By Zubeida Mustafa
THE text message is still saved in my mobile phone. It was sent at 9.30 am on Wednesday March 13, 2013. It was signed “Thanks n Cheers PR”. That was the last time I heard from Perween Rahman, director of the OPP-RTI
For years she had made it a habit when in Karachi to read my column in the morning when it appeared in this paper and would send a comment by sms/email or call me up for a brief chat on her way to work. On that fateful day in 2013, less than 12 hours later, she was dead. The following week I wrote, ‘Rest in peace little sister’.
But two years on, it is we — her family, friends and colleagues — who cannot be at peace. We still wait for justice to be done. Two weeks ago, on March 19 a man was arrested in Mansehra who the police alleged was Perween’s killer. Are the wheels of justice moving again? It is premature to say what the police investigation will lead to. In some way this is progress. Something is happening.
I still remember how despondent we were when the day after Perween was slain, the police shot dead a man in an ‘encounter’ and proclaimed him to be the killer. Since dead men do not speak, they declared the case to be a “blind one, difficult to solve”. It was therefore closed.
When justice is done it will not be for the late OPP-RTI director alone.
And that is what it would have been had it not been for the Supreme Court which was approached by nine individual petitioners and three organisations in December 2013. Nearly 8,000 applications from all over the world calling for justice were also filed and hearings began in January 2014. A one-man judicial commission was set up and it gave its report in April.
The court was not satisfied and appointed a joint investigation team comprising not just the officials from the Sindh Police but also the ISI, MI, IB, FIA, Special Branch, CID and Pakistan Rangers.
One doesn’t have to elaborate why functionaries of the federal agencies had to be drawn in.
Ten hearings have been held. Perhaps even the judiciary is wary of any cover-up which is nothing unheard of in Pakistan. On one occasion, the court even asked the investigating team members “to report in confidentiality rather than filing documents because it might be thwarted by powerful elements”.
The latest arrest is indicative of the fact that Perween’s memory still haunts those in the corridors of power. In her innocence, she reminds them that they are accountable to the millions of poor Pakistanis whose cause she was serving.
It appears that hers was a premeditated murder — not committed out of personal enmity. Whose orders was the killer carrying out is something that has yet to be determined.
When justice is done it will not be justice for Perween Rahman alone. It will be justice for all the marginalised communities she worked for.
There were people who came from as far afield as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to pay tributes to her at her funeral. She had been at their side when they needed support. Now she needed them to strengthen her case. And they were present. This was not just the case of one life cruelly snuffed out but thousands being denied the benefit of her guidance and courageous leadership. The absence of equity and social justice in Pakistan makes our Perween Rahmans so important.
The basic tenet of a civilised society governed by the rule of law is that any citizen who is wronged must receive redress. In this case one can well ask what were the stakes? It was basically an attack on the spirit and will to lift the entire marginalised population out of poverty and show it the way to lead a life of dignity.
One needs clout for that and Perween was providing that through her deep knowledge and understanding of the conditions in Karachi. She was fully in the know of the wrongdoings of the mafias that rule Karachi and the conniving role of the civic agencies, the police and the political parties.
It was this knowledge and her own integrity that prevented her from being bought over. In that lay her strength. That was also the reason why she was feared. She knew too much and could expose the dirty game of all those who were collectively robbing Karachi of what belonged to the people — the land, water and ‘commons’ that cannot be stolen by private individuals.
Perween’s strategy was based on a self-help approach that made it financially feasible, appropriate for local conditions and environmentally sustainable.
It had to be indigenous in its structure and performance and did not turn to foreign donors. That is why it can be enduring and effective. But that is what makes it dangerous for those who thrive on stolen wealth.