KARACHI: The federal cabinet empowered Rangers on Wednesday to lead a targeted operation in the next "one to two days" with the support of police against criminals already identified by federal military and civilian agencies in hundreds of lists for their alleged involvement in targeted killings, kidnappings for ransom, extortion and terrorism in Karachi.
This is one of a few important decisions taken at a special session of the federal cabinet after extensive consultation for two days by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with all stakeholders, including Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad, Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, leaders of different political parties, representatives of business community and media persons at the Governor’s House.
After a briefing by directors general of ISI, IB, Rangers and IG Police to the prime minister on the law and order situation in Karachi, followed by the cabinet meeting, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali told newsmen that some of the cabinet decisions were not being made public because of their sensitivity, but they would be reflected through their implementation.
Explaining the decision to equip Rangers with the power of prosecution and investigation, the minister said Rangers had complained that people arrested for alleged involvement in crimes were freed after some time.
A committee led by the provincial chief minister would “manage, administer and control” the operation, he said, however he emphasised on calling it a targeted action or "exercise" rather than an operation.
Earlier during the cabinet session, the prime minister had also stressed on calling it a “concerted campaign” against lawlessness and terrorism in the city rather than an operation.
Sharif expressed concern at the deteriorating law and order situation, although he ruled out a possibility of deploying military troops in the metropolis.
The Sindh police came under intense criticism during the session for the ‘political recruitments’ in its ranks. The prime minister said that the common man had lost faith in the police force.
Announcing the details of the plan, Nisar told reporters that targeted action would be taken against criminals involved in the “four heinous crimes of target-killing, kidnapping, extortion and terrorism”. Rangers would lead the operation while police and the federal and provincial intelligence agencies would support them, he said.
He said the prime minister had held detailed meetings with top government officials and heads of law enforcement authorities, and it was decided at the cabinet meeting that the Rangers force would be given special prosecution powers to aid them in acting against miscreants.
A second committee would be formed comprising federal minister Zahid Hamid, Farogh Naseem of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, and the prosecutor general to look at the legal aspect. Nisar said the committee would propose legal recommendations for the law of evidence and other provisions to give grant investigation and prosecution powers to the paramilitary force in Karachi. “We have spoken to Rangers officials and have been informed of deficiencies in the system. Measures would soon be taken to fill these gaps,” he said.
Nisar said at least one police station in every district of the city would be assigned as a focal police station where Rangers would be made part of investigations into the ‘four heinous crimes.
A smaller operational committee, headed by DG Rangers Sindh Maj-Gen Rizwan Akhtar and comprising the Inspector General of Sindh Police and representatives of intelligence agencies, would meet almost daily to monitor the operational activities. The interior minister said the first meeting of the committee would be called as soon as he returns to Islamabad.
The interior minister said orders had been issued to revamp the provincial police force which has come under intense criticism for poor performance. “We have ordered and authorised the IGP to revamp the police… and not only identify weaknesses but also elements in its ranks which are in cahoots with terrorists and criminals. These individuals should not only be terminated from duty but also arrested,” he said.
An “outer monitoring committee” comprising of members of the civil society and the media will also be formed to monitor the overall operation. “Members of this committee will be honest members of the civil society and notable representatives of the media who will identify if any wrongful arrests are made,” said Nisar.
“We are going through a unique experience here by getting united despite having different political affiliations. We are proceeding with commonality of interest,” the interior minister said while referring to the consensus developed among all stakeholders.
He recalled that the prime minister had reiterated on Tuesday that “we are here only to find a way out of Karachi violence”.
“The prime minister has made it clear that politicising the Karachi issue is a sin to him.”
Chaudhry Nisar clarified that the centre had put the provincial government in the driver’s seat for improving law and order in Karachi because it had the mandate of people. “We respect the mandate of PPP, MQM and all other parties represented here.”
If any of the stakeholders in Sindh was sidelined, there would be political infighting which would ultimately distract the government from its path, he said.
He said most of the crimes were being committed because of unregistered Sims as cellular phone companies were not following the rules while selling them.
Chaudhry Nisar said the IGP would identify a police station under whose jurisdiction heinous crimes were being committed before launching the action by Rangers.
UNITED WE STAND: He said the action being initiated now would be a new experience because operations were launched in the past when one party ruled at the centre and another in the province. It would be a message that “we are united on national issues”.
In reply to a question, the minister said Rangers had been deployed in Sindh since 1996 on the request of the provincial government. Not only Rangers but other federal agencies also would be working under the command of the Sindh chief minister.
Answering another question, Chaudhry Nisar said the government wanted to evolve a system brick by brick instead of taking cosmetic measures to hoodwink the masses.
Karachi was not only the capital of Sindh but also the most important city of Pakistan and all decisions were taken by the cabinet in light of the decisions of the Supreme Court, he observed.
Chaudhry Nisar said the government might seek guidance from the apex court about cabinet decisions, including about militant wings of certain political parties, which were not being made public.
Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah thanked the prime minister and his cabinet for extending cooperation to the provincial government to improve the law and order situation in Karachi. The prime minister held meetings with different sections of people with the same spirit, he added.
He said all parties which met the premier had agreed that there was no need for the army’s deployment in the city. “All of us agreed that let Rangers and police work effectively and deliver,” he added.
Maintaining that the intervention by the federal government had not hurt provincial autonomy, the chief minister said all the measures decided by the federal cabinet were “result-oriented” and apolitical in nature. “All political parties, as well as the prime minister, have a one-point agenda – law and order.”
Governor Ishratul Ibad asked the media to help law enforcement agencies in restoring law and order in the city because all measures were being taken without political considerations.
He said the PPP, MQM, PML-N had their own priorities, but as far as Karachi was concerned all parties had a one-point agenda: restoration of peace and tranquility in the city and rest of the province.
—With reporting by Asif Mahmood