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Anything’s possible…even in Karachi

Updated Sep 08, 2013 01:48pm


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Last Saturday I stopped to get myself a pack of cigarettes from a tobacco vendor at a busy shopping area in Clifton. As I returned to my car, which was parked only a few metres away, I saw two young men ripping off the side view mirrors of a brand new vehicle parked right in front of me.

At least a dozen or so people must have watched the men as they broke off the mirrors, put them in a plastic bag and calmly walked away as if it was nobody’s business. And all of us there made sure that it wasn’t. At least, it certainly wasn’t our business.

It is believed that almost every second Karachiite (in the past decade or so) has been a victim of one kind of a crime or the other.

And funnily enough, those who correctly point this out also add that those Karachiites who have never been on the receiving end of crime are probably the ones committing the crimes.

Things in this respect have truly reached epidemic levels. Kidnappings, ‘target killings’, car snatchings, muggings, dacoities, bank heists, extortion, et al.

Karachi has become a big fertile field where anyone wanting to make a quick dirty buck seldom hesitates and most of the time gets away with it.

Much has already been written and talked about on the issue; about how major political parties in this city with militant wings have actually become hostages to the power of these wings — which have gradually mutated into becoming well-organised gangs of extortionists, kidnappers, dacoits and muggers.

Outside these militant wings of the large non-religious parties, are some other players who have entered the arena to make hay while the city’s benevolent sun shines.

Vicious sectarian and religious extremist outfits have also set up shop here.

And each one of them have begun to mirror the criminal activities of their non-religious counterparts — robbing banks, mugging pedestrians, kidnapping for ransom and knocking off competition with the help of hired assassins.

And that’s not all. To make matters worse (and even more complicated) is the recent exposition of the fact that certain security agencies too have been going around behaving exactly like the criminals they are supposed to apprehend. A lot has been said about how Karachi, Pakistan’s economic hub, and the country’s largest, multi-cultural and most accommodating city, can be saved from the clutches of this pandemic wave of crime.

Let’s not go into the details of the matter. That’s for the provincial and federal governments to do and for experts to contemplate. But let me assure you that ridding Karachi of this disease is very much possible.

All it requires is that the law be implemented without any hesitation or curbs. Let me explain this through a trivial example.

It is believed that a nation’s state of mind can be judged by the nature of traffic on its roads. And the traffic on Karachi’s roads is perhaps the craziest to be found in the country. There is scant respect for traffic laws as perfectly normal men and women continue to push the limits in their cars, motorbikes, buses, trucks and rickshaws as if they were in some kind of a dystopian death race.

Apart from those driving, men and women — sometimes accompanied with children — regularly skip overhead pedestrian bridges. It seems that they would much rather squeeze their bodies through fences and literally fall over on main roads than follow traffic rules. For some odd reason the motorists, after looking at these mad hapless chancers, step on the gas (speeding towards them) even more passionately.

The bikers are the worst. It is as if they go into some kind of a demonic trance the moment they get on their bikes. Forget about the young daredevils, one can also see men with wives and kids on the bike ride it like there was no tomorrow. And sometimes there isn’t.

They will continuously try to whiz past your car from the left, and one feels that, if it was possible, they would even attempt to slide underneath it and spring out from the front of the car.

Just like the criminal mafias, Karachi’s drivers and riders too are getting away with all kinds of madness. But now let me tell you how, at least one aspect of this kind of madness, was once actually brought under control.

In 1998 I was once pulled over at a traffic signal by a cop. I was surprised because I was completely stationary at the red light. When I asked him why he had pulled me over, he told me that my car had slightly crossed the white line behind which cars were supposed to come to a halt at the signal.

I found this absurd. A traffic cop in Karachi was fining me for such a petty traffic violation? I protested and even waved my mighty press card, but he refused to relent.

I later found out that Karachi’s traffic police had decided to exhibit zero tolerance for those who even slightly crossed that white line.

Then lo and behold! In a city where even those motorists and bikers who actually stopped at traffic signals would continue to remain in motion by continuously crossing the white line, stopped doing that.

The unrelenting bookings of the rich and the not so rich, the commoner and the influential, by the traffic cops had actually managed to instill respect for at least this one aspect of the traffic law.

And for years, even after the cops had stopped booking people for the white line offence, motorists and bikers would not dare cross that line.

Of course, today things have gone back to square one. But this little experiment by this chaotic city’s traffic police can teach a lot: i.e. the law, if implemented without hesitation and with the same zero tolerance attitude as exhibited by the traffic cops in 1998, can actually instil respect for it even across the most major dimensions of criminality in this city.


