Umar Cheema
Umar Cheema

Nothing: What Pakistan is doing to find Cheema’s abductors

Just in case you were one of the few people in Pakistan or any other part of the world, for that matter, who thought that the six-hour abduction of Umar Cheema over the weekend of September 4 and 5 in Islamabad was going to be investigated and the culprits–men “dressed in police uniform”–brought to justice, here is a reality check:

The official Associated Press of Pakistan reported on Wednesday that the “Lahore High Court Chief Justice Khawaja Muhammad Sharif on Wednesday adjourned the hearing looking into Cheema’s abduction and beating until October 6.” Cheema says he was abducted, beaten, hung upside down, and humiliated while being videotaped.

But really, this case doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere. I had messaged Cheema Tuesday for an update, and here’s what he told me about the state of the investigation. This is pretty much a cut-and-paste from his e-mail message:

There is no follow-up in sight. Yes, the police have questioned me, but they are mostly concentrating on the aspect of personal enmity, not on the role of state agencies. I was disappointed when I heard their questions. The senior police officer who heads the investigation was of the view that putting blame on [state intelligence] agencies is tantamount to closing the file. But I don’t think he is on the right track and I told him repeatedly that there is no private enemy after me nor I ever have nurtured a grudge with anybody to such an extreme level.

You can also judge the level of seriousness in that I still don’t know if the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) has been constituted and anyway I was told informally by officials that the JIT will “just be a formality.” The prime minister’s pledge to hold a judicial inquiry has emerged as another joke as there is no progress nor any serving/retired judge had been nominated for the purpose.

I don’t think if the government is serious in locating the culprits. Their publicly expressed resolve and the commitments they made were public consumption, nothing more.

None of this is unexpected. I pointed out in a blog entry on September 9 that “at least in terms of murders, there has been no investigation with subsequent prosecution of anyone who has killed a journalist in Pakistan beyond that of the case of the American Daniel Pearl, The Wall Street Journal reporter who was abducted in January 2002 and killed about a month later.” Cheema doesn’t have the U.S. State Department and the one of the world’s most powerful newspapers pushing for an investigation into his case they way they did for Pearl.

There was an investigation into the brutal killing of Hayatullah Khan in the market of his home village of Miram Shan in North Waziristan in June 2006. Khan had been held for more than six months before he was gunned down. High Court Justice Mohammed Reza Khan conducted an investigation, but the results have never been made public.

Khan’s death at least warranted an investigation. Umar Cheema’s ordeal looks set to go the way of the other crimes carried out on journalists for doing their job–nowhere.

And, frankly, Tuesday’s death of the president of the Hangu Union of Journalists, Misri Khan, who was gunned down as he entered the press club in Hangu, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province along the near the border with Afghanistan, looks like it will get the same treatment as Umar Cheema’s case: none.