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Tattered probes

THERE is a pattern in Pakistan of investigations into serious crimes taking sharp turns along the way, and eventually turning into a media trial rather than coming to a resolution through a judicial forum. Part of the reason is due to lack of capacity on the part of the law-enforcement agencies, but an equally large part of the reason is because the investigation is politicised along the way and becomes hostage to an agenda that involves flinging dirt on certain parties. At that point, it becomes difficult to tell who is telling the truth and who is fabricating a story, and the matter comes to no resolution in any judicial forum. For example, look at the Asim Hussain investigation, which started out as a terror financing charge and has morphed into something completely different, with a few splashy media circuses along the way. Another more recent example is the investigation into the Baldia Town factory fire which began as a probe into an industrial accident, and has now become a sordid tale of extortion and politics. The original charges of extortion surfaced in a JIT report that was ignored by the Sindh High Court, but a new JIT team formed in March last year claims to have found forensic evidence suggesting criminal wrongdoing.

We are being told that traces of a chemical have been found at the crime scene suggesting arson, and the movement of funds in certain bank accounts for the purchase of a property in Hyderabad was connected with extortion payments made by the factory owners.

But the new allegations will only become believable once they are presented in court, along with the evidence that the JIT members claim they have unearthed. Until then, JIT reports should not be taken at face value. It is probable that the allegations in the new report, on the basis of which they suggest the withdrawal of the old FIR and the registration of a new one, are true and could form the basis for high-profile arrests. But the fact that the story took a sharp turn precisely at a time when a large media campaign was under way against the MQM also suggests that political victimisation could have played a role. The case involves the country`s worst industrial disaster, with 259 people burned alive; therefore, it must come to a final and credible resolution in court. The matter is far too serious to turn into a political bargaining tool.