The Punjab police chief on Friday ordered the deployment of highway patrol and special protection personnel on the Lahore-Sialkot Motorway, days after a woman was gang-raped on the unmanned road in a case that has caused countrywide outrage and exposed lack of security on the route.
The order for deployment came in a memo sent to the Additional IG of Punjab Highway Patrol (PHP) and DIG Special Protection Unit (SPU) by the AIG (operations) on behalf of newly appointed Punjab Inspector General of Police Inam Ghani.
The letter, seen by Dawn.com, noted that ever since its operationalisation, the newly constructed Lahore-Sialkot Motorway has "remained unmanned both in terms of security and traffic management" and the Motorway Police has not taken over it thus far.
It said the IGP has directed the PHP to deploy manpower on the 91-kilometre stretch of the motorway in order to ensure the security of commuters.
"The mandate of the force so deployed shall be restricted to security of commuters and road users only. However, the said deployment shall remain in place as a temporary arrangement till the deployment of National Highways and Motorway Police," the letter stated.
The memo said in order for the duties to be given effect as per the standard operating procedures, the PHP "shall be reinforced with SPU" personnel.
"The detailed modalities of [the] deployment of PHP and SPU must be conceived and operationalised with immediate effect," it said, directing the police officers to submit the detailed functional deployment plan by today.
According to the details available so far, a woman in her 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 (under eight) into the nearby fields at gunpoint.
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 had fled, taking with them the cash and valuables the victim was carrying with her.
As the investigation into the incident started, there were 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.
Investigation 'on good track': IGP
Separately, IGP Ghani told reporters that nearly 250 personnel of PHP and SPU will perform duties on the motorway in three shifts. "They will carry out patrols round the clock on motorcycles and cars," he said, adding that the police personnel will not only give protection to commuters but also help out those in distress.
He said a ticketing system will soon be set up on the motorway and its security will be completely handed over to the Motorway Police within "2-3 months".
IGP Ghani said they are "on a good track" in the investigation of the case but declined to provide specifics regarding the number of suspects arrested so far.
He said he would "not defend" Lahore Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Umer Sheikh's comments regarding the incident, saying a victim could not be blamed in any situation. "The watchman (chowkidar) of a house cannot ask the house owner to take care of their belongings themselves ... We have to provide security," the police chief added.
On Thursday, CCPO Sheikh had invited criticism when he pontificated that the victim had failed to take due precautions before setting off for her journey. He said she should have taken the more populated GT Road to Gujranwala instead of going via the motorway.
Earlier today, Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat told the media during a visit to the crime scene that 28 teams were working as part of the investigation into the case.
He said evidence collected from the site had been sent for forensic examination and medical exam of the victim had been conducted.
He said this was a "blind incident" in which there was "no clear evidence" and so the evidence will have to be developed through investigation and corroborated before reaching a conclusion.
"Our total emphasis is on the investigation," he said, terming the case a challenge for the Lahore police and the government.
The minister said the government would look to address any "lapse" found in the safety of women in the province and work to prevent such incidents in the future by considering how roads could be made safer. He said 500 additional vehicles were being purchased to improve police patrolling and functions.
The provincial government will also look into why the motorway remained unmanned since its inauguration, Basharat said in response to a question.
In the first progress report submitted by the Lahore police to Punjab 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.
Buzdar also constituted a five-member committee, with the provincial law minister as the convener, to investigate the case.
IGP Ghani earlier told Dawn that 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,” Ghani said.
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.