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Comments (38) Closed

MAK Sep 08, 2013 09:49am

another example is when interior ministry banned pillion riding during unrest or security threats. As soon as the ban was announced, you wouldn't see pillion riders at all.

Syed Zain Najam Sep 08, 2013 11:16am

As always a brilliant piece NFP! Traffic police is at its worst these days. They never dare to stop someone driving a Prado etc when they violate a rule. But, the Motorway police in my view is still a great example as I have experienced their tough measures myself at the Lyari Expressway. They stop ANYONE who doesn't have a seat belt on. It is a role model for all law enforcement institutions in the city.

Capt C M Khan Sep 08, 2013 11:49am

NFP, Every Problem has a Solution, the trick is to find it quickly. Johannesburg is worse than Karachi with respect to crime but they got it under control and successfully organized the football world cup you know how? The private security agencies, the neighbor hood watch, the police all combined to one command center area wise and started co-ordination. Crime fell by 75%. It is UNFAIR to expect the police alone to take charge in such a densely populated city. But again if the Police are politicized and the Political and religious parties keep a blind eye and encourage their party members NOTHING WILL HELP. These religious and Political leaders are more worried for what is happening in Egypt than in their own city. Mindset has gone Bananas that is all I can.

Capt C M Khan Sep 08, 2013 11:49am

NFP, Every Problem has a Solution, the trick is to find it quickly. Johannesburg is worse than Karachi with respect to crime but they got it under control and successfully organized the football world cup you know how? The private security agencies, the neighbor hood watch, the police all combined to one command center area wise and started co-ordination. Crime fell by 75%. It is UNFAIR to expect the police alone to take charge in such a densely populated city. But again if the Police are politicized and the Political and religious parties keep a blind eye and encourage their party members NOTHING WILL HELP. These religious and Political leaders are more worried for what is happening in Egypt than in their own city. Mindset has gone Bananas that is all I can.

Talha Sep 08, 2013 12:36pm

Dear Nadeem: We all know that implementation of law is a problem in this god-forsaken city, but the million dollar question is who will implement it? We are out of Commissioner Gordons in our police and Bruce Waynes have left town. Gotham needs a dark knight at a time no maniac on the right side of the law is around.

Sonal Sep 08, 2013 01:35pm

If you toned down the reference to crimes a little bit, this article would be exactly true of Bombay.

Karachi might have the worst traffic in Pakistan, but Bombay has the worst in the world, I'm sure. And we also have these 1998 moments in Bombay every now and then. Enforcement of wearing seat belts, stopping behind the white line, and more recently no dark film on windows, after the Delhi rape case.

I'm telling you, we Indians and Pakistanis are made of the same stuff :)

And can I also tell you that smoking tobacco kills. There's never a better time to give it up than now.

Aksh Sep 08, 2013 01:50pm

NFP is very much right. Delhi can be a world class example regarding following the traffic rules. And from traffic rules follow the other rules and regulations. Every one gets fined in Delhi if he/she breaks the traffic rules. Even goons follow it before or after committing a crime in Delhi, because otherwise they would be apprehended within 30 minutes on Delhi roads. Even the famous rape case of Nirbhaya was cracked because the same gang had been earlier reported in by the police, 2 hours back, but they didn't put them in and let them off by giving warning or after taking bribe. Nonetheless, crimes still do happen in Delhi. BUT they are no where near what is happening in Karachi. There is NO gangs or Gang war in Delhi at presents. Everything is settled with money.

Karachi Wala Sep 08, 2013 03:12pm

The million dollar question remains, who will cop the cops?

Saifur Rahman Sep 08, 2013 03:31pm

Dear Nadeem. I do agree with you but partially. Crime can be controlled by strict implementation of law but temporarily. Crime is not an isolated event. This is heavily dependent upon overall socio-economic situation. Hence for a permanent fix root causes have to be addressed such as unemployment, poverty, corruption and political nepotism along with proper administration of law.

gangadin Sep 08, 2013 03:55pm

How exhilarating. Week after week, this guy writes such literary pieces that make your life wonderful rest of the week. He should be commended, awarded a few medals and then entombed in a gold plated casket next to Jinnah so that no foreign element will be able to steal him for his/her country.

manomoi Sep 08, 2013 04:10pm

It is true that every problem got a solution. But unfortunately every solution also got a problem!!!

