Why Karachi police fails to convict its criminals

Published: June 1, 2013
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80 per cent of 60 senior Karachi police investigators when surveyed said that witnesses fear reprisals from militant organisations or want to avoid being drawn into a difficult trial. PHOTO: REUTERS

Karachi is at siege by an array of criminals such as the Taliban and from splinter groups with political support. Over 2,200 people were victims of homicide in the city last year – the highest number in nearly two decades.

Yet relatively only a few of those killings were successfully investigated and prosecuted. Ali Sher Jakhrani, a legal advisor to the police, says that over the last few years, about 23% of murder investigations led to a conviction.  A 2011 report by Pakistan’s Human Right Commission put the number as low as 10%.

The upsurge of violence in the city has led the Karachi branch of Pakistan’s Supreme Court to scrutinise the city’s police.

Chaudry Aslam, who heads the anti-extremism unit of Karachi’s criminal investigation department, blames the low conviction rate on the judiciary’s unwillingness to accept testimony by police officials.

Pakistani law does not place any restrictions on police testimony as evidence.  In the 2009 case of Barkat Ali, Justice Arshad Khan of the Sindh High Court ruled that evidence offered by police “may be treated as good as evidence of any other independent witness.”

But experts say that judges often disregard police testimony because of the reputation of Karachi’s police force for corruption and subservience to political powers. In 2010, Transparency International ranked Pakistan’s police as the most corrupt institution in the country.

“In Britain, the courts rely on police testimonies because they know the police must have completed the due investigation, but in Pakistan, the reputation of the police makes the judges wary of their word,” says Advocate Atif Rasool, an expert on Pakistani criminal law.

Another reason for the low conviction rate is the unavailability of witnesses.

“Section 103 of Code of Criminal Procedure directs us to produce witnesses if a crime is committed in a densely populated area,” says Aslam.

“When we fail, we are asked by the courts to prosecute the witnesses for not cooperating with the police.”

However experts say that many witnesses in criminal cases in Pakistan often refuse to cooperate – because of well-founded fears of reprisals, or concerns at a lengthy court proceeding. 80 per cent of 60 senior Karachi police investigators surveyed by  The Express Tribune said that witnesses fear reprisals from militant organisations or want to avoid being drawn into a difficult trial.

Shahadat Awan is the lead prosecutor in the province of Sindh, of which Karachi is the capital city. He contends that a witness protection program is urgently needed, but says that witnesses’ reluctance to testify is only one of the reasons for the poor conviction rate.

Others, he says, are education and training.

“Most of our officers are barely educated in law but are up against seasoned barristers. How can they ever investigate and prepare a case that would stand ground against experienced lawyers?” he asks.

Only three of 60 senior officers surveyed by the The Express Tribune had graduate degrees in law.  More than one-third, 21, had only a high school certificate at most.

One of the senior investigative officers noted that the 14 month training for junior level investigative officers focuses more on physical exercises than laws and investigative procedures.

He further adds that in his 23 years of service, most of the officers had little understanding of what they were doing.

“Like when we classify cases [in cold files] which can’t be resolved due to a lack of evidence, we do it by a now defunct law,” said the officer, who like other officers interviewed, requested not to be named.

Farooq Awan is a lead officer based in Karachi’s busy Saddar neighbourhood. He suggests that lifting the requirement to produce witnesses could help increase the conviction rate.

“Unlike in drug arrests where courts do accept the testimonies of Anti-Narcotics forces as sole evidence, the police in Karachi don’t enjoy any such credence and so these criminals are released on bail, sometimes in 24 hours.”

Awan says that almost100-150 weapons are seized daily in Karachi, yet most of those arrested are released due to the stringent evidence rules.

Karachi’s former police chief, Fayyaz Ahmed Laghari, told the high court in February that his department has only 250 investigation officers in a city of 17 million people.

According to reports by groups including the Asia Society and Human Rights Watch of Pakistan, the government has failed to carry out reforms and has instead used the police to victimise opponents or avenge personal vendettas.

Police insiders say that many officers are conscientious and honest, but are overwhelmed by difficult conditions. Most work 12 hours a day, six days a week, for pay of less wages that barely cover food and housing.

Yet, history reveals that Pakistan’s government is capable of reform. The country’s Motorway Police is well equipped and widely known for its integrity and professionalism. It was ranked among the 13 most corruption-free governmental organisation of the world by Transparency International in 2011.

Observers see some kind of progress.

A recent court order to allow police officials directly approach cellular companies for telephone records, which was previously done via intelligence agencies and took months, was appreciated by many.

According to 43 of the 60 officers interviewed by The Express Tribune, another step in the right direction would be to increase the time period to submit investigation report to the courts to one month. It is currently set at 17 days.

They say, at any given time, officers are investigating as many as five cases simultaneously, and so they argue that in major cases like homicides and bombings, the window should be extended.

