Hyderabad’s former police chief Munir Ahmed Sheikh has been appointed the new additional inspector general (AIG) of the Sindh Police’s forensics department, replacing Sharjeel Karim Kharal, who left on Friday for ‘two-year long leave’. Interestingly, both officers are Chevening scholars but Sheikh has the additional feather in his cap of being a recipient of the American Humphrey fellowship programme.
Although this is Sheikh’s first time heading a forensics unit, he says that over the decades of working cases he has come to the firm conclusion and belief that policing in Pakistan cannot improve until proper attention and investment is made in this area.
One of his biggest challenges is staff training. “I just got a briefing in which I was told that our examiners in the unit were last trained in the 1990s,” he said, adding that since that decade the entire nature and concept of forensics has changed.
Take for example DNA testing, which has become bare minimum aid for detectives across the world. Sheikh knows that this has to be his first priority. At the moment, Karachi’s law enforcers have to send their crime scene samples to laboratories in Lahore and Islamabad for testing. The laboratories at the University of Karachi used to do it, but experts there stopped helping the police as they didn’t want to get tied up with going to court and undergo the hassle of testifying for the state.
But if Sheikh sticks to his guns and follows through, he could do the women of Sindh a culture-changing favour by introducing DNA testing for rape cases. This “irrefutable evidence”, as he puts it, is so far missing from these cases. Instead, the cases are argued on the basis of testimonies and reports, which can be bought and bartered. A DNA testing unit could put an end to all that.
Sheikh knows this and he’s identified one of the problems; it is a bureaucratic one. International donors approach units such as the forensics department with offers of furniture and new ACs. “But what we need is the latest equipment and a DNA laboratory,” says Sheikh.
Happily, though, thanks to the outgoing chief’s elbow grease, two new forensics units were set up in Hyderabad and Larkana. Sheikh will pick up where Kharal left off and says he wants to expand the programme to Sukkur and Mirpurkhas as well.
Sheikh will have to battle, as did Kharal, ignorance within the department as to how much forensics can actually help with solving cases. For example, Kharal fought long and hard but unsuccessfully to get access to NADRA databases for basic fingerprint matching on suspects. His department developed its own database and the Pakistan Automated Fingerprint Identification System (PAFIS) that matches the record of a suspect against criminal records. It has been using it for three years and has 200,000 suspects but it needs to be combined with countrywide data.
Sheikh will also have to strengthen and build on the work the unit can do with its comparison macroscope. This equipment is used to examine and identify firearms and empty cartridges from crime scenes. Police sources say that recently three notorious target killers were caught because of the ballistics work the department did. For anyone who knows Karachi, this machine could put a lot of people behind bars.
design: samad siddiqui
Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2011.