KARACHI, Sept 21: As the city descended into anarchy on Friday with police struggling to stop violent mobs from setting fire to public and private properties, Rangers were conspicuous by their absence while repeated appeals by the leadership of protesting political and religious groups failed to pacify charged activists.
The day that amply demonstrated the paralysis of the security administration, leadership of political and religious parties and the government ended with the loss of more than 15 lives and properties worth millions of rupees, attracting condemnation from the world and catapulting Pakistan into the headlines once again for all the wrong reasons.
When contacted, representatives of the three key segments defended their position and at times justified their ‘planned move’ that ‘helped stemming the violence’.
But Friday’s episode — which came as a grim reminder of the Dec 27, 2007 violence following the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto — is hardly being seen as a wake-up call for the security administration, political authorities and parties condemning the situation after the damage had already been done.
“We moved to the PIDC traffic intersection after the police called for help,” said a spokesman for the Rangers when asked about the response of the paramilitary force, which have been given police powers, to the daylong violence.
“It was only our presence that allowed fire tenders to access the affected areas, otherwise they were not even able to move to the fire site,” he added.
The officer insisted that the Rangers only moved in when asked by the police for assistance and that the system of the paramilitary force did not always automatically activate in the kind of extreme situation of violence that was witnessed on Friday.
“You see, we don’t have an elaborate system like the police have. So we helped them out whenever asked by the police or the authorities,” added the Rangers spokesman.
The performance of the law-enforcement agencies was also appreciated by Sharjeel Memon, the Sindh information minister and senior leader of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, saying that both police and Rangers followed a strategy. He lauded police performance while counting the casualties police suffered in their efforts to stem the violence, but he could not come up with a long list of sacrifices rendered by the Rangers.
While Mr Memon condemned the violence calling it a source of Pakistan’s humiliation across the world, he could not explain the political government’s strategy to counter the much-anticipated violence when the federal government itself declared Friday a national holiday, designating the day as Yaum-i-Ishq-i-Rasool, and urged President Asif Ali Zardari to raise the hate film issue in the UN general assembly during his visit next week.
“I contacted religious leaders and scholars, requesting them to keep their workers and followers calm and under control,” he claimed.
But the minister could not explain the absence of government leaders and lack of an organised move to observe Yaum-i-Ishq-i-Rasool, which could have deterred the violence in the first place.
“If we had organised any event or taken to the streets, the situation would have turned even worse. So we deliberately avoided such things and tried to keep in touch with the leaders of the protesting groups,” he added.
Sunni Tehrik, one of the leading groups protesting the hate film and also among the parties that gave a call for Friday strike before the government announced it a public holiday, claimed that the party had not planned any main protest rally or demonstration for the day.
In this situation, the presence of a large number of marchers holding green flags in the south district — the centre of daylong violence — remained a mystery as the leaders denied any such directives from them.
“We kept ourselves away from all the brutal incidents that happened on Friday,” said Shahid Ghori of the Sunni Tehrik.
“We staged a protest rally on Tuesday that concluded peacefully. The people you are talking about are those who deliberately infiltrated into a crowd that really wanted to lodge a protest against blasphemy. We want complete and transparent investigation into the entire episode so that those people can be identified.”
Mr Ghori agreed that the leadership of the parties should be more vigilant and play a proactive role.
“With today’s violence, we have in fact strengthened the argument of anti-Islam forces and it’s the government responsibility to hold an independent inquiry into the incidents so that the people who in an organised way did all that can be traced and identified,” he added.