De-Weaponizing Pakistan’s Most Violent City

Posted on 09/19/13
By Ikram Sehgal | ViewsWeek
According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a total of 1,726 people were killed in the first six months of 2013. (ViewsWeek photo)
According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a total of 1,726 people were killed in the first six months of 2013. (ViewsWeek photo)

The paramilitary Rangers “targeted operation” to restore peace to Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi under the direction of the provincial Sindh government commenced on a low-key basis, a number of ‘suspects’ taken into custody and some arms and ammunition seized. It remains to be seen whether putting the operation into high gear will make an improvement, the lawlessness continues as before in public perception. One may also expect an adverse media reaction to be instigated.

The Rangers have only a limited, determined and surgical role, tasking them alone for the long run could be fraught with risk.  Under no conditions should the Army get embroiled in Karachi under Article 245 (of Pakistan’s Constitution), it is an invitation to disaster. While the Rangers have the wherewithal for urban area operations and the determination to do so, the ultimate responsibility for law and order in the city must rest with the Sindh Police, they must not be sidelined. Theirs is the constitutional responsibility to exercise the law enforcement infrastructure of the city.

A very fine police officer, Additional Inspector General Shahid Hayat has taken over as Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Karachi. While he has set about making changes, he has his work cut out for him. His immediate challenge is to restore the morale of the rank and file. While the politicization of the police force over the last two decades has been horrendous, far more dangerous their different political bosses encouraged “criminalization” across the board.  Shahid Hayat’s team cannot accomplish miracles, however given a clear mandate to implement the rule of law and without interference from their political and bureaucratic bosses they can certainly come good.  The federal government must review the credentials of all Sindh Police officers who were reverted back to their parent departments by the Supreme Court (SC) because of irregularities committed by various political governments.  Their experience can be invaluable in the ongoing process.

For the moment Ch Nisar Ali Khan, the Federal Interior Minister seems to be coping. A level-headed person Ch Nisar is engaged in initiating reforms in law enforcement entities being reformed and/or creating new ones, the selection being on merit, and in an organized manner. He is a sea-change from the joker who was his predecessor. Rahman Malik (the former interior minister) more than anyone else created havoc with the peace of the city with his “voodoo” brand of politics, reducing this once bustling metropolis into a virtual state of anarchy.

The big challenge is that Muttihda Qaumi Movement contests the transparency of the ongoing process, further complicated by those inimical to Pakistan taking good advantage, hell-bent on sabotaging the present enforcement exercise. The key to success is the perception of even-handedness must be firmly established in the minds of the people.  To protect against excesses the government is creating a “Public Safety Commission” (PSC) for oversight over the operations.  Armed with powers of an Ombudsman duly mandated by law, the PSC should be empowered to take all actions necessary to stop infringement on the fundamental rights of the common citizen. PML(N)’s Zahid Hamid, assisted by some legal eagles with Karachi experience, is putting the final touch to laws amending Article 245 of the Constitution for a specified period to empower civil armed forces and give them the same legal cover as for the Army, the amendment renewable if required.

Karachi’s de-weaponization will not only halt the lawlessness but the proliferating terrorism hurting Karachi economically, socially and culturally, and above all psychologically. In which other city in the world do citizens run around freely toting weapons? Dozens of such trumpeted operations will not rid us of the menace of criminality and terrorism without de-weaponization. Armed guards without uniforms are a common sight, openly brandishing weapons on the streets. Hundreds are seen at functions outside hotels, wedding halls, etc. The number of weapons in Karachi, legal and illegal, must run into the millions. How does one differentiate whether a man carrying a gun is a law enforcer or a criminal? There have to be very drastic orders for this, the same as for looters.

Collateral damage is to be expected, it must be accepted. More than 1700 people have been killed by “target killing” in the first six months of 2013 alone. Effective laws must empower the Police and Rangers to not only arrest those found in possession of illegal weapons but to be able to punish them on the spot. De-weaponization must not become controversial, this could happen if politicized by vested interest.

De-weaponization is only one of the logical answers to Karachi’s many ills, Local Bodies (LBs) elections must be held for a workable and democratic local self-government system. Grave apprehension arose in the ruling Muslim League (in West Pakistan) dominated by landlords when the East Bengal Assembly in 1951 voted to end feudalism by abolishing Permanent Settlement and absentee landlordism, imposing ceilings on land-holdings and thus making sure that no new feudal landholding was able to crop up.  Not surprisingly feudalism has never allowed meaningful land reform in Pakistan. Without grassroots participation a defaced version of democracy creates a vacuum ripe for exploitation by both criminals and terrorists. There must be a genuine exercise of executive authority instead of paying mere lip-service to local self-governance.

Given all the different versions of local self government being bandied about, the Supreme Court (SC) must step in to mandate a self-government law to be common all over Pakistan, with only minor adjustments peculiar to each Province. The danger of having widely different systems is that it will encourage separatism as the constituent units of the Federation become distant to each other.  With meaningful participation of the citizens of the community strangers are quickly identified, helping to unearth ‘terrorist safe houses’. The community will ensure that their constituents do not take part or are involved in any criminal or terrorist activity.

Our media enjoys more freedom than ever before in what it reports and prints.  A motivated section of the media is running riot, the print and electronic media must conduct a self-critical review of their own performance in the national interest, remaining non-partisan, keeping their objectivity and ethics thereof intact. Being carried away by the polarized political environment only reflects an inherently weak professional capacity, and for those who are paid to “create” news or disfigure it, their penchant for greed.  Freedom cannot be taken as a license to do anything, can we allow the integrity of the State and its citizens to be subject to motivated logic based on little information and/or misleading ones?  The media has been magnificent in instilling awareness in the people but it cannot keep on functioning in a ‘free for all’ manner.  It can only overcome its internal shortcomings through self-examination and self-regulation and not become subject to “guidance” from outside.  All the more necessary in third world countries like Pakistan where the norms and institutions of democracy are not well-established.

Peace can only come to this city if the LEAs perform to their capacity.  Despite the handicaps imposed upon them, the Rangers and Police have still kept Karachi from descending into anarchy. There are no easy solutions to the problems confronting Karachi today, certainly not if the proposed solution becomes a bigger problem.

The writer is a Pakistan-based defense analyst.

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