12:03 AM, January 23, 2014 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:53 AM, March 08, 2015

Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is…..

Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is…..

Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan ndc, psc (Retd)
cross-fire, encounter deaths

WITH not one or two but, according to one newspaper, nine dead bodies turning up in odd places in the last fortnight, give one the eerie premonition that we are perhaps going back to the days of cross-fire and encounter deaths. Now it is 'gunfight' not 'encounter' or 'crossfire' that is causing the deaths. Of the nine, five were killed in 'gunfight' during joint forces operations and others were found dead with bullet injuries after they had gone 'missing.' They were picked up by the law enforcing agencies, according to the statements of the families.
It so happens that the victims were all linked to the opposition parties, to either the BNP or Jamaat. Two of the victims are alleged to have led the attack on the motorcade of Asaduzzaman Noor, now the minister for culture, on December 14 last year. Some of the cases that relate to violence that Jamaat wreaked after the Sayedee verdict, date back to February of 2013.     
The nature of these deaths and their circumstances are too banal either to fall in the category of 'accident' or 'coincident.' Given the circumstances of the deaths in 'gunfights' with the predictable and oft-repeated tale of ambush or attack on the police party going in search of hidden arms, by the supporters of the victim, and the lone casualty being the victim himself, or the victim being picked up from his house only for his dead body to be recovered a day or two later with injury or bullet marks, can lead even the most incredulous amongst us to only one definite conclusion.
In fact, picking up a person without producing him before the court within 48 hours would be a kidnap offense in any civilised country. In ours it fails to raise an eyebrow of the keepers of our conscience who never stop frothing at their mouths about human rights and due process of law but only in a selective manner.
The circumstances of these deaths are so repetitive and the explanations are so absurd and implausible that these can no longer be taken without reservation. These are the same stories being churned out and recycled like the ones that the law enforcing agencies, Rab in particular, had been serving out to the public in the past.
There are several matters that agitate one's mind. In all the cases of so-called gunfight deaths, no one knows, except for the police, the nature of the gunshot wound that killed the victim. If it was the miscreants' bullet then how did they manage to pick up the victim, that too at the dead of night with no floodlights to light up the incident area, and take a potshot at him, and then make good their escape? And why should the miscreants kill their gang member when the purpose of attacking the police is to snatch their comrade from police custody? And if it was a case of stray bullet was it not the duty of the police to ensure the safety of the person they had taken into custody?
The criminals must be apprehended and given exemplary punishment. And it is understandable that joint forces operations to nab the listed may result in exchange of fire and consequent casualties. But here again, the nature of the recent operations raises serious questions about the handling of the matter. It is not clear why the police should have waited for nearly a year to launch operation to catch the perpetrators of violence. It is even more absurd that an entire village should be considered a hostile territory and all inhabitants treated as hostiles. Reportedly, one of operations launched to nab 1,000 named accused in a case of violence in February 2013 involved surrounding an entire village at night.
The frequency of extrajudicial deaths, nay killings, had been coming down gradually. In 2012, according to, Ain-o-Salish Kendra, 91 persons were victims of extrajudicial killing; in 2013 the figure was 72 with 55 cases of disappearance. Are we seeing the reemergence of the ominous phenomenon?
No society can countenance subversion of the rule of law. Even the worst criminal should be allowed the due legal process. State structure is bound to face a severe turmoil when the law enforcing agencies become the judge, jury and executioner. And when that happens, the defining line between the activities of non-state actors and that of the state agencies gets blurred, with the state ending up perpetrating what it is supposed to curb.

The author is, Editor, Op-Ed and Defence & Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.


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