The year 2017 comes to an end today, and if you look back you’ll finds that the law enforcing authorities have been fighting against criminals and terrorists throughout the year in their bid to keep the city safe. There were several occasions where they faltered, and the miscreants had a chance to strike and cause damage.
The police claim they succeeded in bringing down the incidences (of crime and terrorism) over the year but the popular perception is that it is only the ‘registered’ crime that shows the decrease. The unreported remains high. The people avoid going to police stations because of the intimidation they experience there; and if they dare to go, they find the staff not quite willing to register the crime.
Another major challenge for the police has been to manage protests by different groups such as clerics, low-scale government officers, paramedics, citizens up against suspension of water and power supplies etc., lawyers, and religious groups. Following the Model Town tragedy, the police have become extremely careful in using force against the protestors which actually makes their task (of controlling a mob) difficult at times.
On the other hand, the protestors feel ‘safe’ and are ready to turn violent because they know that the police will not respond without restraint anyway.
Towards the end of the year, the district administration was compelled to approach the provincial home department and request them to call Pakistan Rangers in the city to control the protestors, in the wake of a crackdown on the followers of Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah. The latter had staged sit-ins outside Data Darbar, on The Mall, and at several other points across the city, and even entered many stations of the Metro Bus which had led to the closure of the bus service, causing inconvenience to thousands of daily commuters.
If we go by the figures shared by the Lahore Police, there was a significant improvement in the overall law and order situation in the outgoing year, as compared to what it was in 2016. The total number of murders in ‘17 — from January 1 to December 17 — was 392; it was 419 in the previous year. Incidents of multiple murder were 12, against 2016’s 17; blind murders 39, against 56; kidnappings for ransom 6, against 5; cases of gang rape 27, against 51; dacoities 50, against 53 in ‘16; incidents of robbery 2663, against 3508; bank robbery/dacoity 0, against 1; robbery/dacoity involving murder 20, against 19; terrorist incidents 4, against 2; police encounters 21, against 25; death in police custody 1 (it was the same last year as well); escape from police custody 7, against 10; and cases of blasphemy and religious nature 22, against 17.
There was a rise in the number of cases of terrorism and robbery/dacoity involving murder, whereas in all other categories there was a drop.
Law and Order
Protest demonstrations and agitations as a means to get your demands registered and met have become quite common for different pressure groups, interest groups, and individuals. That is why, every other day, the city roads are blocked and busy thoroughfares obstructed by protestors resulting in traffic jams elsewhere also. In 2017, there were thousands of protests and agitations but as per the police hardly any of them got out of control.
Dr Haider Ashraf, DIG Operations, Lahore, recalls one difficult day when the police had to handle around 25 protests and agitations happening simultaneously at different points in the city. “The police played the role of the negotiator and also connected the protestors with concerned departments so that they would resolve the problem.”
He also gives credit to the specialised Anti Riot Police Unit (ARPU) raised in Lahore that handles protests and agitations only and has no other duty to perform. Equipped with the paraphernalia like water cannons, pepper spray, paintball markers etc., the unit can control violent mobs without hurting them. “It has worked as a deterrent and kept protestors under control,” he adds.
Terrorism and security
2017 saw four major terrorist incidents in Punjab, and all of them occurred in Lahore. These included the one at Chairing Cross, in February, during a protest by chemists, which killed two high-ranking police officers and 13 others; the Bedian Road attack on an army truck that resulted in seven casualties; a suicide attack targeting the ARPU staff near Arfa Karim Software Park, Ferozepur Road, that resulted in 27 deaths; and one on Bund Road, in August, in which the explosives in a parked truck blew up.
Police officials believe there was oversight in these cases, especially where the mysteriously parked truck was not inspected despite doubts raised by the locals about it. Similarly, the movement of the suicide bomber on Ferozepur Rd was tracked by cameras other than those installed under the Safe City Project which were not working at the time.
The DIG Operations Lahore claims that other than in the said incidents the law enforcing authorities acted timely and averted terrorist attacks with the help of the intelligence-based information they had received. “The Moharram processions and gatherings were under threat, activities related to Rabiul Awal were under threat, your churches, schools, political leadership, cantonments, intelligence agencies’ establishments etc were all under threat. Timely action saved them all,” he says.
The figures, released by the police, also reveal that there were 3,193-odd cases of heinous crime registered during the year 2017, as opposed to the previous year’s 4,091. Here, the point to note is that there’s no mention of crimes such as mobile snatching, purse snatching, scuffles etc which many believe are not taken into account.
Shahid Ghani, a lawyer who deals in criminal cases, says that even though there has been an improvement in the relation between the citizens and the police, people still find it difficult to get their cases registered at police stations. “Quite often, there are attempts to change the nature of the cases and also mention the amounts involved as less than the actual. It is very difficult to convince the officials at police stations that the said amount was stolen or snatched.”
The Lahore Police spokesperson contests this stance and says that many a system has been put in place to address this issue. “Advanced, IT-based solutions have been introduced to make the officials at thana level accountable to senior officials who can monitor records online and receive complaints directly,” he says.