ISLAMABAD: As questions are being raised over effectiveness of the Rangers-led operation in Karachi after the brutal attack on an Ismaili community bus, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan expressed his scepticism about the desired result.
"Rangers alone are not the solution to Karachi's law and order situation. It [Rangers operation] is like using Disprin to treat cancer," Khan told reporters before departing for Karachi, where he said he would consult with party members.
"This will only provide temporary relief, but the problem will be resolved when the policing system is improved," he added.
Khan said target killers are roaming with impunity in the metropolis.
"The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and N-League both call one party 'terrorists' and take action against them. Then when it suits them, they unite with them to save their seats," he said, in an apparent reference to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), whose party headquarters was raided by Rangers personnel in March.
"Unless we go against whoever is involved in terrorism, unless we protect witnesses and unless we implement the National Action Plan, we will keep on condoling with people," Khan said.
Khan was to visit the families of the victims of the Safoora Chowrangi massacre but had to call off his Karachi visit as his flight was cancelled due to "bad weather".
As the horrific attack on members of the Shia Ismaili community in Safoora Goth on Wednesday added another black date to the ever-growing calendar of tragedies in the country, it also put a question mark over the Rangers-led targeted operations across the city.
Irrespective of who carried out the attack or who was behind it, the fact remains that gunmen boarded a bus and killed its passengers on sectarian grounds without being caught. They apparently were not deterred by the so-called Karachi operation launched in September 2013 to rid the city of its law and order menace once and for all.
Zohra Yusuf of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) says "There should be no double standards,” she says. “There have been some operations against extremist elements in Karachi by law enforcement agencies, but in no way can it be said that it’s being done to rid the city of them [militants]. I think the policy needs clarity.”
Various political parties have spoken up against the efficacy of Rangers operations in Karachi.
During a meeting of the Senate committee September 2014, Shahi Syed of the ANP said there was a serious trust deficit between the Rangers and the general public. “I know people and their children who were targeted after they lodged complaints against terrorists. How did the killers come to know about such persons,” he wondered.
Senator Tahir Mashhadi of the MQM said that Rangers operations had not affected the crime rate ─ it had come down because fewer incidents of crime were being reported. “It seems that you people are facilitating groups like Lashkar-i-Jhangvi. They kill one to two Shias daily and even claim responsibility for that,” he said, adding: “What is the net output of the operation in one year?”
In a Senate meeting in March 2015, Farhatullah Babar of PPP said a human rights committee or special sub-committee should be constituted to probe allegations against law enforcement agencies, while Nasreen Jalil of MQM said transparency should be ensured in the ongoing operation in Karachi.
Senator Abdul Rauf said that all stakeholders should be taken into confidence for making Karachi a peaceful city.
A look at the Karachi operation
The ‘operation’ against criminal elements in Pakistan’s commercial hub was initiated back in September 2013 after the federal cabinet empowered Rangers to lead a targeted advance with the support of police against criminals already identified by federal military and civilian agencies for their alleged involvement in targeted killings, kidnappings for ransom, extortion and terrorism in Karachi.
At that time, Federal Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali had said 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.
But in July 2014, in what was largely seen as an alignment with the military offensive in North Waziristan, the Rangers-led operation shifted its focus from hit men and extortionists to the more demanding threat from militants.
In a conversation with Dawn last year, DIG-South Abdul Khaliq Shaikh had acknowledged that the Karachi operation had been readjusted to tackle the militant threat.
When Rangers raided Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) headquarters in March 2015, the party alleged the operation had taken on a political colour. But Rangers claimed it had conducted the raid on a tip off that said wanted personnel were present at Nine Zero— the party’s headquarters.
Since then, Rangers DG Maj Gen Bilal Akbar and army chief Gen Raheel have insisted that the operation is not targeted at a particular political party and will meet its logical end.