LAHORE - Was the Sahiwal Operation based on intelligence input? Which agency provided the intelligence? Whether the intelligence was specific or general? How many officials took part in the raid? Who planned the action? Who was supervising the operation and from where? And who ordered the fire?

These are a few questions the Sahiwal tragedy has left behind as investigations are underway to uncover the truth. This latest shooting has also put a big question mark on the authenticity of security operations carried out by police in recent years.

A high-powered investigation team on Monday reached the tragedy-hit district and launched the probe ordered by Prime Minister Imran Khan. The joint investigation team comprising intelligence officers and police officials has been tasked to investigating the incident that sparked outrage across the country.

An official last night told The Nation that all JIT members visited the crime scene and expressed their displeasure since it was not preserved by police. Officials believe the crime scene was washed by law enforcement agents in haste.

The JIT members also recorded statements of the CTD officials linked to the killings. Eyewitnesses and local residents were also asked to appear before the investigation team and provide evidence, if any. However, no eyewitness reported to the JIT yet.

Two separate FIRs of the same incident have been registered with Lahore CTD police and Sahiwal district police. Some CTD officials have also been arrested by police following the shooting that left four persons dead including a teenage girl.

A Lahore-based grocery store owner Khalil, 43, his wife Nabeela, 37, daughter Areeba, 13, and friend Zeeshan 36, were shot and killed inside the car. Nine-year-old Muhammad Umair was shot in the leg while seven-year-old Jaazba sustained a bullet in her arm. Only, five-year-old Muneeba remained hurt because she took shelter behind the seat. The victims were going to attend a wedding party in Burewala village but intercepted and attacked near Qadirabad in Sahiwal late Friday night.

Autopsy reports reveal the victims were shot multiple times from a close range with assault rifles. Khalil was shot 13 times in his chest and head, his wife Nabeela sustained four bullets, daughter Areeba received six bullets, and friend Zeeshan was found dead on the driving seat with 10 bullets.

It is not clear yet how many police conducted the otherwise most sophisticated raid to capture or kill the terrorists linked to ISIS or DAESH. The names of only three CTD Corporals have been mentioned in the FIR registered with Lahore CTD police. In ordinary cases, dozens of police commandoes take part in the operation.

On the other hand, the FIR registered against CTD policemen on the complaint of Khalil’s brother, Jalil, states that the CTD officials, note named in the report, were traveling in the vehicle of the Elite Police Force.

The video clips of the incident circulating on social media endorse this point of the complainant. In a footage shot by passersby, three to four policemen can be seen searching an 800-CC white-clour car. Also, they could be seen shifting bodies and bags into the police van from the car.

Had they discovered suicide jackets, hand grenades, and ammunition from the car as claimed by CTD then why they did not record the crime scene? According to an eyewitness account, police fired on the vehicle after pulling three kids out of it. According to nine-year-old Muhammad Umair, his father had a brief chat with the police before they opened fire. So, it was not a simple case of “mistaken identity.”

On Saturday, the Punjab CTD submitted its initial report to IGP and claimed that a CTD team did a joint intelligence based operation in which four terrorists related with defunct organization DAESH were killed whereas weapons and explosive material was recovered from their possession. 

“CTD team tried to intercept the terrorists who were riding in a car and a motorcycle near Sahiwal toll plaza but the terrorists opened fire on CTD team. (As a result) shootout ensued. When firing stopped, four persons including two women were found dead with the firing of their accomplices. Three terrorists fled from the scene,” the report says. Some eyewitnesses rejected this police version soon after the incident stating that the victims were unarmed and they did not fire on the police party.  

A CTD spokesperson described Zeeshan as an active member of the ISIS in Punjab. He went on to say that the same DAESH network had killed three ISI officers in Multan, one police officer in Faisalabad and also kidnapped American National Warren Weinstein and Ali Haider Gillani son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani.

