Focus must be on finding the culprit instead of assigning blame for Dawar’s murder
The mysterious disappearance followed by the brutal murder of a senior police officer in Pakistan has evoked angry reactions at home and intensified tensions between Islamabad and Kabul. Tahir Dawar, a decorated police officer, was kidnapped in Islamabad towards the end of October. Two weeks later, his mutilated body was found across the border in Afghanistan.
Although Daesh is said to have claimed responsibility for the murder -- with a note from the group found on the slain officer’s body -- the mystery surrounding the gruesome incident continues. The circumstances of Dawar’s abduction from Islamabad and the government’s inaction to nab the perpetrators raises several questions, with Pashtun nationalists blaming Pakistan's intelligence agencies for his murder.
Hailing from the restive North Waziristan tribal region, Dawar had escaped several assassination attempts in the past for his role in the battle against militancy, earning him the reputation of being a daredevil officer. He was serving in Peshawar and was on a personal visit to Islamabad when he went missing.
There had been an intriguing silence on the part of the authorities despite frantic appeals from Dawar’s family to find him, and protests by Pashtun nationalists -- represented by the Pashtun Tehfuz (protection) Movement (PTM). Conflicting statements by Pakistani officials didn't help the matter either and instead fueled all kinds of conspiracy theories -- two days after the abduction, Iftekhar Durrani, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Media, said that Dawar had reached home safe and sound.
This level of misinformation from a senior member of the cabinet raised several questions about the government’s apathy on a highly-serious security matter. Interestingly, the alleged note from Daesh which claimed responsibility for Dawar’s murder was poorly-written in Pashto. Add to that the fact that the militant group did not claim responsibility for the attack on their website thickened the plot further. Meanwhile, the Pakistani Taliban released a statement denying any involvement in the incident.
Despite a strict ban on media coverage of the protests, the simmering anger is palpable. It poses an enormous challenge for the leadership to defuse the brewing anger and bring to justice those responsible for the crime.
There have been several incidents in the past when militants abducted high-profile individuals and held them hostage in Afghanistan for ransom. However, none of those incidents reported an abductee being killed across the border. According to some reports, Dawar’s body was found in the eastern Afghanistan province of Nangarhar which is not very far from the Pakistani border. The region has become the center of activities for several militant groups, despite the fact that there is no reported presence of Daesh in the district where Dawar’s body was found. The incident also raises questions about the administration’s inability to safeguard a senior police officer.
The murder took a more sinister twist when Afghanistan insisted on handing over the body to a lawmaker from Dawar’s tribe, instead of giving it to Pakistani authorities, thereby triggering a serious diplomatic row. Reacting to the Afghan government’s snub, the spokesman for Pakistan's military chief implied that elements in Kabul’s security establishment could be involved in Dawar’s abduction and murder.
“The abduction and brutal murder of a senior Pakistani police officer in Afghanistan and the subsequent behavior of Afghan authorities indicate the involvement of more than one terrorist group,” General Asif Ghafoor tweeted at the time.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, on his part, has set up a high-powered commission to probe the incident. However, several analysts agree that an official inquiry into the incident might never be able to uncover the real reasons for the murder which has shaken the country and exposed the political fault lines in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The PTM group – which burst on the political scene last year following the killing of a young Pashtun, Naqibullah Mehsud, in a staged police encounter in Karachi -- is now demanding that an inquiry into Dawar’s murder be conducted by an independent international commission. The group which has mobilized the youth in KP, by focusing on Pashtun rights, has become a strong political force to be reckoned with. The PTM’s campaign has become a major cause for concern for the security establishment.
Despite a strict ban on media coverage of the protests, the simmering anger is palpable. It poses an enormous challenge for the leadership to defuse the brewing anger and bring to justice those responsible for the crime. A big question is whether or not they are capable of doing it.
– Zahid Hussain is an award-winning journalist and author. He is a former scholar at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC, and a visiting fellow at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, and at the Stimson Center in Washington DC.