In March 2013, law-enforcement personnel arrested a wanted terrorist suspected to be involved in American journalist Daniel Pearl abduction and murder, and several other attacks on Western targets. Qari Abdul Hai had been a leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and the government had announced a Rs 1 million bounty on his head.
The Rangers and the Sindh police both claimed to have arrested the suspect, and asked for the reward money, according to a summary document originating from Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah’s office.
The office of the director general of Rangers was the first to claim the reward, saying his men had arrested the wanted terrorist. The home department made the request, the chief minister approved it, and the finance department placed the sum on the disposal of the home house to give out to Rangers personnel.
But then there was a twist in the story. Sindh police claimed it were their men who had arrested the wanted man, and the bounty belongs to them. The then inspector general of Sindh police wrote to the home department and said Qari Abdul Hai had been captured by the CID police under the supervision of Chaudhry Muhammad Aslam, the then Senior Superintendent of Police of CID in Karachi who was later assassinated.
The case points to deeper problems in the rewards system.
On June 9 this year, the chief minister approved the disbursement of Rs 100 million in reward money to the police and intelligence agencies who helped capture wanted terrorists and criminals.
“The chief minister said that those who have done a wonderful job must be rewarded,” according to a statement from his office said.
Former home secretary Dr Niaz Ali Abbasi is skeptical about the entire exercise. “In some cases, it has been observed that criminals involved in ordinary cases are being shown as hardened criminals and a reward money in millions of rupees is proposed on their arrest and elimination,” he said in a document sent to the chief minister about two years ago. In other words, it is not just this double claim for the same reward that alarmed Dr Abbasi. He believes such bounty has the potential to become a means of corruption. “The reward money culture creeping in Sindh police has gravely eroded efficiency, moral and image of police officers,” he had told the chief minister.
“The greed for reward is leading to fake encounters, corrupting police officers and tarnishing their image besides declining their efficiency,” the document said, quoting a former finance secretary.
A notorious dacoit from Sindh was killed thrice
Asad Iqbal Butt, vice chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s Sindh chapter, shares Dr Abbasi’s concern. “The greed for reward money is one of the major causes of the hike in staged encounters,” he believes.
Sindh Police Chief Allah Dino Khawaja disagrees. He believes bounties or rewards are not a source of corruption. “Instead, they help a great deal in resolving blind cases,” he told me. “Reward money is usually given on the arrest and not the killing of the suspect, so the claim that it has increased fake encounters is baseless and unfounded.”
A senior official told me some wanted men do carry head money even for being captured dead or alive.
The police chief says many civilians don’t come forward to help the police until they are given financial incentives. “Reward money is not a new concept,” he said. “It is an international practice.”
Critics of the system say claims for bounty should be decided by an independent panel after being properly investigated, especially because it is the police that almost always benefits from such rewards.
“The police have never shared a balance sheet or any information on how this money is being given out,” says Riaz Sohail, a Karachi-based reporter associated with BBC Urdu. “In the absence of transparency, there will always be a question mark over such money. Who knows if the informer was paid? Who was the informer? If they compare it with such practices in developed countries, there is a proper mechanism of checks and balances.”
According to HRCP’s Asad Iqbal Butt, there have been several instances in which a dacoit with head money was killed and the reward disbursed, but it turned out that the victim was someone else, often a poor laborer. “We have even often seen a person with money on his head being killed several times,” he said, “But no one raises questions and there is no transparency.”
Paro Chandio, a notorious dacoit from Sindh, was reported killed thrice. The prime suspect of Abbas Town carnage, Aslam Mehsud, was killed twice. According to a report by Zia Ur Rehman – journalist and author of ‘Karachi in Turmoil’ – people from the Mehsud tribe say they were easy targets of such fake encounters in the city.
On July 12, 2006, police claimed they had killed the notorious gangster Mashooq Brohi in a shootout in the precinct of the Gadap police station. The man turned out to be a laborer Rasool Bux. According to the HRCP vice chairman, on April 3 this year, police killed four men in the Rerhi Goth locality on outskirts of Karachi for their alleged association with Baloch Liberation Army. They all turned out to be innocent locals.
“The police are paid essentially to curb crime, which includes capturing hardened criminals. Why should they be rewarded for something for which they are already being paid?” the former finance secretary had asked in Dr Niaz Abbasi’s communication with the chief minister.
“What should they be rewarded for?” Asad Butt questions. “Fighting crime is their duty. That is what they are supposed to do.” Instead of cash incentives paid for by taxpayer money, they should be punished if they fail to do their job.
The author is a Karachi based journalist