LAHORE - Punjab breaks all previous records in staged encounters this year as more than 430 suspects have so far been killed in police shootings, The Nation has learned.

Fake police encounters are not a new phenomenon in this crime-prone province where the powerful police every year execute a large number of criminals extra-judicially. But the pace and style of executions reflects that the law-enforcement agency has been doing such actions with the full backing of the political leadership.

A senior police officer described 2015 as the year of fake police encounters in the history of the most populated province.

He said that campaign of police encounters was intensified as part of the National Action Plan to purge the society from hardened criminals and hardcore militants.

According to the police record, at least 392 suspects were shot and killed in more than 330 armed encounters which took in different parts of the province from January to October 2015.

During the same period last year, the police had killed at least 235 suspects in more than 245 operations. Another 40 suspects have so far been killed in the province since October.

Though the cops ‘encountered’ more criminals this year as compared to 2014, the death of policemen in armed encounters dropped drastically. Last year, at least 25 policemen had been killed 248 in encounters while fighting criminals but this year only eight cops are declared as martyred in the official record with 332 reported encounters.

Most of those killed in ‘shootouts’ with the police were named as crime suspects. Dozens of militant commanders were also executed in police ‘actions’ across the province.

Insiders state that the militants are handed over to the law-enforcement agency for ‘necessary action’ after being investigated thoroughly by intelligence operatives.

The police have been killing suspected militants ruthlessly in staged encounters since January when the Federal government had introduced the National Action Plan to quell militancy and extremism.

According to the data collected from various sources including police record and media reports, at least 252 police encounters took place across Punjab in 2010 which left 186 criminals dead.

In 2009, the police staged 285 encounters and gunned down 236 alleged criminals. The policemen had shot and killed 259 criminals in 299 encounters in 2008. Similarly, at least 247 criminals were killed in 209 encounters in the province in 2007.

According to the undeclared police criteria for encounters, those gangsters found involved in robbery-cum-rape incidents and those who kill the victim even after accepting ransom, are aggressively eliminated.

Similarly, the criminals who kill a police or security officer during a genuine encounter or the criminal who murders the victim on offering resistance during a robbery attempt also fall in the same category in the police book and deserve to be eliminated in a fake encounter. The cops are also ‘empowered’ to decide the fate of the extortionists at their own, according to insiders.

Several police officers who are serving on key posts favour fake encounters and argue that it is the best way to bring culprits to justice.

According to them, the desperate criminals must be executed because they often got acquitted from the courts due to legal complications.

However, another police officer argued that “fake encounters” in fact trigger lawlessness.

Citing crime figures as evidence, he said that the formula of extra-judicial killings badly failed to improve the sense of security among the public.

The Opposition party – Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf – last month issued a fact-sheet on Punjab government’s “failed performance on law and order”.

PTI leader Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar said that the Punjab province had become a safe haven for criminals since the law and order situation was worsening with every passing day. He said that more than 299,000 crime cases were reported in the province of Punjab which “has become a police State”.

Sarwar said that the ruling PML-N always raised slogans of changing the “Thana Culture” but often victims have to face police brutalities when they approached cops station to file complaints.

The police are busy in dealing with “fake” encounters where real crimes are being overlooked and even the rape victims are committing suicides after being denied justice, he said.