Read more by Azhar here or follow him on Twitter @Ali_AzharFateh

Azhar Fateh

Azhar Fateh

An intern at NBC News, and Voice of America Network TV in New York. He tweets @Ali_AzharFateh

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Maher

    Why Karachi police fails to convict its criminals …

    DO YOU THINK ONE WOULD CONVICT ITS OWN GANG MEMBERS ??? Recommend

  • Suwaid Ahmed Khan

    People in Karachi afraid of the Taliban? I don’t think so. People are more afraid of MQM, and to a lesser degree, ANP and PPPRecommend

  • Ali S

    Maybe because policemen don’t want to have holes drilled into their bodies and dumped in gunny bags (this was back in the 90s, I know, but the same party still controls most of Karachi). I know that Karachi’s police are incompetent and corrupt by all means, but there’s 33,000 of them – underfunded and under-equipped – to control a population of nearly 20 million, including crooks and lowlifes from every part of Pakistan who feel that they’re entitled to their share of the cake when it comes to Karachi.

    Aside from Lyari (which is more of an excuse to get more funds than an actual cleansing of the area), the ‘police force’ essentially only exists on paper in Karachi. The only real solution to law and order in Karachi is long-term Army presence and limiting uncontrolled, undocumented migration.Recommend

  • Saaz

    because they are criminals themselves !Recommend

  • Amna

    Karachi has had target killing for decades…even before the Taliban. We should be more concerned about MQM and not the Taliban.Recommend

  • Baffled

    Visit any day any Karachi police station .80% of the police are non local brought in from Interior Sindh.they are in Karachi just for one reason .Yes guessed right .
    The rest 15% are from Punjab .Same geos for the prosecutors and IOs .Here is the proof

    From above report :

    Ali Sher Jakhrani, a legal advisor
    Chaudry Aslam, who heads the anti-extremism unit of Karachi’s
    Barkat Ali, Justice Arshad Khan of the Sindh High Court
    Shahadat Awan is the lead prosecutor
    Farooq Awan is a lead officer based
    Karachi’s former police chief, Fayyaz Ahmed LaghariRecommend

  • Danyal

    let’s not forget that many police from Karachi are from interior Sindh – recruited on the quota system. They fail to understand the local nuances of Karachi, so how can you expect them to keep proper law and order. The system is fundamentally misaligned to local policing for KarachiRecommend

  • Maliha

    what a comprehensive report with a lot of facts and research, awesome i must say!Recommend

  • http://www.hassanali.com Hassan Ali

    The solution lies in empowering the police to take action against criminals, but so far this has proved elusive. It is no secret that criminal elements enjoy political patronage in the city. In fact whenever operations are launched or suspected killers, affiliated with certain parties, rounded up it is not unusual to find the police confronted with political pressure to back off. The police are indeed corrupt and inefficient. But can they realistically be expected to deliver when their initiatives are thwarted by political elements?

    How this is to be achieved is a much trickier question.Recommend

  • Effendi

    Mustafa Kamal laid the foundation of a Community Police in Karachi in his era as mayor. Unfortunately, the PPP did not like the idea and it was scrapped.

    What Karachi needs is a police force chosen and trained from their own areas. Until that day, nothing will change.Recommend

  • http://muhibullah.wordpress.com/ Muhibullah

    The term ‘militant organizations’ as used in the photo caption is misleading. Most of the killing that has plagued Karachi in recent year has been at the hands of the MQM, the ANP and the PPP (Aman Committee). These organizations are so dreaded that journalists fear to even name them and blame the actions on ‘na maloom afrad’ (unknown people). These organizations are the West’s favored groups for ruling Pakistan that’s why reports on Karachi keep mentioning Taliban, al-Qaida and various other entities largely irrelevant to the Karachi situation but will not mention the core issue i.e. infighting among these three corrupt, murderous, race baiting, self declared liberal, west aligned political mafiasRecommend

  • Genius

    O’ People organise yourself and see the result. Do not believe it then read the following as to how people organised to fight crime and criminals. Either you do organise or you die.
    Here it is, read it and then organise as they did: : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2300381/Vigilantes-seize-town-MexicoRecommend

  • Raja Islam

    @Danyal:
    Not necessarily true. But for the sake of argument let us assume that it is true. Don’t forget that Karachi is the capital of Sindh, therefore by default the majority of the staff of the police force should be Sindhi. In reality it is not true. The majority are Mohajir and Punjabi. What you are alluding to is that if 100% of Karachi’s force were Mohajir then crime would be controlled. Given the fact that Karachi’s ruling party is behind most of the crime that is committed, on the contrary it would be easier to control crime in Karachi if none of the police were Mohajir (I am differentiating between local and Mohajir here).Recommend

  • Sane

    Less POLICE, MQM, PPP, ANP….90% peace shall be achieved.Recommend