“With no city government, there is little hope for change” – Jamil Yusuf
In 1998, the CPLC had invited a delegation of experts from Colombia to study Karachi’s alarming law-and-order situation. Colombians were a good example because they had gone through great lengths to turn around their crime rate. Their situation was similar to ours with rampant killings, kidnappings, corruption and drug mafias. Some of their criminals had also positioned themselves in the mountain. After a series of in-depth meetings and conferences with stakeholders across the board – representatives from most of the political parties, businessmen, journalists, members of the law-enforcement agencies (LEAs), civil society and heads of institutions – the Colombian Mission issued a report on ‘Citizen’s Rights and Security’ in February 1999 for ‘Sustainable Peace in Karachi.’
The first thing the commission recommended was reforms for an independent metropolitan police force as a priority. This led to police reforms, public safety commissions, a police complaint authority etc and the Police Order of 2002, which was promulgated under Musharraf.
After doing a good job for the first three years, Musharraf the dictator decided he wanted to be a democrat – and took wrong advice from the Chaudhry brothers. That’s when the situation began to reverse with ongoing compromises and political give-and-take. A dictator doesn’t need to compromise because he doesn’t have a constituency to please. Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia were all ruled by dictators and those societies improved. If a dictator does a wonderful job, do you think the people will remove him?
It is not the system itself, but the misuse of it, that is to blame, whether it is a democracy or a dictatorship. The reversal through various amendments of the Police Order 2002 that was promulgated, was really unforgivable. What police order do we have now? Shockingly, there are different police orders for all four provinces without any linkage with the federal government. It is vital to have a working relationship with the central government because federal institutions work hand-in-hand with the provincial. Unfortunately we tend to become adversarial towards each other – that’s why the National Anti-Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) couldn’t work on the ground, because it needed provincial networks to work with, which are under the aegis of provincial governments. These interlinks are crucial for Pakistan to develop a good criminal justice system. In turn that would bring in investments on a massive scale as well as provide employment.
We only need to look at our birth rate, which is hitting the sky, and the employment rate, which is hitting the bottom. And the result is increasing street crime. Karachi is the country’s most populated city, but we have not had a population census in decades. How are you going to know how many policemen and police stations you need? What are the demographics? How are you going to govern or serve people? How many civic amenities should be provided? Without a census you have no parameters to find solutions to overwhelming problems.
The Colombian Report points out that one of the most essential means to control street crimes is the presence of a very good civic authority and institutions in place to deal with things like garbage collection, to keep areas clean – because these things have an impact on crime.
Our roads are a mess, garbage is not collected, the water is unhygienic, the drains are clogged with filth – so there is an environment of dirt and garbage, and that’s where crime prevails. That is exactly what the report says. And in Karachi, there seems little hope of change because the local city government has not been functioning for the last five-six years and it is not likely to do so anytime soon.
Do you think the police force is beyond repair or redemption?
The sections of the police we call notorious, come from the same force that make up the Motorways Police, which is considered a good force. Why is this so? Because of all the facilities, enhanced salaries, new uniforms, clean environment, holidays and good working hours they are provided, the Motorways Police are performing better. That should have been an eye-opener for us. Why can’t we do the same for our internal police? It should have been done a long time ago. Instead we fire-fight on a day-to-day basis. There is no planning, whether at the federal or provincial level with regard to police reforms, the improvement of police conditions, the detection of crime patterns, the induction of crime-fighting technology or specialised policing.
There was a time when the police had a very effective special branch called the intelligence branch which would assist the area police, the SHOs, DSP etc. They would link up with two or three police stations, provide intelligence reports and track down criminals because they knew which criminals were operating in the areas they would oversee. That system began to get eroded from 1995-1996 onwards. Now it is nonexistent.
When I was working with the FBI in Daniel Pearl’s murder case, I saw a police sketch artist draw a suspect’s sketch in 45 seconds just by the description given. That was clearly his area of expertise and he had been doing it for the last seven-eight years. Unfortunately in our police, the personnel keep getting transferred, changing jobs. One day they are in management, the next investigations, and there is no attention given to the provision of development skills, no enhanced training. Going to the National Institute of Public Administration (NIPA) for a few administrative courses does not constitute quality enhancement of the law-enforcing agencies. They need to be sent abroad for specialised training in bomb disposal, the study of blast sites and suicide bombers, etc. Thailand, Abu Dhabi, and others have experienced terrorism similar to ours and have institutions for training to combat terrorism. Sri Lanka suffered for 22 years so we can do a really good job learning from them. If sensible people are entrusted with the task of making the police independent and accountable, it can be done.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is making a new provincial police order on the lines of the Police Order of 2002 – I’ve given them a copy to study the concept. But the Punjab and Sindh Police Orders are different, and Balochistan has reverted completely to the old days of the levies. It took so many years, so much brain-storming and such a tremendous amount of money to bring Balochistan under unified police control, wresting the private militias out of the landlords’ control. But then, without seeking any professional opinion, without thinking twice, the Balochistan Assembly undid this because it suited everyone.
