CSI: Pakistan

CSI: Pakistan


Members of an investigation unit collect evidence from a possible arson attack at a shoe factory that burned down in Lahore.

Crime scene forensics is a new concept for many involved in law enforcement in Pakistan, a poor nation of 180 million people beset by crime and militancy.

Cases that are brought to court often rely on witnesses who are easily bribed or intimidated. Terrorism and murder suspects often walk free.

. LAHORE, Pakistan. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

As one of America's top forensic scientists, Mohammad Tahir, pictured above, uncovered evidence that helped jail boxer Mike Tyson for rape and convict serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

Then Tahir took on his toughest assignment yet - applying his skills in Pakistan. But catching criminals is not Tahir's biggest problem. Rather, it's working with the country's antiquated criminal justice system.

So Tahir, a softly spoken man whose passions are reading and gardening, set out on a quest: to promote forensic science.

"Physical evidence does not lie, it does not perjure itself as humans do," said the dapper 65-year-old. "It is a silent witness ... We make it speak in a court of law."

. LAHORE, Pakistan. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
A scientist analyses samples in the narcotics department.

Tahir, a dual Pakistani and U.S. citizen, has his own forensics lab in the United States. He spent 36 years working with U.S. police and helped write the FBI handbook on forensics.

In 2008, with militant attacks rising in Pakistan, Punjab's chief minister called Tahir and asked for help: to design a new $31 million forensics lab in the city of Lahore, handpick its scientists and try to enforce new standards of crime solving.

. LAHORE, Pakistan. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

The lab was finished in 2012 and at first, business was slow. But now the lab, which is funded by Punjab state, takes around 600 cases a day, Tahir said. It could easily handle twice that if more police start sending in evidence.

"The police are not educated, they don't know our capabilities. We have to teach them," he said.

. LAHORE, Pakistan. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
A forensic scientist prepares to analyze hair recovered from a woman's body.

The gleaming new lab quickly discovered only a tiny fraction of police knew how to secure crime scenes and collect evidence. DNA samples were mouldy. Guns arrived for analysis, smeared with officers' fingerprints.

"If garbage comes in, garbage goes out," explained one scientist at the lab.

. LAHORE, Pakistan. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
A police officer holds up bottles of suspected homemade alcohol.

To change that, Tahir set up localised crime scene investigation units and began training police. Now the DNA department says around half the samples they receive are packaged correctly.

"They are getting better," Tahir said. So far 3,100 police out of a force of 185,000 have been trained.

But progress is slow. Punjab Police Inspector General Mushtaq Sukhera said police still secure "very few" crime scenes.

. LAHORE, Pakistan. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Once the lab makes a report, it goes to the prosecutor. But judges, lawyers and witnesses are often threatened or killed. Courts have a backlog of more than a million cases.

As a result, conviction rates are low. Anti-terrorism courts convict around a third of cases — about half of those are overturned on appeal. Fewer than a quarter of murder suspects are convicted.

. LAHORE, Pakistan. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra