612 People Killed In Police Encounters During CM Buzdar, Elahi’s Tenure

612 People Killed In Police Encounters During CM Buzdar, Elahi’s Tenure
LAHORE: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government which came to power in the largest province of the country, Punjab, with promises of establishing the rule of law and depoliticizing the police force had arguably turned Punjab into a police state during the four year tenure of Sardar Usman Khan Buzdar and Chaudhry Parvez Elahi as Chief Ministers as their tenures saw steep rise in police encounters, official data shows.

As per official figures that The Friday Times (TFT) has gotten access to, “from 2018 to 2022, Punjab Police has killed 612 accused persons in police encounters,” the official statistics revealed.

The data further revealed that from 2018 to 2022, a woman was also killed in an encounter, and the majority of these police encounters are alleged to be staged extrajudicial murders.

The majority of these encounters were reported in 2020 and 2021, in which around 186 accused were killed, according to official figures.

District wise list of police encounters

During the said period, Faisalabad district witnessed the highest number of encounters, with 73 accused people being killed. Lahore stood second, where the Punjab Police killed 65 accused in encounters. Meanwhile, 45 people were killed in Sahiwal, 34 people were killed in Gujranwala, and 28 accused were killed in Multan in encounters between 2018 and 2022.

“Interestingly, Narowal is the only district which witnessed no encounter between 2018 to 2022,” the official figures stated.

As per actual figures available with TFT, only nine FIRs were filed by the families of victims out of 544 FIRs which were registered in total.

The data further revealed that during 2018 to 2022, 57 police officials embraced martyrdom while more than 40 inquiries were initiated against police officials over alleged fake encounters.

Speaking to TFT, a legal expert on the subject, Mustafa Naqvi, said that the obnoxious number of deaths in police encounters over the past years raises serious concerns about the judicial and policing system, as well as the transparency of the investigations into these deaths.

‘Police has become more trigger friendly’

Naqvi believes that it is important to know that our police, along with other law enforcement agencies has been fighting a war against terror since many years, the unfortunate aspect of which is that it has become more trigger-friendly, and reacts violently even on the slightest provocation, completely abandoning the principle of necessity, proportionality and legality while using lethal force.

Legally speaking, the police are only entitled to such a response as a last resort when there is an imminent threat to their lives, and other means have already been exhausted, he stated.

The Police Rules 2002 state that no officer shall use force to the extent of causing death or causing hurt, unless it is absolutely necessary for the discharge of duty and he has no other means of preserving himself or others from death or injury.

Naqvi recalls that the legal framework governing the use of lethal force by law enforcement officials in Pakistan is found in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (CHPT V), the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 (Act XLV of 1860), and the Pakistan Police Order, 2002.

“It is better to address the ground realities which are often put forth by police as an excuse for these extra judicial killings,” he noted.

Clean acquittals of hardened criminals by courts of law is extremely unfortunate

Naqvi describes how high-profile criminals and terrorists have created an atmosphere of menace in the province, terrorizing not only witnesses, but judges too.

He opined that clean acquittals of hardened and desperate criminals by court of law are extremely unfortunate and demoralizing for the entire force.

Although it is the Prosecution which must build up its own case first, which is a responsibility that falls upon law enforcement agencies, a lack of expertise and resources hinders fair and transparent investigations, and concluding investigations has become almost impossible.

Moreover, adversarial proceedings by courts as a product of the English Common Law System, makes it even more complex. Judges get approached or intimidated considering the background of such criminal cases.

Low conviction rate - another indispensable issue with the country’s criminal justice system

“Low conviction rates are another indispensable issue that is being faced by the criminal justice system of Pakistan,” Naqvi said.

The legal expert who completed his LLM from Indiana University in Bloomington maintained that the conviction rate in Pakistan rests at merely 11%, compared to 37% in neighboring India. The conviction rate in rape cases is under 3%, which is abysmally low. This raises concerns about the performance of the entire justice system.

Obsolete investigation techniques

Naqvi believes that the investigation techniques deployed by law enforcement are obsolete. The police rely merely on witnesses, rather than collecting circumstantial evidence. Investigating officers are neither well trained, nor well equipped.

“The judiciary has its own set of complications, because of which cases suffer from undue delay. Take the number of judges, for example,” he maintained.

Pakistan has 10 judges for 1 million people

Naqvi stressed that Pakistan has on average 10 judges for 1 million people, the world average is close to 50.

But despite all these, for him, extra judicial killings can never be justified. “Extra judicial killings are grave violations of human rights, and it is indispensable that we conduct thorough and transparent investigations into these killings,” Naqvi stated.

He strongly believes that in practice, cases of police encounters are often registered in a biased manner, only including the version of events provided by the police.

“This is done under various sections of the Pakistan Penal Code, including sections 186, 353, 100, and 34, which deal with punishment for obstructing a public servant, assault or use of force to deter a public servant, the right of private defense, and acts committed by several persons with common intention,” he pointed out.

Misuse of PPC and CPC sections

For Naqvi, Section 100 of the PPC is often cited in the First Information Report of such incidents, and it is a clear indication that the police involved is claiming self-defense. However, criminal conduct by the members of the police force is rarely brought to the surface.

