Thursday, August 11, 2011


"Critics don’t just point to shortcomings within Pakistan’s police force. On the rare occasions when evidence is collected, witnesses are corralled and a good case is established, there’s still no assurance of justice. Pakistan’s security situation is so bad that some prosecutors and judges are loath to handle prominent cases."



"LAHORE, PAKISTAN—One morning in the spring, a senior official with the Lahore police department issued a memo to the city’s 77 police stations about a new, state-of-the-art crime-fighting tool: spools of yellow police tape," the Toronto Star story by South Asia Bureau reporter Rick Westhead published on August 6, 2011 begins, under the heading, "Law & Order: Pakistan".

"The excited officer explained to the city’s 900 investigators that the tape should be used to mark off crime scenes. Police, he wrote, should be careful not to destroy footprints, fingerprints and other evidence at the scene, and should not clean up,"
the story continues.

"“Most of our guys want to have crime scenes spic and span before senior officers get there,” says Sajjad Hassan Khan Manj, Lahore’s police senior superintendent.

Pakistan’s criminal justice system abounds with such stories.

When measuring Pakistan’s battle against extremism, foreign governments and analysts tend to scrutinize the army’s battle against militants in the Swat Valley and Waziristan, a lawless stretch of mountain ranges bordering Afghanistan. The army is a well-oiled fighting machine that consumes an estimated 60 per cent of Pakistan’s public spending and is considered one of the few well-run public institutions in the country.

Lost in the conversation is Pakistan’s beleaguered police force and archaic criminal prosecution system. They are daily on the frontline of the battle against one of the world’s fiercest insurgencies, a fight that has resulted in an estimated 9,620 civilian deaths since 2003.

Pakistan’s police force is understaffed and poorly trained, senior officers concede. Like most government departments here, it is rife with corruption. And the widespread — mostly correct — belief that criminals can get to anyone at any time means that most witnesses refuse to testify.

The numbers tell the story. An estimated 98 per cent of those accused of serious crimes in Pakistan are acquitted, according to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Most cases don’t even go to trial.

“It’s totally messed up,” says Ayesha Tammy Haq, a Karachi lawyer and media personality.

Khawaja Haris Ahmad, a former prosecutor and advocate general for the province of Punjab, despairs as he routinely sees police botching the collection of evidence and manipulating their daily logs.

On Jan. 3, three days after a U.S. spy named Raymond Davis was arrested for killing two Pakistani thieves trying to rob him in Lahore, Ahmad asked senior police officials for the case file.

“It was three days and even with a case like this they hadn’t written a word,” Ahmad says. “There was no report.”

A day later, Ahmad watched a newscast from the street where the shootings occurred. The ground was littered with bullet casings, and a journalist was interviewing an eyewitness who worked at a nearby hotel. The witness still hadn’t been contacted by detectives.

“Police . . . have no clue how to find blood, pieces of hair, cloth or weapons, without jeopardizing evidence,” Ahmad says.

While Davis admitted to shooting his assailants, he was subsequently released from custody and returned to the U.S.

In May, Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad, a critic of the military and intelligence services, was found murdered in his car.

Ahmad says police returned the car to Shahzad’s family without having searched for blood splatters or fingerprints.

“How does that happen?” he asks.

Critics don’t just point to shortcomings within Pakistan’s police force. On the rare occasions when evidence is collected, witnesses are corralled and a good case is established, there’s still no assurance of justice. Pakistan’s security situation is so bad that some prosecutors and judges are loath to handle prominent cases.

In January, Salman Taseer, the liberal governor of Punjab, was murdered by a police commando as he left an Islamabad restaurant.

Almost immediately after his funeral, Haq, the Karachi lawyer, and Taseer’s sister-in-law began working to bring Taseer’s killer to justice.

Haq first found a 75-year-old criminal lawyer who agreed to become special prosecutor.

“The day after he agreed, 400 people showed up at his home and told him, ‘Even though you are old, your grandchildren are not,’ ” Haq recalls.

The lawyer quit.

Even eyewitness testimony can be difficult to introduce at trial. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, founder of the militant extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, was accused in the terrorist siege on Mumbai in November 2008 but was recently released from custody.

Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving Pakistani terrorist who stormed Mumbai, testified at his trial that he met Saeed during his training. He also testified that Saeed’s instructions to the terrorists were not to be taken alive and to begin their attack at 7:30 p.m. to hit big crowds.

But because Kasab’s testimony was in an Indian court, it was inadmissible in Pakistan.

“They had nothing,” laughs A.K. Doggar, Saeed’s lawyer. “No voice tapes, nothing. There was no case.”

But Pakistan’s criminal justice problems can hardly be blamed entirely on prosecutors.

