ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: A potentially explosive war of words that broke out between the Sindh and federal governments on Saturday may yet end an impasse regarding the continued deployment of Rangers personnel in Karachi.
In an animated press conference in Islamabad, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had accused the PPP-led Sindh government of jeopardising the Karachi operation “for the sake of one man”, saying that the government had “other options” if the province failed to act suitably. The minister was alluding to the tussle between the provincial government and the Rangers over former minister Dr Asim Hussain’s case.
Maula Bux Chandio soon responded on behalf of the Sindh government in equally confrontational terms, but dispelled a potential standoff when he declared that the government would move a resolution in the Sindh Assembly on Monday to ensure that Rangers were given special policing powers.
The question of extending Rangers’ stay in Karachi became controversial when the Sindh government failed to renew it before the expiry of the previous order on Dec 6. In August, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah had extended the period of Rangers’ “special powers” in Karachi hours before the previous extension was set to expire.
This time around, despite reminders from the interior minister, the Sindh government chose to wait and put the question before the Sindh Assembly.
PPP spokesperson Farhatullah Babar attributed this change in modus operandi to the controversy regarding Rangers overstepping their mandate. “The Rangers’ mandate was to curb... terrorism, targeted killings, kidnapping for ransom and extortion. In several ways the Rangers performed this role in a commendable manner. However, issues arose when Rangers over-stepped their mandate and began assuming jurisdiction in cases of alleged corruption, beyond the four identified parameters,” he said.
“There had been no controversy in the past over the overstepping of mandate and therefore no need to take the matter to the assembly. But now that a controversy has arisen, it should not surprise anyone [that it was] decided to take the matter to the provincial assembly for broad-based consultations.”
In his presser on Saturday, the interior minister went so far as to hint at the possibility of imposing Governor’s Rule in Sindh to continue the Karachi operation.
He said that the delay was a message to embolden terrorists and extremists, adding that in case Sindh did not comply, the government had four to five different options within the “constitutional, legal and democratic framework”.
In the same breath, however, the minister hoped that sanity would prevail. “If the MQM and PPP have some reservations, we are ready to sit with them to address those issues with maturity and seriousness,” he remarked.
Sindh Assembly to discuss extension in powers of the paramilitary force tomorrow; legal experts say Governor’s Rule is the only option if the province decides against extension
He criticised the negative statements about the government, interior ministry and Rangers that were coming from the PPP. “I cannot understand how some party or a government can go so far for the sake of one man,” he said, without naming PPP leader Dr Asim Hussain, who is currently facing charges of corruption after initially being accused of helping terror suspects.
“I do not know how important that person is and what is the nature of his relationship with you, but I would ask you not to make the Karachi operation controversial,” he said in a direct message to the Sindh government.
The minister said that he had been very restrained over the past two and a half years when the PPP made statements against him, his ministry and the government. He warned that if this continued, he would make public incriminating material that was on the record, including an alleged video of Dr Asim Hussain and the report of the joint investigation team (JIT) in his case.
Legal expert Salman Akram Raja told Dawn that the invocation of Article 234, which related to emergency powers under Governor’s Rule, was the centre’s only option in case Sindh refused to extend the Rangers’ term.
He said that invoking Article 234 required a breakdown of the constitutional machinery in a province, before Governor Rule could be imposed. “There currently appears to be a difference of opinion over the desirability of using Rangers to maintain law and order in Karachi. It is debatable whether such a difference of opinion furnishes a ground for invoking of Article 234,” he remarked.
Veteran lawyer S.M. Zafar said that imposing a state of emergency in Karachi or the entire province would be a setback for political parties, particularly the PPP and the situation may be exploited by extremists including Taliban and other banned outfits and even hostile neighbours.
Article 234 of the Constitution reads: “If the President, on receipt of a report from the Governor of a province, is satisfied that a situation has arisen in which the Government of the province cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the constitution, the President may, or if a resolution in this behalf is passed (by two houses of the parliament separately) shall, by proclamation (a) assume to himself, or direct the Governor of the province to assume on behalf of the President, all or any of the functions of the Government of the province, and all or any of the powers vested in, or exercisable by, any body or authority in the province, other than the provincial assembly”.
In his press conference at the CM House, Maula Bux Chandio, said that the provincial government wanted to extend the Rangers’ special powers after completion of “legal requirements”.
“We are doing this as per the constitution and legal requirements,” said Mr Chandio.
He criticised Chaudhry Nisar over his remarks in which he accused the Sindh government of dilly-dallying on the resolution it promised to move in the provincial assembly.
Mr Chandio said Chaudhry Nisar was among those ‘who tore apart the constitution’ and never bothered about assemblies.
Responding to the interior minister’s accusation that the Sindh government was creating problems for the operation to protect only a single person (Dr Asim Hussain), Mr Chandio said the allegation was uncalled for.
“The Sindh government has neither made up an issue because of a single person nor created any hurdles in the way of a smooth operation,” he added.
The adviser warned the federal government against hurling threats against the provincial administration, saying that the PPP was familiar with “such methods” and would never be browbeaten into submission.
“Use whatever tricks you have in your bag,” he addressed to Chaudhry Nisar, “they will never serve your intents to sabotage Karachi operation for the sake of your party interests”.
He said the situation could only worsen if the federal government stuck on its tricks against the interests of Sindh. He asked the ruling PML-N not to exploit Rangers and Karachi operation for the sake of their political interests.
“Don’t serve your petty interests and show mercy on Pakistan and Sindh.”
Mr Chandio said it was not the provincial government but a federal minister who was making the Rangers and its operation in Karachi controversial.
“Why should we make the operation controversial when we are captaining it?”
He said the Sindh government was an ardent supporter of the Rangers, but it wanted all institutions to work under their given mandate.
“The Rangers will be given special powers and the operation will continue with the same zeal and effect until all terrorists are eliminated,” said Mr Chandio.
Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2015