Tahir Khan Dawar Murder Case: Divergent Narratives and Missing Dots

The recent kidnapping and gruesome murder of Tahir Dawar, the Superintendent of Police posted in Peshawar, has opened yet another Pandora box for the Pakistani state in light of the mysterious circumstances of his disappearance and his dead body being discovered in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar district. The period between his disappearance, that is, 26th October and the appearance of his dead body’s photos on social media on 13th November caught Islamabad off-guard both regarding the security lapse as well as the irresponsible statements that came from senior office bearers in the Imran Khan’s government. Parliamentary discussions seemed to be dominated by the opposition cornering the government on these lapses as multiple versions regarding his abduction failed to give a clear picture of what exactly happened. As Dawar’s relatives frantically searched for him, Ifthikar Durrani, the Prime Minister’s special assistant on Media gave an irresponsible interview to the Voice of America claiming he was safe and sound in Peshawar. Not only did his version differ from the government’s version, but it also seemed that he did not verify with the security agencies as he failed to disclose his source of information in the following media interviews. 

 Further, the episode also kicked off a storm in Pakistan’s Pashtun belt, which has once again given a strong impetus to the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), a civil rights movement that had emerged earlier this year under Manzoor Pashteen out of the discontent that mobilized the Pashtuns after Naqeebullah Maseed’s extrajudicial killing in Karachi.

Given his Pashtun ethnicity and Waziristani identity, the discourse after SP Dawar’s killing has got divided between the government/military version and that of the Pashtun activists, particularly from the PTM. On the one hand, the establishment’s narrative chose to highlight Dawar's profile as an upfront police officer who battled the "bad" Taliban and survived attempts on his life, thereby signaling a larger international conspiracy in his killing. After his death, a video of Dawar addressing PTM workers went viral, where he stressed on the need to be vigilant against threats from Afghanistan, India and the America, further cementing this narrative. Having served in Bannu in the last decade (which had become a hotbed for Pakistani Taliban’s attacks) and later cracking down on criminal networks in Peshawar, Dawar's commitment to the nation is unquestionable. On the other hand, the Pashtun activists cited his last days’ Facebook posts to bring attention to his disenchantment with the state’s response to the Pashtun sentiment following the rise of PTM.

Also, what contributes to strong suspicions is how Dawar could be taken all the way from Islamabad into the Afghan territory when one has to cross multiple check posts, especially those in the tribal areas. Veteran journalist Saleem Safi stated that one has to pass through 50 check posts when travelling from Islamabad all the way up to the Afghan border. The same check posts of KP and erstwhile FATA - which become a rallying point for the PTM, given the harassments the passersby had to face- appeared to have easily bypassed when Dawar was taken away to Nangarhar.

To add to the ongoing politicization, media reports began highlighting the carelessness with which his death was covered. This was substantiated by the varying narratives that emerged from the leaders who went to Torkham to collect his body. The Dawn reported that the body was handed over by the Afghan officials to Minister of State for Interior Shehrayar Afridi. Later, reports emerged that it was not the Afghan officials but the members of the Mohmand tribe who handed over the body only after the slain SP’s family members and Mohsin Dawar (MNA from North Waziristan) arrived. They also refused to hand over SP Dawar’s body to the Pakistani consulate in Jalalabad despite repeated requests.  The body was allegedly taken forcefully by a military helicopter from Landi Kotal to Peshawar.

Statements from Dawar's anguished family members (especially his son and brothers) are evident of their discontent with the way the case has been handled. Dawar’s son not only called for an international commission for a fair investigation, but also stated that senior police officials and the DG ISI should resign to facilitate a fair probe.

A deeper insight into the case was given by an article by journalist Azaz Syed in Pakistan 24 based on his interaction with Dawar’s brothers, where he sheds light on Dawar’s arrest of some people in possession of arms and explosives in heavy quantity. However, political pressure from above, these suspects had to be released by the Senior Superintendent of Police posted above Dawar. Perhaps some lead could definitely emerge from investigating the need to release these suspects and the politicians involved the pressurizing the police department, as Syed notes.   This angle also needs to be compared with the claim of some Pashtun activists in the social media circles that Tahir Dawar was targeted for going after the “Good Taliban”. 

At the moment, a Joint Investigation Team has finally been formed to probe the case but too many missing dots and divergent contexts surrounding his death have kept the discontent simmering. Rather than the state externalizing the causes of his death, it is sincerely hoped that those involved in his killing are brought to justice.