ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The killing of an apparently unarmed man by paramilitary troops is likely to erode what little public confidence remains in Pakistan’s security forces who have been on the defensive since Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. raid.
The incident, caught on video and broadcast on local television stations, triggered fresh criticism of Pakistan’s human rights record and an unpopular government many say has failed to rein in the police and army, and who seem to act with impunity.
It also further dented the reputation of the powerful security establishment in this U.S. ally which has been deeply embarrassed by the fact that the al Qaeda leader was found and killed in Pakistan last month, and its subsequent failure to stop a small group of militants from besieging a key naval air base.
“It shows that our law enforcement agencies have truly become trigger happy and the brutalization of society that has come about as a consequence,” Zohra Yusuf, head of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told Reuters.
“It’s very very disturbing and it’s been happening too often.”
In the footage, a plain-clothed man grabs the victim by the hair and drags him over to a group of paramilitary Rangers in the southern city of Karachi. He pleads for mercy, then one of the soldiers shoots him twice.
The man, identified as Sarfaraz Shah, falls to the ground and screams in pain. The soldiers stand beside him.
He collapses in a pool of blood beside a park named after late Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was seen around the world as a symbol of democracy.
The Rangers initially described the incident as an encounter with an armed criminal, a senior police official said.
A cameraman from Awaz television channel who shot the video has received death threats from unknown people, one of his bosses said.
News of the death was splashed across the front pages of newspapers beside photographs of Shah’s grieving relatives. “Karachi extra-judicial killing shocks Pakistan,” read one banner headline.
The video comes a few days after a prominent journalist who had reported that al Qaeda was behind the brazen Pakistani Taliban raid on the PNS Mehran air base was tortured to death.
Suspicion immediately fell on military intelligence, which said it played no role in the killing.
The Daily Times said the military, paramilitary forces, police and intelligence agencies “who confidently violate human rights” should be held accountable for their actions.
“The security and law enforcement forces that do not respect the law themselves are inviting anarchy, which arguably is already underway,” it said in an editorial.
Last year, a video emerged of two teenage brothers believed to be robbers being beaten to death before being strung up on a metal pole in broad daylight. Several policemen looked on.
The prime minister said an inquiry would be launched after the Karachi incident and the culprits punished. But increasingly frustrated Pakistanis have little faith in the government.
“What we saw on television shows that now there is the law of the jungle in this country and no one is accountable for his action or deeds. This is pathetic,” said Mohammad Sultan, a retired soldier who now works as a security guard.
Additional reporting by Faisal Aziz in Karachi, Faris Ali in Peshawar and Asim Tanveer in Mingora, editing by Miral Fahmy