Islamabad – Four months after Shahid Mehmood’s white Suzuki Mehran was stolen from outside the Nawaz Sharif Park in Rawalpindi, Mehmood gave up hope of ever recovering the car.
During those four months from September 2012 to January 2013, Mehmood, a resident of Satellite Town who runs a shop in the Commercial Market, said he did everything in his power to find the car.
The lack of cooperation from the New Town Police Station, where he had filed a complaint for the car theft, had not helped his efforts.
“The policemen told me to search around the park and visit different police stations to see if the car had turned up somewhere,” Mehmood told The Express Tribune. “Their theory was that car thieves usually abandon the car’s body after removing the CNG kit.”
Mehmood visited Pindi police stations, searched the area around the Park, he looked and looked, then gave up and bought a new car.
That was the end of it, he had thought without ever considering that he might have overlooked a fact: Islamabad and Rawalpindi are “twin cities” and thousands of people move between the cities every day.
Unknown to Mehmood, his car had in fact been recovered by the Sabzi Mandi Police Station in Islamabad, some five kilometers away from where the car had gone missing.
And on Saturday, 13 months after the car was reported as stolen, Mehmood got reunited with his Suzuki, now battered and rusted.
The recovery was made possible through Islamabad Police’s new mobile verification system — a computerized database with records of car registration that police officers can access on their cell phones to identify stolen cars and locate car owners.
The Islamabad Police returned 96 stolen vehicles to their rightful owners at a ceremony at the Islamabad Traffic Police Headquarters on Saturday. The cars that were returned, Inspector General of Police Sikandar Hayat, were not from the lot seized by police at check posts using the new technology since the verification system went online two months ago.
“These cars are from the 583 cars that were impounded or recovered by different police stations since as early as 2008,” Hayat said. “We ran the vehicles’ information through the system and found 96 that were stolen.”
The IGP said some of the cars were never returned to owners because the owners could not be located or because corrupt police officers kept them for their own use. He said those police officers who put the impounded cars for their personal use or did not try the vehicles to their rightful owners on time would be reprimanded.
Hayat also said police has identified 117 officers who have allegations of corruption or negligence of duties. He said the officers have been sidelined and they are being investigated by an accountability committee led by Zubair Ashraf Siddique, the Assistant Inspector General of Police (Establishment).
According to police, 22 of the 96 vehicles were stolen from Rawalpindi, 20 from Islamabad, 18 from Lahore, nine from Karachi, six from Faisalabad, five from Multan, two from Bahawalpur and Bahawalnagar, two from Gujrat, two from Kasur, two from Khanewal, two from Sheikhupura, two from Sialkot, two from Sahiwal, one from Abbottabad and one from Azad Jammu & Kashmir.
Responding to a question, the Senior Superintendent Police Operations Muhammad Rizwan said the verification system is being updated with Islamabad car registration data on a weekly basis.
Hayat dismissed allegations that police had caught some influential people, including the brother of a political personality and the son-in-law of a former Islamabad IGP, driving unregistered vehicles using the verification system but let them go under pressure from high-ups.
Car owners were appreciative of the Islamabad Police for getting them their lost vehicles. But their miseries did not end with the recovery.
“I would probably have to spend Rs100,000 on repairs to get the car in working condition,” Mehmood said. “If I had received the car immediately after it was found, at least some of the rust damage could have been avoided.”
The cars were parked in a tight lane inside the ITP headquarters with cars backing up front and behind, leaving no room for a car in the middle to leave without first removing the cars around it.
“Police have told us to take the cars home from here ourselves; they are not facilitating us in even backing the cars out of the compound,” said one car owner, who requested anonymity because he did not want to offend the police so much they might delay giving him the car’s possession. “Police have had their photo-op, so they are least bothered about what happens to us now.”
In the end, Mehmood and his sons, Umer Farooq, an O Levels Student, and fourth-grader Abu Bakar, too left without their car, holding on to just the comfort that their car had returned even if it was temporarily untransportable.