KARACHI: Faced with growing complaints of human rights violations, a fact-finding mission of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan concluded on Monday that the Rangers-led Karachi operation launched in September last year had failed to achieve its targets.
The mission, which assessed the law and order situation in Karachi from July 17 to July 20 after getting inputs from representatives of the media, civil society, political parties, minorities, government and law enforcement agencies as well as the families of victims, observed that the “objectives of the operation have not been met”.
Briefing newsmen at the Karachi Press Club, HRCP’s Secretary General I.A. Rehman said that with the exception of murders, reported crime had not registered a significant decline.
When the operation was launched, its purpose was to restore peace to the city. It appeared that no proper planning had been done to this effect.
Rangers DG refused to meet HRCP team
Mr Rehman regretted that the Rangers director general refused to meet the HRCP team. “We were invited for a meeting with the Rangers DG and when we reached the Rangers headquarters at the designated time, we were informed at the main gate that the meeting had been cancelled,” he said.
“We received a lot of complaints against the Rangers, which we wanted to discuss with them but perhaps the Rangers chief is a busy and big, powerful personality,” he said.
The operation had been launched on an “ad hoc basis without appropriate planning”. The apparent idea at the time was that police could not prevail over the elements responsible for lawlessness and bloodshed.
“Throughout the operation nothing has been done to enhance the capacity of the police, with the result that the ad hoc measure has essentially become open-ended and indefinite,” he said, adding that a working chemistry that should have been there between the police and Rangers was still missing.
The police were not conducting any operation in Karachi but were merely engaging in “proactive policing”, he said.
However, he said, the Sindh police chief and his team informed the HRCP that during the past 310 days of the Rangers-led operation in Karachi, crime had decreased barring street crimes which registered an increase. But “public perception is different from the claims of the police, which needs to be addressed,” he said.
Policing is not Rangers’ job
He suggested that the Rangers role be “temporary” and restricted to cleaning the mess as policing should not be the job of the paramilitary force.
He said when the paramilitary force was called in no clear strategy had been chalked out about the duration of their stay in the city as a stay for an ‘indefinite period’ would likely weaken the force’s discipline.
In the meantime, other institutions were also not being strengthened. There were a total of 26,000 policemen for Karachi, and half of them were deployed for VIP duties.
The HRCP team, which also met the Sindh chief minister, said that there were differences over the ownership of the operation between the provincial and federal governments. “The federal and provincial governments have not been on the same page,” according to the findings of the team.
The HRCP suggested that the prime minister and the interior minister, instead of making “flying visits” [to Karachi], take “more interest” in the situation to resolve the problems by staying in Karachi for a few days.
Burgeoning human rights violations
The HRCP said the violations of human rights increased as there was no independent body to look into people’s complaints and take the officials concerned to task.
“There is no independent oversight of the operation and a promised commission in that respect has not been constituted,” the HRCP said, adding that a redress committee that had been set up had “little credibility” so much so that the citizens who constantly submitted complaints to the HRCP had not even bothered to contact the committee.
“There has been a complete failure to open channels to convey grievances to the relevant departments or institutions as a result of the fallout of the operation,” said the rights body.
Referring to complaints of around 70 families who approached the HRCP team, Mr Rehman said that they told them that their loved ones were still ‘missing’ despite the fact that they had allegedly been picked up by law-enforcers. Some of them were taken to police stations or driven away in Rangers’ vehicles, while in some cases the last call on their mobile phones had been made by some security agency personnel.
Demanding an appropriate action to redress the victims’ grievances and against the officials concerned, the HRCP official said that no civilised government could ignore the suffering of the people in distress for no fault of theirs.
Extortion-related crimes on the rise
The HRCP team that also met leaders of the business community said traders of one market alone in the city were paying Rs10 million daily as protection money — a phenomenal increase as compared to 1995 when the rights body was informed by businessmen that the total extortion paid daily in the metropolis was Rs8 million.
The HRCP regretted that shopkeepers and businessmen considered payment of protection money their business expense, as they added this cost to goods and passed it on to consumers.
Mr Rehman said that every party or group that wielded influence in any area of the city was involved in the extortion trade.
Political parties have abandoned Karachi
The HRCP team also met leaders of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party, Jamaat-i-Islami and others and found that “the parties have abandoned Karachi as they do not want to rectify the situation”.
Mr Rehman said that all the parties expressed their lack of confidence in the ongoing operation but they preferred to keep quiet.
The rights body believed that lawlessness in Karachi, the collapse of state institutions and the citizens’ unending travails were “symptoms of a multiple-sided political crisis” and no way out was possible until the “two main political parties of Sindh establish functional cooperation and start respecting the people’s right to good governance including efficient and responsible local government institutions”.
The HRCP believed that the absence of an effective local government system had also contributed towards the problems in the city.
The rights body noted that democracy was facing a stiff test in Karachi and public perception of political parties’ selfish pursuits, their lack of interest in ending enforced disappearances, torture and deaths in custody, economic exploitation of the disadvantaged, and a pervasive feeling of helplessness and hopelessness was alienating people from democracy and politics.
“Many are openly asking for a return to an authoritarian dispensation, ignoring the clear signals that such a relapse could be fatal for the highest interest of the state,” warned the HRCP.
The HRCP said the law and order situation would not improve unless a continuous across-the-board action was not taken against all criminals.
It said that the people whom the HRCP team met were generally not impressed by the talk-to-action ratio.
“There are criminal gangs backed by political parties, Taliban and sectarian militant groups, turf wars and organised criminals,” said the HRCP.
The fact-finding mission was led by HRCP chairperson Zohra Yusuf and included co-chairperson Kamran Arif, former chairperson Asma Jahangir, vice chairpersons Tahir Hussain Khan and Asad Iqbal Butt, board members Hina Jilani, Ghazi Salahuddin, Roland D’Souza, Uzma Noorani, Amarnath Motumal and Akhtar Baloch, secretary general I.A. Rehman, senior coordinators Najamuddin and Syed Shamsuddin.
Published in Dawn, July 22nd , 2014