June Issue 2015

By | News & Politics | Published 4 years ago

Robin, a poor Christian man in his thirties, had long worked as a sweeper in a local hospital. But two years ago, he was hired at a city godown on daily wages to unload bags of rice and pulses that came there. Soon thereafter, the Rangers conducted a raid at the site and detained him.

Robin was shocked. He claims he only learnt after the raid that he was part of a criminal enterprise. The trucks he was unloading cargo from were being waylaid by criminals associated with the notorious Peoples Aman Committee (PAC) and they were unloading the hijacked goods in a godown at a slight distance from the marketplace.

Robin recounted, “After three days when they realised I had nothing to do with the criminals involved in this operation, the Rangers handed me over to the police, who then proceeded to implicate me in a case of having illegal weapons in my possession. My family managed to get me out of jail on bail, after taking a loan of 50,000 rupees, and that too with a heavy mark-up. For the last two years, I have had to visit the courts regularly, but the case is proceeding at a really slow pace, and neither my lawyer nor the judge or even the prosecution are showing any interest in it.”

Robin’s case is not an isolated one. There are numerous stories of innocent people being caught in the crossfire between law-enforcment agencies and criminal gangs. The police justify their actions, by maintaining they do the best they can under difficult circumstances. Says one senior official, “Some people held during our raids are released in a few hours when we know they are not involved in criminal activities, but when the Rangers hand over their detainees to us, we have to take some kind of action. They question us about them and even if we have released them after positively ascertaining that they had nothing to do with any particular crime, the Rangers are suspicious. They think we have let the people go after taking bribes from them. So, to avoid the Rangers’ suspicions, we implicate these people — many of whom are petty criminals  — in minor offenses instead of the ones they were detained for, thereby making it a little easier for them.”

But not everyone is convinced that the police are the ‘good’ guys, and agree with the Rangers’ suspicions about their performance vis a vis the low numbers of criminals produced by them in the courts despite the number of arrests made by the LEAs. This is why, when the latest Karachi operation was announced, the Rangers were given the authority to prosecute and investigate the people apprehended by them.

Since its inception in September 2013, the latest targeted operation in Karachi has undergone several shifts and readjustments. The first of these changes was made when Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched and the militants retaliated with an attack on Karachi Airport. The second time changes were made was after evaluating the progress made in the operation, based on the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP), formulated after the Peshawar APS attack.

During more than 20 months of the operation, law-enforcement agencies have, through targeted raids, made hundreds of arrests. As a result, the menace of extortion and kidnapping for ransom have seen a significant decline, assorted political parties’ demands to shut the city have died down, and sudden outbursts of violence, arson and the torching of vehicles are no longer commonplace. Targeted killings have not, however, been curtailed.

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Though a recent report claims that incidents of target killing have also been reduced by half, the reality on the ground tells a different story. Sectarian killings, targeted violence against law-enforcers, especially police officials, and against political and social activists, are on the rise.

“Various elements, from jihadi and sectarian outfits, to criminal gangs, are involved in the attacks on policemen in different parts of the city,” says Atiq Shaikh, a spokesman for the Karachi police.

“Most of the policemen who have been killed have been targeted because of their active role in the ongoing Karachi Operation against militants and criminal gangs. Some, however, have been gunned down for belonging to the ‘wrong’ sect,” he continues.

Certainly, the police are vulnerable. To meet with an officer at the Karachi Police Office, for example, all that is required is an identity card. No visitors cards are assigned, visitors’ bags are not checked and there are no scanners installed at the entrance.

The police force has been engaged in the operation against jihadi militants and hardcore criminals for the last two years, and there are ongoing threats of terror attacks against them. In fact, the department has lost some of its finest officers and cadres during these years. Yet, judging by the lack of security at police quarters, there seems to be a laissez-faire attitude in police ranks.

Says Shaikh, “Yes, it’s quite appalling — both the fact that our police are neither trained for fighting under the constant threat of terrorism, nor do they have the awareness or resources to protect themselves.” But, he adds, “we are going through a process of learning and will evolve with time.”

Meanwhile, the Mominabad Police Station, with the presence of jihadi militants in the area, who have made the neighbourhood a hotbed of sectarian violence, has been worst hit. During the last two years, it has lost a dozen policemen, including an ASI, at the hands of militants.

