THE operation being carried out by the Rangers in Karachi is at serious risk of losing its focus, as the detention of former petroleum minister Asim Hussain on Wednesday has shown.
Dr Hussain, an associate of former president Asif Zardari, was taken into custody under a law strictly formulated for the pursuit of terrorists, and his detention has come across as a misuse of legal authority by the paramilitary force.
Indeed, the perception of the Rangers overstepping their mandate has extended to other instances as well: not too long ago, an MQM leader was detained by the Rangers for organising a public meeting during which Altaf Hussain spoke against the security establishment.
Dr Asim Hussain was detained under Section 11EEEE of the Anti Terrorism Act of 1997, which was passed as an amendment in October 2013 at the start of the Karachi operation, specifically to empower the Rangers to detain and question those suspected of being involved in terrorism.
Since then, the anti-terrorism law has been used to apprehend a growing number of individuals from all walks of life, from the chairman of the Fishermen Cooperative Society, to the head of the country’s largest association of builders and developers, to various officials of the city government.
In their application for preventive detention, the Rangers simply have to inform the court that they possess “credible information” that the suspect is involved in terror-related crime. Whatever the former minister’s alleged involvement in corruption cases, it beggars belief that he could have been involved in acts of terrorism.
This is the case with many others too who have been similarly detained under this draconian law. Such detentions, which the court is powerless to refuse or even demand details on, are creating the impression that the operation in Karachi has now gone far off the rails.
Pursuing corruption cases is the mandate of the federal government, and inquiries for the purpose are conducted by the FIA with laws governing the rights of the accused.
The PML-N government is mistaken if it thinks it can benefit by remaining silent in the face of this dilating mission. Not only does this risk politicising the operation, thereby tainting the successes — and these have been considerable — the Rangers have scored thus far, it also risks overstretching the paramilitary force’s capacity to effectively pursue the real terrorists.
The federal government should demand an account of how many people have been detained under this law, and what has been their fate subsequently. Perhaps the law itself needs to be revisited to give the courts greater powers to examine the grounds upon which the detention of a suspect is being sought.
Meanwhile, the provincial government in Sindh is doing practically nothing to tackle corruption and crime. Its inertia has only created further space for those whose mandate does not go beyond tackling terror-related crimes.
Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2015