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Police’s task in Karachi

September 17, 2013

KARACHI’S law and order situation is in focus once again. The prime minister recently visited the troubled city and along with the cabinet held a series of meetings with the stakeholders.

This, along with increased media interest, the provincial government’s keenness in restoring the writ of the state and the apparent willingness of some political parties to go along, has given rise to hope.

The serious concerns of the business community, intensified pressure on the police and Rangers to prove their effectiveness and the superior judiciary’s close monitoring of the situation have also led to expectations of something concrete being done.

Yet there is no shortage of sceptics who believe that the law enforcement personnel will relapse into their comfort zones once attention is diverted to other pressing issues.

The law enforcement agencies’ capability and response to the Karachi problem has been the subject of much debate. The policymakers appear to have realised that we need to strengthen civilian institutions.

The army is a disciplined institution. But its involvement in maintenance of law and order will weaken the civilian institution of the police.

The best course would be to leave this task to the police. The Rangers may assist them in conducting operations in crime-infested localities.

One may ask if our police force is capable of meeting the challenge. There is a common perception that the Karachi police are either incompetent or complicit in crimes.

Admittedly, our police force may be demoralised, underpaid, ill-equipped and inadequately trained. Yet their basic capacity to counter crime and deliver in testing times is intact.

Many members of the force are still willing to risk their lives if properly motivated and led by officers of integrity and professional standing. They need to be extracted from a complacent and indifferent mode and put into fighting form and be convinced about the seriousness of the government.

They need to be sure the government, senior police officers and the people will stand by them in testing times. They hate to be used, abandoned and left in the lurch by the government, to be hunted by criminals and militant wings of political parties when political expediency ‘necessitates’ overlooking certain degrees of criminal activity.

There are three main categories of criminals operating in Karachi. First, the Taliban-type militants; second, organised gangs involved in targeted killings, extortion, kidnappings and land grabbing (these include those with links with political parties); and, lastly, those involved in street crimes.

The challenge posed by the first category will persist for some time, as they are likely to be active unless their back is completely broken in other parts of the country. Well-coordinated police action against the second and third categories is expected to achieve results in a few months’ time.

Uneasiness about Karachi’s law and order situation is not because of hard-core terrorism alone. Though there have been incidents of terrorism including bomb blasts and sectarian attacks, most citizens feel insecure due to street crimes, extortion, and kidnapping.

An industrialist in SITE, Korangi or Landhi or a trader in Jodia Bazaar is more fed up with day-to-day crimes than Taliban-linked terrorism.

It is true that coordinated police action may not put an end to incidents of terrorism as the threat posed by religious extremism will take some time to subside. But well-organised police action against all criminals regardless of political consideration will reduce the incidents of crime.

This in turn will raise police morale and its capacity to chase religious militants as well. The war against militancy cannot be won if the fight against conventional crime is lost in the street.

The long-term and sustained solution lies in strengthening the police by addressing the issues hampering their performance. The police must get operational autonomy and this starts with giving the police chief security of tenure.

The IG, Sindh and Karachi’s police chief must establish their writ within the department before they embark on the demanding task of bringing order to the city.

The Sindh police chief has to be in control and his time and attention need to be spent on reorganising his 100,000-plus force and not in a survival struggle. The police have to put their house in order.

A professional model of policing with emphasis on internal discipline, operational capability, service delivery, training, efficiency, integrity, welfare and, most importantly, strict internal accountability needs to be adopted.

Police officers who have achieved the status of unaccountable solo operators because of their personal loyalty and willingness to provide services to certain influential people and institutions need to be brought under the regime of professional discipline.

Police officers have to come out of a state of denial. Instead of trying to convince the people that all is OK and the police have no operational constraints, they need to seize the moment.

They push for operational autonomy as well as play the lead role as members of the premier law enforcement agency, while securing resources and public support in favour of indiscriminate action against criminals.

The Sindh government has put together a team of police officers of good repute in Karachi and assured them of complete freedom in their drive against criminals. Coordinated action by the Police and Rangers has reduced incidence of crime in the city.

Can we hope that if the police force takes up this challenge it will not be unnecessarily chastened by the courts, criticised by the media, hampered by the bureaucracy, influenced by politicians and mistrusted by citizens?

The police need to be supported, encouraged and given due credit for their sacrifices and good work whenever they deserve it.

The writer is a DIG in Sindh Police.