The police is the one department everybody wants to control. The day it is allowed to work independently and with transparency, it will really and effectively start impacting crime. The police department is also a very powerful institution, so accountability is a must with all the necessary checks and balances – it can’t be given unbridled power and independence.
Do you agree that the Rangers Operation has had a significant impact in bringing down major crimes like killing and kidnapping, but has not had much impact on street crimes in Karachi? Why do you think this is?
It was the major crimes that got people worried, like killings and kidnapping for ransom. Murders were taking place since 2010 and they kept increasing. This was happening during the coalition governments of the PPP, MQM and ANP. There was no opposition in the provincial government, so at that time governance should have been at its best. But one could see a pattern of mafia killings in certain areas like Lyari, Orangi, Baldia, Nazimabad, Katti Pahari, etc. It didn’t affect the rich and the influential then – so it wasn’t considered a serious problem. But when the kidnappings of businessmen and extortion started, and shopkeepers raised a hue and cry, it became a big issue and the Chamber of Commerce took cognisance. Now the incidence of kidnapping for ransom and killing has dropped by over 80 per cent.
This was not just because of the Rangers, but they have had the lead role. The Rangers are answerable to a different chain of command. They are not answerable to a political set-up so their discipline is exemplary. If they violate that discipline, there is stringent accountability, which is why the system works. Why can’t you replicate the same model for the police force?
While the Rangers have provided a good example of law-enforcement under independent control, to be fair I have to admit that the police, when working along with the Rangers, have also done a good job. They have supplemented each other. Some of the intelligence networking done by the police has been exceptional – that too without any facilities available to them. Karachi has, in fact, been very lucky. The police have busted many suicide bombers and Taliban leaders hideouts. Many police officers like Chaudhry Aslam have lost their lives to these anti-terror operations. SIU Farooq Awan survived an assassination attempt. Terrorists have tried their utmost to scare them, but our many brave police officers continue doing a wonderful job in trying to keep things under control.
But to really be effective, we need many more policemen. At the very least, the citizen-police ratio should be one policeman to 350 people. Currently it is over 800 people to one cop in Karachi. This is the country’s most affluent city and its highest tax-payer, but it faces the maximum deprivation. Rangers can’t take over day-to-day policing because they are a very small force, and why should they? Street crime should be dealt with at the police station level.
Why have petty thefts like motorcycle and mobile phone-snatching increased?
The theft of two-wheelers has always been high, but the rate at which it is multiplying is colossal. Over 10 years the number of motorbikes stolen has gone up by 30 to 40 times –public transport has gone to the dogs and the motorbike has become a must-have item. Hence, motorcycle theft. A destruction of institutions leads to such crime.
When did street crime really start escalating in Karachi?
Street crime started escalating 6-7 years ago for various reasons.
You won’t find much cell phone-snatching abroad because there the phones are issued by the mobile phone companies themselves for free. Nobody buys their phones in shops. A customer buys a connection and line rental package, which includes a cell phone for free or on instalments. The moment a cell is stolen, it is replaced and the SIM in that phone cannot be used or sold. Mobile companies own the cell phones in the US.
In 1996-97 while in CPLC, I had written to the PTA to keep a control on the SIMs being issued and emphasised that they should not be given over the counter. And when did this finally materialise? In 2015 – after 20 years. I had proposed that SIMs should be sent via courier to the house. It would have provided the applicants confirmed addresses. Sadly, despite all the meetings and measures, nothing happened.
There isn’t an overall solution for mobile phone-snatching because petty criminals are out there. A lot of Chinese phones have flooded the market with the same international mobile equipment identity numbers everywhere – the whole serial. There are many things that support criminals rather than deter them. But essentially everything is linked to a non-functional local government and unemployment.
How do you think the CPLC is performing these days?
I won’t comment too much on this because it would be like finger-pointing since I worked there for 16-17 years. I made it into an institution. But I left in 2003 and I will say this: it is not what I made it or what I envisaged. I started the data collection of all Central Jail prisoners. The CPLC now has a massive database on street crime. I introduced the latest crime analysis technology and developed systems in CPLC as early as 1998-1999.
I would give Benazir Bhutto credit for this because she entrusted me and my colleague, Nazim Hajji, with the collation of criminal data. That’s how we got the main IBM computer server. It is the most advanced data system in the province. But all the linkages are not in place.
By now there should have been linkages with all the five six prisons that we have; my vision was to have the data of every prisoner coming in and being released, with his latest photograph.
All the equipment and cameras that I had purchased for the prisons are still lying in the godown. That is the sad part – had I been there for another year, all the cameras would have been in place in the prisons for the linkages I had envisioned. A virtual private network was designed to link the jails with our master server. All the input data would have benefited the police.
Currently the CPLC is trying to link up the data with NADRA and once done, no one will be able to take cover under false IDs. That is being aggressively pursued and positive things are being developed, but the necessary support to jack up these efforts is not there.
Can anything change without judicial reforms? Criminals seem to be in and out of prison like people using revolving doors?
