August Issue 2011
Deweaponise and Depoliticise: Fixing the Cycle of Violence in Karachi
From hand grenades to Kalashinkovs to Uzis to rocket launchers — you name it and this city stocks it. From political party workers and their affiliates to mafias and petty thieves to ordinary citizens — everybody is in possession of weapons and most do not hesitate to use them. The proliferation of weapons has taken violence to another level in Karachi.
In a poll run by Newsline on its website asking citizens to share their views on how to put an end to Karachi’s violence and bloodshed, this is what one commentator felt needed to be done: “The ‘capacity’ of criminal elements in Karachi to wreak havoc, kill innocent people and hold a city of 20 million people hostage must be diminished. Militant/armed wings in political parties need to be disbanded, and there is only one way that can happen: the ‘willingness’ of the State to protect its citizens.” Fahad continues: “If the government knows there are people in this city who can kill innocent people and destroy property at a moment’s notice, they have an obligation to dismantle such groups. The problem is that the government has a vested interest — medium and long-term political gains — in not completely restoring durable peace in Karachi. At the end of the day, it’s a question of willingness and not ability, to protect innocent citizens.”
Says another commentator, Abu Awama, “I think that the best way to avoid violence in a city as volatile as Karachi is to deweaponise it. The easiest way to deweaponise Karachi is to establish search pickets along the main roads. Anyone carrying a gun should be punished summarily, and the firearm should be confiscated. It is not essential that the sentences should be long because it’s the certainty of punishment which is a bigger deterrent compared to the severity of punishment.”
While some believe that deweaponising Karachi may be the need of the hour, they are not optimistic about the government tackling this problem effectively as they see a clear lack of will on its part. Some also view the government as being partisan and incapable of conducting an across-the-board clampdown; it’ll ensure that its own party and affiliates are exempt from the exercise. Government aside, citizens do not have any faith that political parties will take the lead either by putting their own house in order first. The consensus is that all parties need to be “made to do it,” forcibly. Despite all the flak the khakis have received of late, “call in the army” for a crackdown against criminals, to deweaponise the city and to restore peace is still a common refrain heard in Karachi whenever the law-and-order situation deteriorates. Essentially, the army is viewed as a neutral force. However, history is a testament to the fact that even the army has supported and given precedence to one political group over another.
But while some believe getting rid of guns altogether is the way forward to resolving Karachi’s law-and-order problem, there are those who think otherwise; in fact, one respondent feels getting rid of guns would be “the stupidest thing to do.” Ali elaborates: “Getting rid of guns will not do jack to disarm the PPP, ANP and MQM’s thugs. All it’ll do is make good people sitting ducks. Allowing citizens to conceal and carry weapons is far more effective at lowering violent crimes like assault, rape and murder and possibly property crimes such as burglary and larceny than arresting more criminals, prolonging jail sentences and hiring additional cops (many cops are criminals anyway). Karachi’s women and elderly would benefit the most if more and more people in Karachi started arming themselves.”
Many neighbourhoods are accustomed to the sound of aerial firing. When it is not criminal elements, it is local residents who resort to firing to fob off criminals that may be lurking nearby and to let them know they are not the only ones with weapons: there will be resistance if they attempt something.
In recent years, street crime has risen to alarming levels in Karachi. It is a case of perpetually looking over one’s shoulder when out on the streets — not that one’s home is any safer, for break-ins by armed men are often reported. But gone are the days when ADT or security guards were the only viable solution. There is a growing trend among citizens to apply for licensed arms and keep it on their person or in their homes to protect themselves. It appears, for once, Rehman Malik has been taken seriously, and his entreaties to citizens to protect themselves (as the state cannot) have been followed to the letter.
Whenever Karachi’s law-and-order situation comes up for discussion, there is another recurring theme, apart from deweaponisation: the depoliticisation of the police. Said Jameel Yusuf, former chief CPLC (Citizens-Police Liasion Committee), in an interview with Newsline late last year, “Every ruler in this country has tried to use the police force as his band of personal servants.” Now that the commissionerate system has been reintroduced, Yusuf says, “we have gone back 25 years,” and control of the force is even more centralised. According to him, the Police Order 2002 — which was previously in place — if implemented properly, could have served to depoliticise the police. He points to one of the clauses in the Order, which speaks of the police answering to a public safety commission — as opposed to the chief minister who belongs to the ruling party. The public safety commission comprises elected members of civil society, and the ruling and opposition parties, and it is to the commission that the police is accountable. Further, the commission should, in turn, be complemented by a police complaint authority, maintains Yusuf. Japan has this model of policing in place and their conviction rate is 98%.
Shahid Shah, another respondent to the Newsline poll, proposes two solutions, a long-term and a short term one. Says Shah: “In the short term, you should isolate the troubled areas of Karachi. Call in the police from the Punjab, who are better than the Sindh police — the Sindh police are the most corrupt and they are also scared to take action especially since all police officers who took part in the operation during the ’90s were bumped off, one by one.” Shah adds, “In the long-term, invest in police; get the better people trained professionally. A modern system of policing should be in place.”
Ali Wazir, who also shared his suggestions regarding policing with Newsline, had this to say: “Unify the police under a single non-political leadership structure. Give the police its due authority, even emergency powers for a period of six months. Make a strong internal affairs section. Unify the various civilian intelligence outfits under one command. Train them in evidence-gathering and proper documentation so that the cases don’t collapse in courts. Provide protection to witnesses and give amnesties. Then pull out the Rangers and FC and send the police to the no-go areas and political enclaves.”
About the no-go areas, Yusuf says what is integral is to first make them accessible instead of stationing the police and Rangers there as show pieces. “Those areas have to be cleared by making proper roads, inlays, double roads,” he says. “They have to become accessible.” As for which places to raid and when, that information, says Yusuf, is available. A special crime analysis system was already in place when he left CLPC. The system maps trends: which area a particular type of crime is rampant in, what are the times that crime is committed the most, etc. “The economic affairs division of Pakistan and the UNDP had provided support in giving us this system and they had called in foreign consultants. We had taken out patterns for areas, timings, arms, weapons and streets. Technology is so simple. You just need intelligence.” The system is in place. It is just waiting to be used.
What is not in place, however, is a computerised system to record the sale of arms and ammunition. “Every bullet leaves a mark, an ID, this is what forensics is all about,” says Yusuf. But thanks to nonexistent records, even if a person is murdered using a licensed firearm, there is no way of tracking down the culprit. An immediate solution? Put forensics in place.
However, at the end of the day, the government will have to show zero tolerance towards violence anywhere in the city. And, more importantly, says Yusuf, “We need to take ownership of the country, not just ourselves. If that happens, we can find solutions overnight.”
This article was originally published in the August 2011 issue of Newsline under the headline “Deweaponise and Depoliticise.”
Farieha Aziz is a Karachi-based journalist and teacher. She joined Newsline in 2007, rising to assistant editor. Farieha was awarded the APNS award for Best Investigative Report (Business/Economic) for the year 2007-2008. She is a co-founder and Director at Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum of Digital Rights.