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Fake police encounters

Updated November 15, 2017

THE Pakistani police culture of ‘encounter’ is being severely threatened by an unlikely source: the necessity and the popular urge to capture neighbourhood and city activity on CCTV and mobile-phone cameras.

Such footage has exposed the policemen involved in staged encounters.

This month, footage from a bystander brought the horrendous practice into greater public focus.

It showed a police official in Faisalabad pumping bullets into the visibly surrendered body of a man. The police version of the incident was that the victim, Asif Sardar, had fired at a motorcycle squad of the Gulberg police when he and his ‘accomplice’ were signalled to stop.

Now an autopsy report confirms he “was shot multiple times at point-blank range”. A four-member committee formed on the orders of the Punjab chief minister and headed by the Sheikhupura regional police officer is probing the matter.

Few, however, think that the recommendations put forth by this team are going to lead to any revolutionary steps towards preventing the law enforcers from resorting to this ugly method of self-righteously dispensing justice and punishing those they deem guilty.

To begin with, over time the trigger-happy police have assigned to themselves a mission that not only provides them with instant results and satisfaction but that also appears to be a cover-up for their overall inefficiency.

Then the system that sets a policeman — albeit of senior rank — to catch a policeman is inherently flawed.

In such cases, there has to be timely intervention by an authority outside the police force to take up allegations of fake encounters.

That authority is nowhere in sight in the country and the police are routinely allowed the easy option of staging encounters to hide the missing parts of their investigation.

For example, not too long ago, police told the Sindh High Court that two people who had been marked as missing had actually been killed in two separate encounters earlier this year.

The human rights ministry in Islamabad does take notice of excesses by government functionaries — including those perpetrated by the police — but it has yet to come up with any short-term model let alone a proper system to question and curb the tendency of policemen to act as on-the-spot executioners.

In the absence of an authority empowered to deal with the menace many other Asif Sardars will find themselves at the mercy of the law enforcers.

Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2017