AHA Sep 08, 2013 04:26pm

@Syed Zain Najam: The problem is not (just) the traffic police, but the society at large.

khanm Sep 08, 2013 04:42pm

Day in and day out we keep on reading various articles pertaining to crimes in Karachi

Gin Sep 08, 2013 05:23pm

"Dystopian death race" well i have kind of fallen for that term ~ anyhow knowing im no good with implications to reach the solution ; just felt like citing another traffic issue that i think matters! So whenever im on signal n its red i'll stop ; sometimes im the one preceding WHITE LINE n before Green theres a time when the road in front of me feels a bit deserted ~ n what is next is i hear horns n shouts from behind n even bikers desperately trying to overtake me scratching my car n the pavement too ( most of times with that ominous stare)
well the signal is red n i cant even stop or should i say im tormented for that! sigh ~ oxymoron ; trying to be an example of responsible citizen n being treated as an obtuse fellow.

Faisal Sep 08, 2013 05:47pm

Karachi has expanded or exploded since 1998 ten folds. I don't think it would be easy to administer a city of this size. I think its time to break the city in 4-5 smaller cities purely on administrative lines, and also delegate the authorities to the people who actually are from the city.

Agha Ata Sep 08, 2013 06:43pm

In Mullah's Islam, there is no respect for man- made law. You are forbidden to drink but you may take heroin (just an example). Imagine, if so many people were drinking alcohol at those places where heroins is used, Mullah Brigade would be out to kill them all. It boggles one's mind when one sees hundreds of people lined up in mosques with marvelous discipline for prayer like that of an army battalion being inspected by a top brass. and then you see the same disciplined people driving on Karachi roads the way Mr. Nadeem F Paracha has just described.

dr vimal raina Sep 08, 2013 08:40pm

Eerie though it might sound, my surgeon friend and I were discussing the same thing while on morning walk this morning. If the crime has to come down in a city, the first thing to do is to have no tolerance to any offence however minor on the road. When you skip a red light with disdain, the red lights in your life don't matter and all that is left is disdain for everything that is rule or law.

Ali S Sep 08, 2013 08:42pm


Couldn't agree more. MQM tried to get this idea off the ground under Mustafa Kamal and had considerable success with it until PPP came on board.

In another article here on Dawn, I read that Karachi has a police force of 33,000. For 20 million people. That's one police officer in charge of over 600 people. Even if the police did try to do its duty honestly and the laws were implemented with zero tolerance, there's simply no way that it could logistically handle all of Karachi. The only solution is to scale down the problem and address it in manageable chunks - that means revamping the administrative divisions of Karachi. Until then, there's no end in sight no matter how the law is implemented.

Ayesha Sep 08, 2013 09:22pm

I am firm believer that more than half of the problems of Pakistan could be curbed by IMPLEMENTING the law without any discrimination.

Aniket Sep 08, 2013 09:29pm

You should visit Lucknow once. As bad and random as the traffic (and the law and order situation) is, people (even trucks) immediately give you way at the slightest honk. Lucknowi tehzeeb of 'pehle aap' is still followed in such situations, and it's such an endearing experience.

People of Karachi are also of the same stock and speak the same beautiful language, in pretty much the same accent. From the youtube videos, Karachi doesn't look foreign to a Lucknowite at all, apart from the sad reality of the heinous crimes.

Gerry D'Cunha Sep 08, 2013 09:38pm

the root cause of all problems in karachi and else where in pakistan is our corrupt police - why is our govt not sincere in changing the entire police force from top to bottom and recruit young educated boys on their merits like its done in foreign countries.

SATISH SHARMA Sep 08, 2013 09:40pm

Nadeem, You are worrried about Traffic - it probably is the right place to start, but only when you have a working legal system. You can't start by "policing" petty crimes when big crime is exempt.

From what I know there is no FIR on the bombing of PPP procession where nearly 200 people were killed .. no FIR means that the state doesn't even acknowledge that the event happened! No FIR of May massacre either -- and there are 1000 other events.

It's not in Karachi alone, it appears there is no law enforcement anywhere in Pakistan - It has become a state defined by "interests" of various agencies and groups .. Jihadi's are the top of the food chain -- followed by state agencies, followed by politicians followed by ethnic groups followed by a guy with 2 Kalashnikov in hand -- ad infinitum .. -ALL exempt from punishment.

Napier Mole Sep 08, 2013 10:11pm

NFP, you being a permanent resident of this matchless city, I am surprised when you miss the elephant in the room and do not refer to the absence of a full fledged metropolitan government, with police and transport under its control, and with the whole rather than a cantonized city under its control. The police has to be perforce manned by the locals and the mayor has to be perforce directly elected. It is such a dipensation only epwhich has the moral authority and the coercive power to implement a unified agenda or the city. Both the provincial and the federal government are loath to this idea as we all know. It is now for the so called mandated reps of the city to understand the gravity of the situation who should unite and focus on this single point agenda of setting up a metrpolitan government in this city. The solution of all the ills which ail this city arise from this single step.

dahir Sep 08, 2013 10:38pm

@Sonal: not just karachi and mumbai,traffic in tehran is also much the same.however,they are not made of same stuff.there are many times more indians than pakistanis offering the same stuff theory and may be we can use this more reality,even liberal pakistanis don't believe in same stuff theory and they are right.

