road, as it could be seen as an attempt to provoke lawyers and the opposition parties. Like many journalists, I too was in the field and faced a lot of problems in reaching the airport. What one witnessed on ground was mostly aired by TV channels. I have covered many bloody events in this city, some even before the MQM, but the May-12 could have been avoided easily had it not become too personal a clash between the two representatives of the state organs, former president and the deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

Had all those who had warned Musharraf and his men in Islamabad about the possible consequence and had requested for allowing the rally should have resigned, or at least some of them should have resigned, after what happened on that bloody day.

Former president, unfortunately, went too far in his tussle with former CJP, who otherwise had very professional and cordial relationship with General Musharraf till 2006, when a case was filed in the court in Sindh regarding some persons allege detention in a private jail of a ‘mureed’ of an influential Pir of Sindh. The case soon started getting too much publicity and pressure was built on the Sindh government.

But, situation got defused when the Pir himself gave green signal to the police and mureed’s private jail was raided. The final showdown came after proposed privatisation of Pakistan Steel Mills. How the CJP was called to the GHQ and the manner in which he was forced to resign is one of the darkest chapters of country’s history.

But, his ‘No’ became a collective ‘No’ to Musharraf’s rule. What followed is now part of the history. Thus, 2007 became a fatal year of Musharraf’s rule and the year finally ended with the assassination of another prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Thus, what happened on May 12 was the outcome of a personal whim of a dictator to establish his personal writ and the country paid the price for it. Therefore, the role of MQM could be of a ‘co-accused’ and they themselves could not recover from it till this day. May-12 inquiry would remain inconclusive till unfolding of the actual facts.

The writer is the senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.