A former police officer who spoke to The Nation on the condition of anonymity said that the Sahiwal operation had put a big question mark on the authenticity of the security operations conducted by the counterterrorism department in the Punjab province in recent years.

He also suggested that the JIT must come up with solid answers of all the questions being raised by different people in order to win the confidence of the public.

“No rocket science is required to investigate this tragedy. Everything is documented and available on the record. All details of the incident could be examined thoroughly including wireless messages, duty register, and other official correspondence related to the raid,” he said. “Everything will be clear within days. But, it could be very difficult for some people to share the JIT’s findings with the public at this stage.”

The JIT was ordered to submit the investigation report to the government by Tuesday evening. The government will take action accordingly.

Another police officer said that the CTD officials would be tried in the anti-terrorism court in case they are found guilty. The trial would be launched on the basis of the FIR registered on the complaint of a member of the victim family. Similarly, the FIR in which the victims were declared as terrorists by CTD would stand quashed.

Several officials interviewed for this story were of the view that it was unlikely that the policemen proved guilty would be given “exemplary punishment” as promised by PM Imran Khan due to legal complications. Policemen found guilty in extrajudicial killings or custodial deaths are rarely prosecuted and punished by the state. Killings in Sahiwal have become a test case for the new government which pledged “justice across the board” during their election manifesto. 

Will the Joint Investigation Team constituted by the Punjab government to probe the Sahiwal tragedy be able to present its report in 72 hours that are coming to an end at 5pm today?

The question was raised by senior PPP leader Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed who visited the aggrieved family in Sahiwal on Monday. So far, no government functionary has even contacted the aggrieved family, he said while answering questions in a TV programme.

What he actually meant to say was that when even the initial contact had not been made, it would not be possible for the JIT to complete its report in the timeline set for the purpose.

He was of the view that after about half a dozen ministers of the Punjab government gave their point of view on the tragedy, there was no justification left for the JIT to come up with a new report on the tragic incident.

Former Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan was of the view that Prime Minister Imran Khan should resign as the victims had been subjected to direct firing, a situation in which the PTI chairman had himself said after the 2014 Model Town tragedy that orders for direct firing always come from the higher authorities.

The Punjab chief minister and law minister should be behind bars at present, said the PML-N leader who is now a member of the National Assembly. About the claims that the CTD operation was based on intelligence, the former law minister said if this was so, nobody had verified the intelligence before killing the ‘innocent’ people.

However, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar Monday stated that the JIT will submit its report by Tuesday evening and his government will take action accordingly.

“I was in Mianwali when I was informed about the Sahiwal incident,” he said. “A high-level JIT is probing the incident and will submit its report by 5pm tomorrow (Tuesday),” he said while speaking to the media outside the Punjab Assembly. “We have announced Rs20 million as compensation for the family,” the chief minister said. A high-level meeting has been called on Tuesday evening to review the progress of the investigation, he added.

Buzdar further said, “I cannot hang anyone and action will be taken after the inquiry report is submitted.””I will take action and show you,” he added.

According to some media reports, relatives of victims have demanded justice and rejected the compensation offered by the provincial government. Jalil, brother of Khalil (victim), told reporters that he had refused to accept the compensation. He said that no one has contacted him for the compensation so far. However, if government offers Rs2 crore they would not accept it. Jalil also threatened that they would commit collective suicide if justice is not provided to them.

Meanwhile, heirs of Zeeshan also demanded Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat to step down from his post. The protesting elatives said that the minister declared the deceased a terrorist even before completion of the investigation.

Reportedly, the JIT members during the visit to Sahiwal on Monday asked eyewitnesses to appear before them at District Police Lines to record their statements. But, some eyewitnesses demanded that their statements should be recorded at the crime scene instead. The JIT members left back as eyewitnesses refused to go to the Police Lines.

The JIT headed by Additional-IG Ijaz Shah has also summoned the head of the counterterrorism department Rai Tahir in connection with the raid.