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No quick fixes: Mission Karachi

September 05, 2013

WITH the prime minister’s arrival in Karachi on Tuesday and the numerous meetings Nawaz Sharif attended during his time here, the broad contours of government action to restore order to the metropolis are emerging. We already knew the MQM’s demand for army action in the Sindh capital did not sit well with Mr Sharif or the PPP administration in the province. It now appears that the prime minister favours primarily tasking the Rangers with improving security in Karachi, while he was critical of the police’s performance in comments made on Wednesday. While the Rangers have been given similar tasks by previous administrations, the results have not been very encouraging. The fact remains that the police must be at the forefront of law-enforcement efforts in Karachi for long-lasting peace, which requires both capacity building as well as depoliticisation of the force.

Karachi’s problems, as Mr Sharif must have realised, are many and complex and there are no silver-bullet solutions. A range of violent crime takes place in the city, from armed muggings to extortion rackets and frequent targeted killings. In fact, the numbers speak for themselves: according to figures published in this paper, over 2,000 people were killed in the city last year. This year, nearly 1,900 have already died so far. So whatever law-enforcement mechanism is in place has certainly failed. Also, there are nebulous alliances among organised crime syndicates, religious and sectarian militants and armed wings of political parties. Hence, the state needs a holistic approach; all weak links in law enforcement — policing, intelligence, prosecution — need to be addressed.

We agree with the prime minister’s assertion that there must be no rush to conduct an operation. The city’s affairs are so complicated that only well-planned action — with the federal and Sindh governments as well as the law-enforcement bodies, intelligence agencies and political actors on board — can succeed. The police and politicians have a particular role to play: there must be no political meddling in police investigations and action, and if suspects with political links are arrested parties should not pull strings to get ‘their’ people released. It will be interesting to see whether Mr Sharif flies back to Islamabad with greater understanding of the Karachi puzzle, or if he returns even more confused. In any case, one thing is clear: the success of any strategy will be in its implementation and we will remain cautious until all this noble rhetoric from our politicians and others translates into tangible results and peace in Karachi becomes a reality.