Sonal Sep 08, 2013 10:54pm


Sorry to have offended you. Not all, but many Pakistanis are made of the same stuff as Indians. We will just be running away from the truth if we don't agree on this :)

saeed Sep 08, 2013 11:06pm

Everything start from home . But unfortunately the first lesson we learn about religion and race which in result gives us society we have now a hateful society. Not to mention same home produce bunch of kids which is the main reason for the most of crime. As long we cannot control our popluation and race and religion our least priorities,we never change.

Omer Sep 09, 2013 02:30am

What did u, Mr Parach do seeing the boys rip the mirrors? Watched, walked, came home to write this article? And you think you did your duty, huh? So many articles have been written on these issues. Unless we, the citizens start realising our responsibilities and start holding the hands of such criminals, we are complicit to these crimes.

pathanoo Sep 09, 2013 05:15am

Dear NFP, I have tremendous respect for your writings, you as a journalist and the man you are. It is good to dream and they some times come true but rarely. I hope and pray your's comes true for the sake of hundreds of millions of Paksitanis, specailly Karachites.

Nasiroski Sep 09, 2013 05:27am

Like all other Mega Metropolis in the world Karachi needs a potent and representative local govt. London, New York,.... Mayor of the city is "the" elected representative and calls the shots in the city with no intervention of province/state or Federal govt. other than neccessary support required. This needs to be the first step towards the sustainable long term solution if anybody is serious about improving condition of city.

Waris Sep 09, 2013 08:56am

I am visiting karachi and on the road for the last 20 days. I read the article and responses, most of the response and the article has common message I.e. " it is not my fault". At the end of the day before going to sleep each of one of us should ask themselves how many and what were the traffic violation done by them or by the driver. if the answer is in +ve then make promise to do less violation next day. If we all do this even every other day traffic violation will be reduced and we all will get a good night sleep.

Dearborn Iffy Sep 09, 2013 10:49pm

Pity our "erudite" friend is not with us yet claiming what has been highlighted above in Karachi is just chicken feed compared to what happens in the major cities in the developed West with high rates of murder, rape and other chaos. In Pakistan, a policeman never beats up anyone. It happens in .... well ....India only.

Yes, but I do agree with what has been written and the proposed solution(s). A loud beep of the horn does the trick in almost all situations. Well at least the beeper is safe, who cares about the others.

abdulsultan Sep 09, 2013 11:02pm

Unless and untill Pakistan is devided in as many provinces as needed peaple will face difficulties to go to law for remedy. A small comunity will be able to efficiantly look after well being of people and maintenance oflaw. All should raise awareness of people to strive for more provinces.

wasim Sep 10, 2013 12:14am

You are correct, I myself was in Quetta last year andwas on road everyday searching for office accommodation and to move around in Quetta city was a hectic thing , and one fine day all roads were deserted and on inquiry found thattraffic police has started a drive againt NCP vehicles and even in far flung city like quetta if a constable want to implement law no sardar interferes

Ali Sep 10, 2013 02:51am

Militarization of a state creates these kind of problems.We have groups who are like sub contracters or agents to the political elite.First,they work on the agenda of the organization which is financing them then you stop funding them and they create their own agendas even find ways to finance their groups.

Rental Sep 10, 2013 03:46am

NFP, If I am not mistaken the 1998 period and some years before that we're experimental periods where traffic police were trying to improve.

I remember speaking to one of the civilians in charge of consulting for this who told me how his association with the exercise had ended.

The cops had pulled over a mid-senior level person in the navy for a violation. After much haggling and a refusal to let the person go off scot free, the civilian in charge was called up by an even senior member of the navy and told that his people would not be held to such laws in the future.

He resigned in disgust the next day. The civilians proudest moment during this assignment was when his own son had been pulled over, tried to give his fathers name and was still told that he still would be fined and that they would tell his father that he tried to influence his way out of the violation.

Those days are gone, traffic is terrible and getting worse daily.

Syed Arbab Ahmed Sep 10, 2013 10:42am

Pakistan main qanoon sirf ghareeb aur kamzoor pr chlta hai, jis k pass paisa hai, gun hai wo jo chayae kray = Shahzaib case.

asif Sep 10, 2013 10:40pm

There is only one solution. Get freedom from Islamabad in the shape of our own province, if they donot allow this, struggle for complete fredom. Neither ppp nor others parties interested to give us rights to run our city. I own karachi.

Iqbal Sep 11, 2013 02:35am

@Omer: Tell me your story of Braveheart.