LAHORE - It seems that there is no difference between the police and notorious gangsters when they carry out revenge attacks and cross all limits.

Last week, Sheikhupura police under the ‘supervision’ of encounter-specialist DIG Zulifqar Cheema staged a fake encounter near Khan-Kah-Dogran and killed two most-wanted gangsters namely Shehzad alias Shehzado and Kahif alias Kashi.

Rana Shehzad, proclaimed offender with head money of Rs5 million, reacted aggressively in September 2011 when Faisalabad police arrested and tortured his wife Naila. The police arrest the family members of the gangster in order to press the criminal to surrender before them. In retaliation, the gangster ‘raided’ the house of SHO Sattiana police station Rana Mazhar and kidnapped his wife Saima, two-year-old daughter Mehwish and brother Fazal from Ayub Colony.

After the police failed to nab the gangster or recover the abductees, the top officers sought help of the retired SP, notables of the area and even Shahzad’s father Khursheed in Kot Lakhpat Jail and asked him to convince him to release SHO’s family. Ultimately, the police brokered a deal with the gangster after a series of negotiations and managed to secure release of Inspector’s family after freeing the proclaimed offenders’ family members. A few weeks ago the police raided a hideout and arrested Shahzad. The police-criminal deal brought bad name to the police and, according to the insiders, embarrassed the Chief Minister.

The police sources revealed that Regional Police Officer (RPO) Sheikhupura Zulifqar Cheema ‘approved’ the killing of most wanted gangsters in an attempt to please Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif that the law enforcing agency was more powerful than the hardened criminals. The police headed by DPO Sheikhupura took Shahzad and another criminal Kashi to a site after Monday midnight and pumped several bullets into their bodies to take revenge.

According to the police, Rana Shahzad’s gang had been operating in Gujranwala, Sheikhpura, Nankana, Hafizabad and Faisalabad district. The gang was involved in a number of murders, robberies and abduction for ransom. Even if the gangsters were hardened criminals, a senior lawyer argued, encouraging fake encounters is not the answer to the problem.

A police officer, when contacted, said that the policemen stage fake encounters in order to avoid lengthy court proceedings to get the criminals punished. Some police officers encourage fake encounters just to remain in the good book of the top provincial hierarchy. However, according to a government officer close to CM Shahbaz Sharif, he never encouraged encounters. Zulfiqar Cheema, character known in the police department as the champion of fake police encounters, had been removed from the slot of RPO Gujranwala in the backdrop of the murders of two teenaged brothers in Sialkot.

Zulfiqar Cheema, brother of Justice (r) Iftikhar Cheema who is an MNA of PML-N, is considered an influential officer due to his strong political connections. He was appointed the RPO following PML-N’s formation of government in the Punjab. During his tenure a number of fake police encounters occurred and several criminals like Nanhu Guraya, Asim Wado, Ahmedi Nat, Kala Gujar and Ishaque Kana were killed. The bodies of some of the criminals were paraded on streets and reportedly rose petals were showered on the police vehicles for doing the ‘great job’.

Last year, Lahore High Court Chief Justice Ijaz Ahmad Chaudhry took suo motu notice on the killing of a 22-year-old youth in a fake police encounter in Nishtar Colony on June 11. PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif condemned the fake encounter while the then IGP, Chief Secretary and Home Secretary faced wrath of the court. Justice Ijaz observed that incidents like Kharotabad and Karachi would not be allowed in Punjab. The chief justice said that the police could not be allowed to carry out extra judicial killings. Despite strict court warning to the police, fake encounters are still practiced in Lahore, Sheikhupura and some other parts of Punjab.

Have fake encounters failed to impress the CM or he still encourages this type of police action in presence of the independent judiciary is a million dollar question.