Referring to extrajudicial killings in Balochistan and Sindh, the then-Chief Justice Ejaz Ahmad Chaudhry had remarked: “Lahore will not be allowed to be turned into Kharotabad and Karachi.”
After this strong warning by the court, the policemen accused of killing Shahbaz Butt, including DSP Riasat Ali Bajwa and three others, were arrested and sent to jail. The chief justice had disposed of the petition, and directed that such incidents should not recur in future and a commission be constituted to ensure their prevention.
A few months after the top judge had disposed of the case, the police resumed the exercise but this time more aggressively. The DSP sent to jail on murder charges later paid Rs2.5 million to the victim family and managed to reconcile with them. Now he is back and serving in the police department along with his other colleagues known as ‘encounter specialists’.
Since early this year, the police are killing ‘gangsters’ with impunity in the Punjab capital but there in no one to question the genuineness of these encounters, because the government has given a freehand to the police to decide the fate of criminals.
At least 55 alleged criminals have been eliminated in fake and staged encounters in different parts of the City during this year; while more than 200 have been killed in police ‘encounters’ in different parts of the province.
During informal discussions with this scribe, police officers revealed that they had fixed a criterion to flush out desperate criminals and its scope was amended from time to time. Once the provincial hierarchy or top officer gives go ahead, those falling in the ‘encounter criteria’ are immediately eliminated.
As per the encounter criteria, those gangsters found involved in robbery-cum-rape incidents and those who kill the victim even after accepting ransom are aggressively eliminated. Similarly, the gangsters who kill a police officer during a genuine encounter or the criminals who murder the victim on offering resistance during a robbery attempt also fall in the same category in the police book and deserve to be eliminated in an encounter. The police are also ‘empowered’ to decide the fate of the extortionists
Sources believe that the Crimes Investigations Agency (CIA), after widening the scope of the encounter criteria, has launched an aggressive campaign and even ordinary gangsters involved in street crimes are being eliminated.
The rate of heinous crime incidents, including robberies and auto-lifting, has increased by more than 25 per cent in the provincial capital, notwithstanding the ‘aggressive campaign’ to eliminate the hardened criminals. Apparently, the new police formula of ‘killing the criminals to downgrade crimes’ has poorly failed to improve the worsening law and order situation in Lahore.
From street crimes to auto-lifting and armed robberies to house dacoities, the police have miserably failed to smash the organised gangs, which are striking brazenly in the heart of Lahore. However, some officers are of the view that aggressive policing has left the hardened criminals with no other option but to leave the gangland or the province to save their life.
Crime experts give several possible explanations for the surge in crimes, such as poor policing, corruption, criminal environment in jails, epidemic of drugs and narcotics, unemployment, and poverty. But regardless of the reason, the upwards trend in the crime rate continues because the police are seemingly helpless in smashing the gangs of organised criminals.
Interestingly, the LHC has again taken up the issue of extra-judicial killings, after a mother, Saleema Bibi of Bilal Ganj, filed the petition in the honourable court. She submitted that police had arrested her five sons, namely Imran, Jamshed, Awais, Zahid and Abid. She alleged that the police had murdered Imran, Jamshed and Awais during a fake encounter in the Chuhng police area while Zahid and Abid had met the same fate in Vehari district. She pointed out that police had also killed her three other relatives – Malik Zahid, Shahid and Adnan – during different encounters in Rahim Yar Khan district.
“The police are bent on finishing families by murdering their children in bogus encounters. Why is the chief minister unaware about these extra judicial killings?” Justice Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi observed while hearing the woman’s petition last week.
The court again has summoned the Punjab home secretary, as well as Lahore SSP (operations) and other police officers, for explanation on the fake encounters. The court also remarked that “the fake encounters have become a source of fun for the police.” But will the LHC be able to stop extra-judicial killings once and for all? Will the honourable judges be able to ensure justice this time?