Video of Extrajudicial Murder Raises the Heat on Pakistan’s Under-Fire Military

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Warning: Video contains graphic footage.

A video of Pakistani paramilitary soldiers shooting an unarmed young man in Karachi and leaving him to bleed to death has stoked growing anger at the country’s military. Sarfaraz Shah was stopped by soldiers in the Sindh Rangers, an outfit of the army deployed to keep the peace in this volatile, ethnically fractious megacity. According to police reports, Shah was nabbed for attempted robbery, but, as the video shows, the soldiers who detain him seem to have their own justice in mind: they shoot him twice, in the arm and the leg, and stand around idly as he cries for help, blood pooling on the ground.

Five Rangers have been arrested after mourners carried Shah’s body to the house of the Chief Minister of Sindh province. They decried the murder, claiming Shah was innocent of any wrongdoing. In countries across South Asia, such incidents of “encounter killings” — where suspects meet an early, murky end at the hands of local security forces or police — are frequent and have long attracted the ire of government watchdogs and human rights groups. Zohra Yusuf of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan told the AFP that the latest incident was of a “trigger-happy society where shoot-to-kill has become routine practice for the law enforcement agencies.

For Pakistan, Shah’s murder shines an even brighter spotlight on the extrajudicial actions of the country’s military following the death of journalist Saleem Shahzad, who some claim was killed by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI. The military is the country’s most dominant institution, yet its authority has been under scrutiny ever since the discovery of Osama bin Laden in a compound not far from Pakistan’s main military academy.

Feeling the heat, the military under its top commander Gen. Ashfaq Kayani released an unprecedented 1,000 word statement, imploring that it be given more respect and dismissing American threats to cut billions of dollars aid, claiming that it would happily divert more funds to Pakistan’s cash-strapped civilian government. The statement will do little to build trust between the U.S. and the wounded Pakistani military, perceived by many in the outside world as an institution that has abetted fundamentalist militancy even as it sits on the bloody front lines of the struggle against Islamist terror.

A report in the Mcclatchy-Tribune claims chain-smoking Kayani is “angry and depressed.” Meanwhile, some prominent Pakistani voices in the media are cautiously articulating the need for Pakistanis to once and for all dismantle the nationalist myths that have long bolstered the army’s preeminence — and its seeming impunity. The brutal killing of a young lad in Karachi may only speed this necessary process.

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