On Thursday, the first deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) laboratory in Sindh is scheduled to be inaugurated by Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah. The lab, which will provide forensic, toxicology and molecular biological reports to the government through DNA tests – has been set up in the Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences (LUMHS) Jamshoro, where both the public and the law enforcement agencies can freely access it. This is a welcome step which goes a long way in modernizing law enforcement that has been long overdue. The government must continue such reform; to upgrade and update our law enforcement capacity.

It is astonishing that in a country which is beset by militancy and organized crime, law enforcement relies on ancient methods to resolve cases. DNA testing has become the bedrock of criminal investigation worldwide, since it provides irrefutable and foolproof evidence; helping the police force in identification in cases of unidentified bodies, sexual assault convicts, paternity disputes and missing persons. So far Pakistan has relied on a single DNA lab operating in Islamabad, which received samples from all other provinces and took months to send back the results. The limited capacity and the time lapse forced law enforcement agencies to only consult the DNA lab in the most severe cases; relying solely on colonial era, tried and tested methods of evidence collection for the rest – gathering witnesses and beating out confessions. The new lab must be used effectively by the Sindh government, especially to seek convictions of the host of organized criminals and militants embedded in Karachi.

However, the other provinces still rely on Islamabad for forensic DNA analysis. It is unclear whether this lapse is through plain oversight, lack of funds, or due to the regressive pronouncements of the Council of Islamic Ideology’s Chairman, Maulana Sherani. The respective provincial need of DNA labs of their own will minimise response time and allow for a greater number of cases to be resolved through DNA testing. The modernization trend must not stop at DNA; the state must institute specialised ballistic labs, increase CCTV monitoring and train investigators to retrieve and analyse telecommunication records. At the end of the day these will still be provisional steps, Pakistan’s police still functions on the colonial structure; using filing cabinets, written records and rudimentary technology. Eventually the state has to computerise land record and complaint registration if it hopes to effectively control crime. Yet, this first step must be welcomed and indeed, applauded.