THE extension of the Rangers’ policing powers have again become a contentious issue between the government of Sindh and the security establishment, with the federal government trying to play the role of honest broker. As a result, not only has the ongoing operation in Karachi been plunged into peril but voices are becoming increasingly louder regarding the future of this rickety yet indispensable democratic dispensation.
Have the Rangers overstepped the limits of their ‘assigned role’, ie fighting terrorism in the city, by alleging widespread corruption in the provincial government and arresting some of the latter’s functionaries for allegedly aiding or abetting militancy? The answer lies in understanding the nexus between the existing constitutional and legal framework under which the Rangers are operating, as well as the city’s security and political realities.
The Rangers were created under Pakistan Rangers Ordinance, 1959 for the “protection of and maintenance of order in the border areas”. They were requisitioned in Sindh for the first time under Article 147 of the Constitution in 1989 by none other than the present chief minister, Qaim Ali Shah, under Benazir Bhutto’s first government. Again, it was his present government which vested the Rangers with police powers for the first time in 2009.
The Anti-Terrorism Act [ATA], 1997 was amended in 2014 allowing, inter alia, the Rangers employed under Section 4 of the said Act to detain a suspect for 90 days. An all-embracing Protection of Pakistan Act was passed that also gave additional powers to the Rangers and other law enforcers to use force against a suspect on a “reasonable ground of suspicion”. Meanwhile, the 21st Constitutional Amendment was passed creating military courts, which apparently are beyond even the pale of the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction.
Has the paramilitary force gone beyond its mandate?
Thus, the entire legal (and judicial) system has undergone a sea change, equipping the Rangers and other law -enforcers with many powers.
Primarily, the Rangers are assigned the task of fighting terrorism. But here lies the rub. In many instances, terrorism has merged with politics and corruption forming a composite menace that gnaws at the foundations of state and society. In such a situation, differentiating between a militant and a political operative or a public servant becomes difficult, making it even harder for law enforcers to mark their boundaries and restrict their actions.
Therefore, when one objects to the Rangers’ raids on public or political offices on moral, legal or constitutional grounds, then one should also answer an equally intractable but practical question: should the Rangers stop and not apprehend an alleged militant or his sponsor or accomplice just because he is a member of a political party and/or a public servant?
The provincial government demands prior intimation, if not a request for permission, by Rangers before they raid public offices, but won’t the resulting interlude frustrate the very purpose of the action: arresting a suspect before he escapes, commits another offence or destroys the evidence?
It needs to be understood that as against NAB, anti-corruption and other efficiency and discipline-related service rules, a private individual or public servant cannot be arrested without availing himself of the opportunity of a hearing, and in certain cases permission from the head of department. But under the ATA, if not other special security-related laws, the Rangers can detain or arrest, without warrant, any person suspected of committing, abetting, or conspiring to commit a scheduled offence. Hence, unless the operative laws are changed, the Rangers’ powers cannot be circumscribed by the executive fiats.
The other option is to withdraw the Rangers’ policing powers and make it just an adjunct of the police. In fact, that was the position before 2009 when the provincial government would employ the Rangers in aid of police whenever the situation so demanded. This option doesn’t seem to be available in the current situation where a considerable segment of the city’s police stands politicised and compromised; hence, the overwhelming reliance on the Rangers to fight crime and militancy in Karachi.
Moreover, the drastic improvement in the security environment has enhanced the moral standing and image of the Rangers in the city, though it must also be said that for all its ills, the provincial police has also played a commendable role in the detection of important cases in the city and in bringing crime to perhaps an all-time low in the interior of Sindh where the Rangers have a limited role.
Perhaps, the only option left to the political parties and provincial government is to purge their ranks of shady elements and gradually strengthen the civil machinery, including police, to phase out Rangers. Until then, the relationship between the provincial and the Rangers must be supplemental and aimed at eliminating crime and terrorism so that security may spur development.
The writer is a lawyer and academic.
Published in Dawn, December 15th, 2015