The country’s criminal code dates back to the British Raj, and even after Pakistan’s independence in 1947, there have been setbacks to the justice system.

In 1990, military dictator Zia ul-Haq introduced an Islamic provision called “blood money” that allowed criminals charged with murder to settle their cases with victims’ families, effectively bypassing the system — as was the case with the American Raymond Davis.

Frightened families, fearful for their safety and doubtful that they would get justice in any event, often take the money, allowing murderers to remain free.

Ul-Haq allowed the police free rein to adopt the law for other charges, says Asma Jahangir, chair of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association. “The wheels just fell off,” she says. “If a murder charge could be compromised, why couldn’t everything else?”

In 1996, Benazir Bhutto’s brother, the politician Murtaza Bhutto, was killed in an encounter with police. During an inquiry into his death, it was revealed cleaners in hospitals were routinely conducting post-mortem exams, Jahangir says.

“The doctors were Muslims and they said simply that they couldn’t touch dead bodies,” she says. “So they had the Christian cleaners do them. That’s been the state of our systems.”

In 2002, under another military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, the government introduced a series of reforms.

One ensured that senior police officers would remain in their positions for three years before a possible transfer — a move designed to stop politicians from meddling. Another called for the creation of a police complaint commission.

Nine years on, those reforms are long forgotten.

“They were good, but some of the reforms were killed by Musharraf and the rest were done for because the new government doesn’t want anything that came up under Musharraf,” says Shoaib Suddle, former director general of Pakistan’s National Police Bureau.

In 2003, Suddle created a national DNA databank with funding from the Asian Development Bank. Even with modern technology, police were nonplussed about the chance to clear cases, Suddle says.

“We would get maybe three or four samples sent in a month from various police forces,” he says. “Sadly, most police just didn’t care about whether they solved cases. They’re there to get promoted, and because promotions are based on cronyism and not merit, it doesn’t matter how they perform.”

Of course, in a country where debating conspiracies is an art form, there are many theories for why investigations are thwarted.

Aitzaz Ahsan, a Cambridge-educated lawyer and former minister for law and justice, recalls that on Dec. 25, 2003, then-president Musharraf was nearly killed in an attack by two suicide bombers. Police found a charred cellphone at the scene of the blast.

“The chances that the terrorist’s SIM was still functional seemed dim,” Musharraf wrote in his biography, In the Line of Fire, “but to our surprise, when we put it in another phone, it worked. Thus we not only obtained a lot of phone numbers from the SIM itself, but were able to get many more from the call record at the cellphone company.”

Yet years later, when Benazir Bhutto was twice attacked by bomb blasts, the second time fatally in 2007, police immediately washed down the crime scene with power hoses, effectively destroying any chance to recover evidence.

“Come on, when they want to, police know how to preserve a crime scene,” Ahsan says. “They have done it even in villages for 100 years, covering footprints with pots and pans until the police come.”

Still, there are reasons for optimism.

Lahore senior superintendent Manj sits in front of a new computer and explains that Lahore police are in the midst of rolling out a system that will link the city’s police stations, allowing the city’s 27,000 officers to use an intranet system to immediately access criminal records, trial dates, case notes and other information.

“We’re hoping soon to move on to biometrics,” Manj said. “As it is now, we have to check fingerprints against a physical ink card. It’s impossible.”

But this is still Pakistan, of course, so every morsel of good news seems to come with a cloud of uncertainty.

The police computer system in Lahore was set to roll out in 2005. But after spending more than $1 million, senior officials lost interest.

At least there are the spools of police tape.

Manj escorts several visitors outside to a red-and-blue police truck labelled “mobile forensics.”

“The tape’s in here,” Manj says.

But after a 10-minute search of the van, he comes up empty.

“Sorry,” Manj says with a sigh. “I guess the tape has gone somewhere else.”

Pakistan’s trial of the century drags on and on and on . . .

On Nov. 26, 2008, 10 terrorists stormed the beach of Mumbai and laid a three-day siege to the city that left more than 160 dead. Since then, the wheels of justice in Pakistan have turned slowly.

March 2009: The in-camera trial of seven alleged terrorists begins at a high-security jail in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

Oct. 21, 2009: After months of adjournments, the judge hearing the case, Baqir Ali Rana, says he had to quit the proceedings, citing “unavoidable reasons.”

Feb. 13, 2010: After the defendants argue that they should be freed because of delays and lack of evidence, the case is adjourned again. The judge says he is “busy.”

January to March 2011: There are seven more adjournments.

June 2011: There is another adjournment because the second judge has been transferred and no new judge has been found."

The story can be found at:

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at:

Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at:

Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog;;