• Lahore police chief’s gaffe adds fuel to fire
• PM’s aide admits ‘administrative failure’
LAHORE: The country seethed with anger on Thursday as details emerged of gang-rape of a woman on the outskirts of Lahore a day earlier, with indifferent and unhelpful remarks by the city’s police chief adding fuel to the fire.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, who sent his special assistant Shahzad Akbar to the Punjab capital to oversee investigations into the case, directed that strict action be taken not just against the criminals involved in the Lahore motorway incident but also those behind a minor girl’s rape in Karachi, saying such incidents were a blot on the society’s image.
Little headway was made towards arresting any suspect in the incident that took place in the early hours of Wednesday in which a woman was waylaid and gang-raped in front of her children. The family was on way from Lahore to Gujranwala via M-11, which, according to recent news reports, is unsafe for travelling, with no police patrolling, no service area, no petrol pump and no speed limit as drivers are free to drive as fast as they can.
According to the details available so far, the woman in early 30s, a resident of Lahore’s Defence Housing Society, was stuck on the motorway with her two children at around 1am after her car ran out of petrol. As she tried to arrange for help, two men approached her and took her and her children (below eight) into the nearby fields at gunpoint.
The pictures of the vehicle the family was travelling in bore signs of resistance — such as a broken window glass.
Once in the field, the attackers raped the woman in front of her children. By the time a police party and a relative the woman had called reached the scene, the attackers, said to be in their 30s, had fled, taking with them the cash and valuables the victim was carrying with her.
As the news of the atrocity spread, there was an outpouring of support for the victims — the woman who was violated and the children who were made to watch the entire episode.
The public condemnation for a lack of security on the motorway was massive. However, matters grew worse when the already-controversial Capital City Police Officer (CCPO), Umar Sheikh, came up with remarks about the incident that were termed not just inappropriate but also heartless.
CCPO Sheikh invited criticism when he pontificated that the victim had failed to take due precautions before setting off for her journey that ended in a nightmare.
According to the Lahore police chief’s logic, the lady in question could have avoided being at the wrong place at the wrong time. He said she should have taken the more populated GT Road to Gujranwala instead of going via motorway; and she ought to have checked how much fuel her car had before setting off.
“The police officer who has been tasked to probe the rape of a woman on the motorway, has started his investigation by questioning the choices of the rape survivor, saying the woman should have taken a different route — a less deserted one — and checked her petrol tank before embarking on her journey,” commented a senior citizen on social media.
There were also reports that the victim had called on the helpline of Motorway Police, but she was denied assistance because the area in question was not covered by the Pakistan National Highway and Motorway Police.
A spokesperson for the PNH&MP confirmed this while talking to Dawn. He said the 90-kilometre-long Lahore-Sialkot Motorway had yet to be handed over to them officially.
He said the motorway, built and operated by the FWO, was inaugurated some six months back.
In the first progress report submitted by the Lahore police to Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, it was claimed that some 15 suspects were taken into custody during a search operation launched in the vicinities of the crime site.
Inspector General of Police for Punjab Inam Ghani told Dawn a lot of work was being done on the brutal rape case. “Our 20 teams are working on this case. Lahore DIG (Investigations) Shahzada Sultan is leading one of them. A crime investigation agency is separately working. Another one is being led by divisional SP,” he said.
He said the data from geo-fencing at three points, including where the car stopped, where the woman was raped, and the area pointed out by a local tracker hired by police to trace the footprints of the culprits, had been recorded.
“We have also obtained data of men of between 25 and 35 years living in the nearby villages from Nadra besides conducting profiling of 70 young suspects,” Mr Ghani said.
The police had also confirmed on the basis of medical reports that the victim was raped by more than one man. He also hinted that police had managed to get some clues from the crime scene that could lead them to the culprits.
In response to a question, the IGP said that people had a right to choose any route they wanted to.
“I have asked the regional police officer for Gujranwala to reach the residence of the victim lady to update her about the work the police have done so far,” Mr Ghani said.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar admitted the government’s ‘administrative failure’ in the rape case, reported Geo News. He also said the culprits would be apprehended at all costs.
“There is some administrative failure [in the case] that we must admit since it took place on the link road that connects two motorways,” he told a joint news conference with CCPO Lahore.
Mr Akbar defended Mr Sheikh’s statement that attracted public criticism, and said: “A needless controversy has been created out of the CCPO’s statement. I have spoken to him about it; he will tell you himself what he meant by it.”
The prime minister’s aide said that it was the government’s responsibility to ensure that roads, motorways, streets and highways were safe for men and women for travelling. “If a case such as this takes place, it is also the government’s job to arrest the culprits and make them an example,” he said.
CCPO Sheikh said expert trackers had been brought in to help with the investigations. He said that the culprits had bled when they broke the car’s window. The police had collected the blood samples and sent them to the laboratory for tests.
Responding to the criticism of his statement, Mr Sheikh said since he was deeply saddened over the incident he wished that precautions were taken. But he added: “This is our responsibility and we will solve the case.”
In a late-night development, the Punjab government directed the additional chief secretary to hold an inquiry against CCPO Sheikh for his controversial remarks.
Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2020