Pakistani Army Says It Has To Salvage Image After Killings
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistan’s powerful military said Sunday it is trying to salvage its image following reports that army officers were responsible for the massacre of nine people in a crackdown on crime.
The nine were gunned down in southern Sindh province last weekend, less than two weeks after 42,000 soldiers and paramilitary police were deployed in the region to try to stem runaway crime and factional violence. Troops were given sweeping powers to arrest without warrant and detain without charges.
″This has given us a setback. There are certain indications that the army was at fault″ in the killings, said Gen. Shamshed Malik, vice chief of general staff.
Questions also have been raised about the reported heart attack deaths of three people in military custody. ″I agree it is a very odd coincidence,″ Malik said.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and army Chief-of-Staff Azif Nawaz have begun separate inquiries into the slayings. An army major is in custody, but the military has refused to release his name. Several senior officers were transferred out of Sindh.
The dead initially were described as terrorists, but Sindh’s governor, Chief Minister Muzzafar Shah, said they were innocent villagers. On Sunday, Malik agreed.
Sindh province has been a trouble spot for several years, with rival ethnic and political factions battling each other almost daily.
The main combatants are Sindhi nationalists and members of the militant People’s Refugee Movement, which represents Indian immigrants to Pakistan after 1947, when India and Pakistan gained their independence from Britain.
The nationalists, who dominate much of the countryside, want either greater autonomy for Sindh or outright independence. The refugee movement dominates the cities and is an important partner in the conservative coalition government that governs Sindh.
Many Pakistanis think the Sindh government will try to block arrests of movement members rather than risk splitting the coalition, but Malik said that ″there will be no interference.″