While it is true that Criminal Procedure Code Section 176 mandates a magisterial inquiry in all cases of custodial deaths, in reality such inquiries are only conducted to eradicate the story and almost always favor the police.

What needs to be done?

When asked what needs to be done, the legal expert said that along with independent and thorough investigations into these killings, investigation techniques need to be updated by using modern technologies and forensic science such as DNA profiling, fingerprint matching etc.

Investigation officers need modern training in contemporary investigation methods, and the collaboration between investigating officers and the prosecution needs to be enhanced so that conviction rates are improved.

“The police also need proper training on how to handle hostile situations so they can restrain from using unnecessary force,” he concluded.

Loopholes in the justice system

A senior police official who wished not to be named told TFT that there are loopholes in the judicial system which lead to grave injustice and reactions are often violent.

“Crime emanates from the fact that people rely on Hobbes’ principle of "might is right." The nature of people doesn't change; it only ebbs and flows but the mindset is the same.”

“When the accused don't get convicted, it is usually due to complications in judicial proceedings, managed judges, the failure of eye witnesses to show up, the widespread use of intimidation tactics,” he pointed out.

The senior police official who is also considered an encounter specialist in the Punjab police further said that victims take revenge and then we have FIRs, cross FIRs and multiple FIRs.

“Unless civil issues are speedily resolved, injustice will always prevail. The average age of a civil case in our system is at least 30-50 years if considered,” he pointed out.

‘In defense of police encounters’

While defending the encounters and extra judicial killings, he said that we have the example of the Zainab case.

“If the accused would have been killed in an encounter, it would have saved at least 15 other minors,” he recalled.

‘The accused got the death penalty in one case. What will happen to the 15 other victims? Nothing,” the senior official from the police concluded.

PTI govt changed 10 IGPs from 2018 to 2022

Sources privy to this development told TFT that the PTI government’s focus during its tenure in Punjab was on establishing a police state in Punjab, and achieving its goal of targeting political opponents instead of mitigating extra judicial killings.

“During PTI’s tenure, 10 IGP’s were changed between 2018-2022,” a senior police official said.

Aamir Zulfikar Khan worked as the 10th IGP of Punjab during Chaudhry Parvez Elahi’s tenure. He was an upright officer and served from December 22, 2022 till January 2023, and he was replaced by another brilliant police officer Dr. Usman Anwar, who is considered as a very brave and honest officer among the police cadre, and that is why he has been appointed by the Caretaker Chief Minister Punjab, Syed Mohsin Raza Naqvi.

During the PTI’s tenure, Faisal Shahkar served as the 9th IGP who served from July 23, 2022 till December 21, 2022. Kunwar Shah Rukh served between November 10, 2022 till December 2, 2022.

It is pertinent to mention that the then PM Imran Khan had also appointed Punjab Safe Cities Authority Director General, Additional Inspector General of Police Rao Sardar Ali Khan as the top cop of the province on September 8, 2021. Sardar had become the seventh person to hold the post of IG Punjab during PTI’s tenure.

When CM Buzdar took charge as Chief Minister, Dr. Syed Kaleem Imam was serving as the IGP, he was appointed on June 13, 2018, and was removed on September 11, 2018. He was replaced by Muhammad Tahir.

Tahir belonged to the 16th CTP and had previously served as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s top cop. He only served as IGP for a month and was removed from the post on October 15, 2018.

Tahir was replaced by Amjad Javed Saleemi who served as the IG from October 15, 2018, to April 17, 2019.

Saleemi was able to hold the post for only six months and was replaced by Captain (retd) Arif Nawaz.

Seven months later, Nawaz was also transferred on November 28, 2019, and was replaced by Shoaib Dastagir. He had taken charge of the post on November 28, 2019.

However, on September 9, 2020, Dastagir was also shown the door after developing differences with the PTI government over the appointment of former Lahore Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Umar Sheikh.

The PTI government had appointed Umar Sheikh as the Lahore CCPO without his consultation and was removed from his post when he asked CM Buzdar to transfer Sheikh.

Dastagir was replaced by Inam Ghani as the IGP on September 9, 2020. But he was also shown the door when Rao Sardar Ali Khan was made Punjab’s top cop. On the other hand, Ghani was transferred and posted as the IG of Pakistan Railways Police at that time.

Caretaker setup: a breath of fresh air

Sources maintained that police encounters have sharply declined and in fact have stopped during the current caretaker setup led by Chief Minister Punjab Syed Mohsin Raza Naqvi.

The current IG Punjab, Dr. Usman Anwar gave clear instruction to police officers that there is a no shootout policy in Punjab. “Cops can fire only during live encounters when they are attacked by the accused or they refuse to surrender,” a senior police official said, adding that a thorough probe is held every time an encounter is reported.

“Police officials are punished if they are found guilty of staging a fake encounter because Dr. Usman Anwar is an upright officer who believes in rule of law,” he concluded.

The writer is a senior correspondent at The Friday Times with a focus on politics, economy and militancy. He also hosts the Hassan Naqvi Show on Naya Daur.