Peshawar: Three years ago Umar Din moved from the troubled Kurram Agency in the tribal areas to Peshawar, the provincial capital. The move, he said, was meant to “to ensure better future for my children.”
Soon afterwards, on August 25, 2013, Din’s seven-year-old daughter Husna went missing while returning home from a mosque in the Ghareebabad neighborhood of Peshawar city. She had gone to the mosque to learn reading Quran.
When the girl did not return home long after sunset, Din alerted his relatives. Hours passed by, with no sign of Husna. The family searched the streets of Ghareebabad for the girl. The setting sun took away with it any hope of Husna’s return.
In the morning, neighbors found her body in an empty plot. They broke the bad news to Din, and he called the Paharipura police station in the neighbourhood.
The police shifted the body to hospital and after postmortem, registered case against unknown killers under charges of Kidnaping, rape and murder. Umar Din, father of three boys, says three years have passed and the police is still clueless about the killers.
“I am completely disappointed with (the) police investigation,” he told News Lens Pakistan.
With Peshawar witnessing a surge in sabotage activities, target killings, and terrorist acts in recent years, cases of untraced murders have piled up. According to statistics provided by police in the city, 188 cases of murders were reported in Peshawar in 2016. Of the 188 murders, including Husna’s, police has traced 75 murderers with the rest still untraced or under investigation.
The year before that, in 2015, 148 people were shot dead by unknown killers. According to official statistics of Peshawar Police Department, the police has been able to trace murderers in 43 cases, whereas 92 cases were still unsolved.
“I have spent thousands of rupees to buy a sniffer dog on the directives of police to trace the killer of my daughter but it hasn’t helped,” said Din. “In this age of advanced technology, it is hard to believe that a crime as violent as murder and rape of a minor girl should go unresolved.”
A year after her murder, Husna’s case was closed. The lead officer of the investigation has retired. “The investigators met us occasionally in 2013-14 but never told us anything about the investigation. They just tell us to have patience and faith in them.”
Husna’s murder is one of the hundreds of unresolved killings committed last year in Peshawar.
Police say they have closed the case because the killers are not traced.
“The police usually close the case when they fail to trace the perpetrators,” said Malik Maqsood Ali, Deputy Director at the Human Right Directorate in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and a former public prosecutor.
He said most police officers consider it a “punishment” to be assigned an investigation. “The police department need to create incentives for the investigation teams to improve their performance. In most cases, the investigation wing does not receive funds allocated to it, which hampers the investigation. The police need to recruit well educated and well trained detectives as most of the investigators are not.”
Maqsood said eye-witnesses may give wrong information but circumstantial evidence is closer to accuracy. “The police needs to sharpen their skills when it comes to collecting circumstantial evidence.”
Poor investigation skills are not the only factor undermining the ability of courts to proceed with murder trials. Maqsood said on some occasions, the family of a murder victim prefer to take ‘revenge’ from the accused themselves than having the police or the courts handle the prosecution.
At other times, investigating the accused can be dangerous and risky if the accused happens to be more powerful than the complainant. “People just don’t trust the police,” said Maqsood.
He said the police in Peshawar need to establish a forensic facility like the Punjab Forensic Laboratory in Lahore or send the investigators there for training.
Witnesses to killings, said Maqsood, say the police routinely arrive at the crime scene long after the assailants have escaped, even if the nearest police station is minutes away. “Police often fail to collect obvious evidence such as bullet casings, or question witnesses or suspects. Instead, the police pressure the families of victims to name a suspect while filing a case.”
A police officer said on the condition of anonymity that unregistered arms and bullets were available in the different parts of KP and the nearby tribal areas. “The government need to register them and keep a proper record of arm-dealers. This can help investigators trace the killers.”
Experts like Maqsood cite several reasons behind the police failure to arrest criminals involved in killings. These include corruption, lack of interest, and faulty investigations.
The large cases of crimes, killings and terrorism has also stretched the police capacity to focus on unresolved cases. “It has resulted in a dwindling number of investigators in the police department,” said Dr Masood Saleem, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Investigation, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
He said policemen in Peshawar did not prefer the investigation wing work in the operations.
“Homicides and the number of shootings have gone up and the number of detectives have gone down,” said a police investigator on condition of anonymity. “We’re not going in the right direction.”
He said policemen in the field have to bear expenses of raids in pursuit of the criminals. He blamed the senior officers for consuming all operational funding so that little reaches the police stations. This hampers all progress on cases, he said.