An important verdict recently made by a single-judge bench of Lahore High Court has once again brought the tragic 2014 Model Town incident into limelight. Upon an instant writ petition filed by the heirs of victims, this bench has directed Punjab administration to make Justice Ali Baqar Najafi’s inquiry report immediately public. However, instead of complying with High Court’s order, Punjab government opted to challenge this verdict before a full bench of LHC by preferring an Intra Court Appeal (ICA). Later, a newly-constituted 3-member LHC bench decided to hear this appeal on day-to-day basis while declining to suspend the order made by the single-member bench. Another full bench of LHC had been hearing a number of miscellaneous petitions relating to same inquiry report for more than 3 years without reaching a conclusion. So it is now being hoped that the crucial legal question of disclosure or nondisclosure of Model Town inquiry report will soon be conclusively determined in this ICA by the provincial constitutional court.

In June 2014, Lahore police, in a brutal display of force, killed some 14 workers of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) in Model Town, Lahore. A heavy contingent of police just opened indiscriminate fire on unarmed protesters, including women and children, in an ‘anti-encroachment operation’ there. This day we just observed police’s absolute ‘monopoly on violence’ in the city. In this entire ugly episode, the role of provincial government has been quite shady and questionable. It is widely believed that Lahore police restored to this degree of barbarity against PAT workers only upon some special instructions made by its political masters. PML-N government wanted to deter PAT leader Tahir-ul-Qadri from pursuing his ‘revolutionary’ agenda against it. Later, Punjab government actively tried to brush this matter under the carpet. The victims and their heirs were not even allowed to lodge FIR based on their version.

Provincial government of Punjab also reluctantly formed a single-member inquiry tribunal to probe various aspects of this incident. Justice Ali Baqar Najafi, a serving LHC judge, conducted this narrowly-scoped inquiry. He, despite pressure from the executive branch of government, diligently and courageously prepared and submitted his inquiry report. Some excerpts from this inquiry report have also been leaked by the media. Reportedly, this report has held CM Punjab, among others, directly responsible for this tragic incident. However, CM Punjab refused to step down after the submission of this report despite earlier making a promise to do so. He even didn’t make this report public due to obvious reasons.

An inquiry is generally conducted to determine truth or falsehood of a specific charge, or to discover real facts in a case. There has been a common tendency to form an inquiry commission after every major tragic incident in the country. These inquiry commissions are usually meant to divert public attention from these incidents to avoid instant public criticism. So these kinds of inquiries usually used as a tool to dilute an issue rather than discovering facts. This is the reason the findings and recommendations made by these inquiry bodies are mostly not revealed to the general public. Punjab government is legally empowered to constitute an inquiry tribunal under The Punjab Tribunals of Inquiry Ordinance, 1969 after duly framing its TORs as does the federal government under Pakistan Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1956. Justice Baqar Najafi inquiry tribunal is one of the tribunals constituted by Punjab government under the said Act.

For a long time, Punjab administration has been dilly-dallying over releasing Baqar Najafi’ inquiry report. Now a single-judge bench of Lahore High Court has directed the provincial authorities to reveal this report for public view. The petitioners in this case primarily invoked Article 19(A) of the Constitution, which ensures to every citizen a right to have access to information in public matters. Through its judgement, the august court eagerly tried to establish Baqar Najafi’s report to be a ‘public document’ after making it clear that tribunal’s proceedings were essentially the judicial proceedings. However, while so doing, the learned bench somehow ignored the underlying aspects and scope of the relevant constitutional and legal provisions.

Article 19(A) of the Constitution provides “Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law”. The Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013 deals with similar ‘regulation’ and ‘reasonable legal restrictions’ in the province. It thoroughly governs the matter of disclosure or nondisclosure of information to the public by the provincial public bodies and authorities. This law requires these public bodies to diligently reveal certain information to the general public. At the same time, Section 13 of this Act authorises the concerned public authorities to withhold the disclosure of information which is likely to cause harm to national defence, security, or public order etc. In fact, Punjab government has been refusing to reveal Baqar Najafi’s report on similar pretexts. Now the 3-member bench of LHC, constituted to hear Intra Court Appeal, would actively determine this factual question after looking into this matter.

An inquiry report prepared under The Punjab Tribunals of Inquiry Ordinance, 1969 is neither conclusive nor legally binding on the provincial government. It can hardly establish the presumption of guilt or innocence vis-à-vis individuals. Section 6 of this Ordinance provides that a statement made by person in the course of giving evidence before the tribunal shall not be used against him in any criminal or civil proceeding. So the matter of disclosure or nondisclosure of Najafi’s inquiry report would more have political implications than the legal ones. PAT will try to take political mileage out of it. This party may mount political pressure on CM Punjab to make him step down in the same manner PTI had been trying to dislodge Nawaz Sharif over Panama Leaks.

It is really regrettable that PAT has been playing politics over the blood of the innocent victims of Model Town tragedy. Soon after this incident, it launched a massive agitation movement against PML-N government. It, along with PTI, staged a prolonged sit-in in Islamabad to dislodge then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Obviously, it should have staged a sit-in in Lahore against CM Punjab to get justice for these victims. During his ‘revolution march’, PAT’s chief Allama Tahir-ul-Qadri preferred to stay inside a bullet-proof container while his party workers, including women and children, were sitting on the roads without proper food and shelter. At times, he also tried to use these women and children as human shield to protect him from law enforcing agencies.

It was morally incumbent upon CM Punjab to instantly step down as soon as Justice Najafi’s inquiry report was formally submitted to the provincial government. However, regretfully, this sort of morality has been entirely missing in the political discourse in the country. At this stage, mere the disclosure of inquiry report will not help victims get justice in this case. Indeed there should be some serious endeavours to get Model Town riddle logically resolved by holding an independent trial after conducting a proactive and thorough criminal investigation. Some major culprits in Model Town killings case have already fled abroad to escape punishment So one can hardly expect a fair trial or investigation in Model Town case under the supervision of incumbent provincial administration.

In order to avoid political controversies and public criticism, the provincial government of Punjab should have voluntarily made Justice Najafi’s inquiry report public once this report was concluded in 2014. Model Town case will continue to haunt CM Punjab and his close aides. So it was better for them to face these criminal allegations against them during the continuance of PML- N regime in the country. Sooner or later, they will have to face this case in a court of law. Noticeably, there are a lot of similarities between the Model Town incident and Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Kasuri case- a murder case against former Prime Minister Z A Bhutto in which he was eventually hanged in 1979. Therefore, now CM Punjab should by no means deliberately opt to be treated like Bhutto in the future.