Some cases in point: in November 2014, ASI Ameer Khan was killed near his home in Quaid-e-Awam Colony, Orangi town, while he was on leave for his son’s marriage. In June 2014, six Mominabad police station officials, including a member of the Special branch and a head constable, were killed in one week. And in January this year, a constable, Tabassum Ali, was shot down while he was on security duty with a polio vaccination team.

images-1Pashtun policemen particularly, have been targeted in their localities due to the presence of elements linked to terrorist outfits. They are usually killed while they are off-duty, on their way back to their homes,” discloses a local ANP leader. “Two of our District West presidents, dozens of our active workers and many Pashtun policemen have been gunned down in Frontier Colony, Metroville and the Pathan Colony areas. In Baldia Town, the shop of Razzaq Buneri, our candidate from PS-91 for the general election, was attacked, and two policemen on security duty there were killed. Razzaq had also been shot earlier, but he survived the attack… We know no one comes from the outside to kill our people. The murderers are among us, they live with us, keep an eye on us and kill us whenever they want,” he laments.

The Preedy Police station locale is another area which has been badly hit by the violence aimed at police officials. In 2010, DSP Nawaz Ranjha of the Preedy police station was targeted and shot dead. In 2013 and 2014 two SHOs, Ghazanfar Kazmi and Agha Asad respectively, were killed. And on April 15 this year, SHO Aijaz Khwaja, in plainclothes,  was gunned down in his car in Akhtar Colony.

Some police officials contend there is a sectarian factor involved in the Aijaz Khwaja, Ghazanfar Kazmi and Agha Asad attacks. But Kazmi was also active in the operation in Karachi in the ’90s, and one journalist has suggested that there was a land dispute that could be linked to the victims as well. The Rangers’ statistics of the operation and their statements to the media give the impression that they are more active against political elements, while the police are dealing with militant outfits. In 2014, 60 per cent of the raids and arrests made by the Rangers were against elements linked to political parties and the criminal gangs of Lyari, while one fourth of these raids were made against militants and sectarian outfits.

The numbers speak for themselves. To date, most of the target killers linked to political parties and Lyari gangsters have been nabbed or killed by the Rangers, while the police have taken credit for most of the deaths of jihadi militants in ‘encounters.’ It is not surprising then that the militants accept responsibility for the deaths of policemen as revenge killings for the deaths of their criminal compatriots in what they contend are  “staged” police encounters.

Atiq Shaikh demurs, saying, “Most senior police officials do not support extra-judicial killing, and consider it a flawed strategy which cannot work.” He adds that more police than Rangers’ personnel are targeted because “Policemen are mostly local people living in residential localities and can easily be identified. The Rangers live in fortified barracks. They don’t have to take their kids to school or buy groceries like policemen. And they follow strict discipline while moving outside.”

This situation has inevitably negatively impacted morale in the police force. A former police official discusses the disillusionment and weariness among junior officers due to the constant threat from militants and the structural problems within the department.

“There are junior officers who have not been promoted for 10 and 12 years. The police is generally underpaid and unmotivated. If a policeman is injured or seriously ill, there are very few medical facilities available for him. Policemen have to rely on the already over-packed and usually substandard government hospitals or humanitarian organisations for help and medical assistance,” he says, adding, “the department waits for a cop’s death to provide financial assistance to his bereaved family. I ask, why not help him while he is alive so he can work with more passion and energy?”

Atiq Shaikh responds, “We know that we have to overcome such issues in the institution. It’s a tough fight and we are preparing ourselves for a long battle. But as COAS Raheel Sharif said of the law-enforcers, they cannot continue this fight alone. So people have to help restore confidence in the police. There are problems, but now the police is accessible on the phone. Even online FIRs can be registered. And we assure full confidentiality and security to the callers.”

Shaikh cites recent developments as signs of change for the better. “The arrests which have been made post the Safoora carnage; the revelations by the media; and the confessions by detained militants have revived hopes and boosted the morale of the police,” he says.

But to borrow from and distort an old cliche, ‘good policing doesn’t just have to be done, it has to be seen to be done.’

This article was originally published in Newsline’s June 2015 issue.

Ali Arqam main domain is Karachi: Its politics, security and law and order