Ride-hailing drivers apprehensive about their safety after two murders

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ISLAMABAD: After two murders in as many months, drivers of ride-hailing services in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi are concerned over what they say have been ‘targeted killing’ of their colleagues.

The dismissal of this notion by the Islamabad Police and prompt arrest of the main suspect in one of the murders, however, has failed to instil a notion of confidence and security amongst the drivers.

On February 22, 26-year-old Junaid Mustafa, who drove with the ride-hailing service Careem, was killed shortly after dropping off a passenger in a remote area of the capital in the early hours of the morning.

Then, just weeks later on the evening of March 12, another Careem driver— 22-year-old Sajawal Ameer — was gunned down in Rawalpindi. In both instances, the bodies of the victims were dumped on the roads as the assailants tried to make off with their vehicles and other valuables. Given the proximity of time and location of the two incidents, it had rattled ‘captains’ — the term accorded by Careem to their drivers — who demanded greater security and held a demonstration outside the National Press Club.

Talking to APP, Islamabad Superintendent of Police (SP) Investigation Zubair Sheikh said that they were investigating the incidents from all angles but have yet to not find any clues which would substantiate the claim that the two attacks were targeted.

“It appeared to be a vehicle snatching incident,” SP Sheikh said.

Asked about measures taken to protect the lives of drivers, he said that last month, they had given a lecture on safety to drivers of Careem’s rival ride-hailing company, Uber. A meeting was also held with Careem’s drivers about security issues and safety measures.

Sheikh said that they had advised drivers not to pick or drop passengers to far-flung areas, especially late at night. Moreover, he said that they had urged captains to promptly inform the police if they noticed any suspicious activity while driving around the city.

“Our department is working closely with ride-hailing services to avoid any troubles in the future,” the SP added.

Meanwhile, Careem’s Chief Executive Mudassar Sheikh, while expressing sorrow over the captains’ murder, said that they had laid to rest two of their brothers over the past 20 days. “A sense of insecurity prevails among our staff,” he conceded.

“We just want protection to earn a livelihood for our families in a secure and peaceful environment,” he said.

Shaukat Ahmed, who drives for one of the companies, noted that they had provided unemployed people with a platform to earn a respectable living. However, these criminal acts had caused fear to spread amongst their families and they were being advised to quit the jobs.

Ehsaan, another captain, said that despite the killings, they were determined to work but hoped that there would be a better and more secure working environment in the future. Meanwhile, Careem Public Relations Officer Sibtain Naqvi maintained that his company was in “close contact with law enforcement agencies and other relevant authorities to ensure that their captains were provided with complete protection.”

He added during the recent confab with their captains, some of the demands had been accepted while others were under consideration.

However, he urged the government to install more closed-circuit television cameras and lights on the roads to ensure secure mobility of their drivers at night.

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