At last there is acknowledgement from the government party members that innocent people do get killed in “crossfire”. One wishes it had come sooner. Never before the Arzu Mian killing did we have a judicial inquiry on crossfire killings, and hardly has a case been registered before this on this count, let alone the Commanding Officer of a Rab battalion losing his command because of it.
Just to put the matter in perspective, according to media reports, 72 people have died at the hands of the law enforcing agencies in shootout in the first six months of this year. Of them, 40 people were killed by police and 22 by Rab.
Arzu Mian must have been a supremely unlucky man. Otherwise, how come he was picked up and disposed of summarily, allegedly, by the country's elite force? And he was no ordinary person, being the Hazaribagh Chhatra League president. In fact, Arzu Mian is one of the several people who have fallen victim, in a span of five days in this month, to the wrath of the state. They had forfeited their right, in the eyes of the state, to live, having indulged in unlawful activities. The one common thread that links them is their association with the party in power, belonging to one of its appendages.
The BCL members have not really endeared themselves to the public by what they have indulged in, in the last several years. The nearly half a dozen that have been killed in the month of August in 'crossfire' or 'encounter' (both misnomers) were, reportedly, errant BCL cadres, and, regrettably, to the AL “zero tolerance” means forfeiture of one's life. There surely must be other ways of ridding the party of 'miscreants' who, the AL seems to have suddenly discovered, are aplenty in its youth wing.
However, if Arzu Mian is unlucky, his relatives are perhaps luckier than the relatives of all those that are alleged to have fallen victims of crossfire and encounter. And that is on several counts. For Arzu Mian, his MP has vented his spleen, (something he did not do on the many that have been killed in similar circumstances; neither has he said anything about Raza Mian, the poor boy whose death Arzu Mian is allegedly responsible for) and that is perhaps also the reason the commanding officer of the Rab-2 Battalion has been relieved of his command, something unheard of. And it is perhaps also the first instance where a case of killing by Rab has been registered in the court. And there is going to be judicial inquiry into the killing, a first too.
If memory serves me right, there were a few instances where inquiry of sorts were done during the time of the BNP regime, but that was more of an eyewash than an attempt to unearth the facts of the case. Unfortunately, not all those that have become victims of so-called encounter or crossfire had the good luck to be members of the BCL to have their cases taken cognisance of. And now that judicial inquiry has been ordered in this case, isn't there a very compelling ground to do the same about the many alleged extrajudicial killings, particularly of prominent persons, some of whom have gone missing? We hope too that the government MPs who have gone vocal about the killings of their party cadres also weigh in on their party for holding judicial inquiries into all the similar cases.
A few in the AL have spoken out on the matter, but opinion within the party is divided. Some have spoken against the killings. It is a pity that this reaction came only after their kindred souls became victims of 'crossfire.' Had their sensitivity not been party centric and selective, and had they spoken out against extrajudicial killings per se, perhaps Arzu and his friends in the BCL might not have met the tragic fate that they have. But what is most frightening is that a few in the party have endorsed the killings, that being the only way to chastise errant party cadres.
It is even more irksome to see BNP making political hay of the matter. Little does it suit them to criticise the crossfire killings. The party had not only resorted to it through “Clean Heart”, it also indemnified the persons involved in the gruesome acts.
All killings must be condemned, particularly those where state agencies arrogate to themselves the role of judge and jury and then become the executioner to carry out their verdict. And at a time when civilised countries are calling for banning capital punishment, the law enforcing agencies are deciding who can live and who deserves to die, because of crimes they may or may not have committed.
The media and this newspaper in particular have been crying hoarse to bring it home to the government that this expedient grossly violates the rule of law, but to no avail. Nothing can justify abridgement of the legal process. The state cannot replicate the methods of the miscreants without bringing itself down to the level of the miscreants. And we would like to think that more and more government MPs will bring to bear on the government the fact that the application of this method is counterproductive in the long-run. It demeans the nation and devalues the lives of people and its use must cease forthwith.
Little is the value of societal peace and order if that comes through killing someone.
The writer is Editor, Oped & Defence & Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.