Karachi’s apolitical police force
The decision to renew special policing powers given to Rangers is a step in the wrong direction. These powers should only be granted for short periods to aid civil power, when required, rather than for long stretches.
Two weeks ago, after 100 people were killed in a period of five days, law enforcement agencies “marched into” the troubled areas of Karachi and miraculously faced “no resistance” – all guns went silent, according to news reports, that was the end the operation.
One does wonder though: how many lives could have been saved had our protectors stepped up when the violence first erupted?
How many billions – lost for each day businesses were shut down in Karachi – could have been saved had our government and political parties condemned the violence and allowed the police a free hand to deal with criminals, irrespective of their political affiliations?
There lies the crux of our problem.
Politicians and bureaucrats alike have made the police force into a joke.
The police can’t do anything against gun-totting “activists,” mafia, encroachers or even common criminals. A few examples of such meddling include the 1,453 reported political appointments in the Sindh Police this January, and then more recently the 90 in the FIA. Equally worrying are the numerous releases of suspects under political pressure, such as that of a slain journalist recently. Perhaps you also noticed, while driving down Khayaban-e-Shaheen, how even while the last home minister of Sindh held no cabinet post after being removed, he still had over six police vehicles perpetually parked outside his house – cops that should be protecting the people who pay their salaries.
The cops meanwhile have embraced their role as glorified “chowkidars” and guards for hire, and institutionalised corruption has caused the collapse of what should have been a disciplined, capable force. Take for example how palms must be greased if one has to register even an entry in the thanna’s daily log (recent personal experience); or, how while buses, bikes and trucks are pulled over at random, often without obvious cause besides to extort money, large vehicles with illegal plates, tints and even armed guards, at a time when display of weapons is banned under Section 144, are ignored.
Perhaps the best way to sum up the dismal situation is in the words of ex-IGP Sindh, Afzal Shigri, who said:
“What can a police or Rangers official do if a suspected murderer has to be released due to political pressure?…LEAs cannot do anything if underworld groups are allowed to become more powerful than police and Rangers.”
The Rangers’ budget has been slashed after the recent park shooting, but we’re still paying Rs1 million per day for their presence in the city. Called in decades ago in aid of civil power, their stay has been extended each year, to the detriment of the police. Karachi is no safer and each successive government is to blame for the rot we find ourselves in, for having totally subjugated and ignored the needs of those charged with security. The retrogressive re-enactment of the Police Act of 1861 rather than amendments to the 2002 Order, putting the police back under the thumb of the district administration, is a giant leap in the wrong direction and demonstrates both, a lack of foresight and a blatant disregard for the greater interests of Sindh.
A policeman goes home into a community and that is a distinct advantage where law enforcement and intelligence is concerned. Much the same way, a local government does more for the common man than a top-heavy provincial one, but let’s leave that for another day. Troops pull shorter shifts and go back to their isolated barracks at the end of the day. Yet, a pinch of a perception problem and a pound of corruption have turned an honorable profession into dirt. Not only are most police quarters horrible, many of the weapons and vehicles they have are ancient and ineffective. They’re slaves to masters who play musical chairs and their pay is not at par with what is asked of them.
With this recipe for disillusionment and failure how can you expect them to be efficient and brave?
First invest the money we spend on the Rangers on the police and improve their standard of living.
Make them independent and only let senior officers determine transfers and postings, not politicians and government servants.
Recruit on merit alone, not political affiliations, and swell the ranks since the force is much too small for Karachi.
Equip them for the job you task them with and let them enforce the laws without fear or discrimination.
Hold them truly accountable if they falter, after you’ve given them the opportunity to actually do their jobs.
Were all this ever to happen, this could be an amazing place to live in, again.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.