I have been saying this forever: we need a good criminal justice system and this includes a rehaul of prisons, the judicial connection, policing, everything. We are working with laws that are about a century old. We need to make them progressive and capable of dealing with all the ground realities. It’s not that the judiciary is not capable. But who proposes the changes in the law to make it effective? Politicians. And they should be sitting with the police to see what the drawbacks of the criminal justice system are. Why are acquittals taking place? Why is bail being so readily granted? Who is monitoring all of this?
I think political parties have done a bad job of not curtailing street crimes. They were elected into office in Sindh and had no opposition – they should have done a wonderful job. But as is evident, they did nothing. And not just the patronage of political parties – patronage of anybody with wealth and influence, does not improve the crime situation.
They are coming from everywhere. The prevailing gun-control policies are useless. The government made two or three attempts with very absurd Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) like the warranty declaration. Deweaponisation policies have not been implemented aggressively. Even a guy earning Rs. 2,000 has a gun license. Why should he get a license?
Hardly any of the licenses are computerised. Computerisation of the arms shops is necessary to know whom they are selling guns to, the number of bullets purchased, etc, because every bullet has a trade mark – ie ballistics. We need the technology that can link the weapons to the shops, and lead us to murders and murderers. Sadly, the two or three de-weaponisation attempts have been a joke. Advertisements costing 50 to 60 million rupees asking for voluntary deweaponisation were broadcast. The response: 20 weapons were submitted. Calculate the cost of getting just one weapon back.
A lot of people are involved in gun-running. It’s a big-time game everywhere.
Have you noticed a rise in mob justice and vigilante justice among the public?
Vigilantism and mob justice begin when there is frustration against the judiciary. People are fed up with criminals not being punished. They are out on bail and back on the streets, only to commit more crime and murder. The vigilantism is an indication of the failure of both, the law-enforcing agencies and the judiciary.
Do you think that Lyari has put its violence and turbulence behind it?
No, I don’t think so, because there has been no attempt for a betterment of life for Lyari’s inhabitants. It is one of our oldest abadis and those people are wonderful. There was a time that all the maids in our homes were Balochi women from Lyari who were like our second mothers. They exercised a lot of authority over us and we didn’t dare go wrong. That was the level of honesty and integrity that they had: people would hand their children to them to be looked after.
Years of neglect turned Lyari into a slum area. The tanneries were relocated to Korangi, leaving a mess behind. The godowns and very narrow lanes there are a perfect habitat for criminals. There are old single-storied houses on 10-15 feet lanes where cars can’t move and police personnel can’t enter. These old houses should be replaced with apartment blocks so that the roads can be widened up to 70 feet. The government should make a relocation scheme for whoever’s house is torn down. They should be provided an apartment on the property they resided in on soft terms and instalments.
With vertical housing you will be able to reduce congestion. It will provide space for more schools, dispensaries, maternity wards and other services. By widening the roads you will give them more scope for business, you will give them more gardens, parks – it will soften the people, change their thinking and change the dynamics. For places like Lyari and Baldia there should be special services to make the environment harmonious and as clean as possible.
Even in the bad high-crime years of 1990-95, Lyari was never a problem. It became a problem later. There was such deprivation that it led to drugs. The Irani Balochis used to smuggle goods from Iran. Now those goods are being imported and the prices have come down because they arrive in launches in larger quantities. So the goods peddlers have now shifted their trade to drugs and weapons. The margin in these is so high that they have become mafias.
What plans do you have in place for 2016 as President of IAMKARACHI for Karachiites to reclaim their spaces?
We have ongoing programmes. Our sports events are being implemented more aggressively around Karachi. We want to adopt a few stadiums on a permanent basis and hire some of the leading hockey players to coach children. For football we already have camps and tournaments for the children of Lyari; they are all so skilled in that sport. We need some boxing camps in those areas.
Lyari children have even excelled in essay and music contests. We are going to have music competitions and with the help of musicians we are going to train amateurs. We want them to perform in open-air theatres, give them the opportunities to develop and be hired in the music and entertainment industry. We have so much untapped talent.
Last year we had a wall-painting activity to counter hateful slogans. The sectarian and ethnic groups try to outdo each other with hateful wall chalking and the environment becomes dirty. Wall chalking is a crime but the local administration turns a blind eye. We decided to do something about it. It’s been 18 months since the wall-painting activity and not one wall has been spoilt. Now other people and cities are catching on. It’s a wonderful feeling. Unfortunately the branding of walls by business houses is the same as defacing them. Those doing this should be put behind bars.
We are also going to have an international film festival, most probably at the end of this year. Mazhar Zaidi, who’s heading the programme, is going to link up with students who are taking film-making courses and photography, and send them to the channels for internships. All these activities give hope. That is what we are trying to achieve.
We conduct dialogues in the universities and have found that students love the interaction. So we have sports, music, art and dialogues in place, which give them a sense of ownership. We need to have an IAMKARACHI centre of culture ourselves where children can register and exchange views. These are some of the plans we are working on while the other programmes are going on.
The writer is a documentary filmmaker and activist. She is working with the Newsline as editorial assistant.