While the Karachi Operation has tackled terrorism, street crime still prowls the streets of the City of Lights. Can the monster be caged?
By hook or by crook
by Ahmed Yusuf
Despite the police chiefs carrying out a purge of corrupt elements, lower level officers have become the new wielders of power in the city
Every evening, as the sun sets and offices begin shutting for the day, Ali Masood * begins setting up his roadside stall on one of District East’s commercial markets. Masood is a seller of clothes and has been vending at the same spot for the past seven years or so, but last week he lost a couple of days. The reason: a new station house officer (SHO).
“A new arrangement now has to be negotiated; it’ll happen, don’t worry about it. We’ve been through this before too, when the last SHO was posted here. We had to negotiate new terms of doing business on the pavement with him too. It is part of doing business here,” he says.
Across in District West, vegetable seller Mohammad Naeem* complains of harassment at the hands of police on where he can park his pushcart and for how long.
“I used to pay a fixed sum on a weekly basis, but now, they want more money and that too on a daily basis. Sometimes, we don’t earn enough one day but make up for it on other days. Now, the cost of business includes the daily sum being asked for,” says Naeem.
“In my book, our policing methods are obsolete and are carried on from colonial times. We haven’t updated the rule book to reflect changes in our society and, of course, in terms of technology that is now accessible to other law enforcement agencies.
The situation is similar in District South, where owners of cigarette cabins complain of harassment and extortion at the hands of low-level policemen.
“They say we are selling illegal gutka and if we want to continue operating, we need to pay them. You can check my cabin; if you find gutka here, hand me to the police yourself,” says Mohammad Imran*.
The same tale exists at taxi stands and rickshaw stands in the district.
In the breeze that is now sweeping across Karachi, old centres of localised power have lost their sway, at least for now. In the vacuum created because of their absence, lower-level police officers seem to have filled the void and emerged as the new power wielders. Most affected shopkeepers remain unsure about how long these arrangements will continue and whether the new local government will help them, but it is clear that lower level officials are now making their presence felt.
But this lower level corruption belies efforts being made in the police’s upper tiers, where a crackdown on the rotten eggs of the force is already underway. About 100 station house officers (SHOs) are under investigation as are about 300 lower category officials, including head constables, constables, sub-inspectors and assistant sub-inspectors. A complaint cell has also been formed at the Central Police Office (CPO), where complaints against corrupt police officers and soldiers can now be lodged by common citizens.
“There was a time when we’d see both political and security agencies’ interference in the police, but only the political bit remains now.
In theory, an accountability mechanism now exists, but is the system geared towards ensuring this mechanism works?
“You’d need a systemic overhaul if this mechanism is to work, because the culture of the police force needs changing too. This goes beyond the question of resources; it is about inspiring trust and confidence in the people we want to serve. Currently, we operate on a force model whereas we need to be moving towards a service model,” says one deputy inspector general (DIG) of police, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In traditional terms, policing is understood to be about fighting crime and maintaining order. In trying to execute these functions, the police’s monopoly over the use of violence is prioritised and kept intact. Part of the job, therefore, is to strike fear — something that the DIG argues against.
Recent times have seen “policing” adopt a broader definition, since pursuing terrorists is only a minor part of the police force’s job. It is in the more mundane everyday tasks that the police find themselves engaged in: from domestic disputes to municipal claims, the role of the police is to pave the way to dispute resolution and to ensure that those decisions are then upheld by the warring parties. This is the service model that the DIG alludes to.
“Of course, many of these corrupt officials are now going to face the music, but there are many officers who enjoy the blessings of political parties. There was a time when we’d see both political and security agencies’ interference in the police, but only the political bit remains now. It is a folly to assume that political appointments have ended or that political appointees don’t wield their influence anymore,” argues the DIG.
“Many of these criminals hire lawyers with a team of witnesses for hire. These witnesses commit perjury but earn handsome monthly retainers from the lawyers. In effect, between the lower judiciary and lawyers, we let bonafide sexual predators out on the streets again because our law doesn’t support law enforcement.
DIG-East Kamran Fazl admits to the gravity of the situation, explaining that a handful of corrupt officials in his district were sacked recently precisely because of their shady operations. “More bad eggs keep popping up, which shows the good fight is not over yet. We still have a long way to go but we are confident of getting there,” he says.
Karachi Police is led by an additional inspector general of police, who has five DIGs working for him. East, West and South all get their separate DIGs, while a DIG-level officer looks after CIA and Administration. In a city of about 25 million, only about 30,000 officers have been deployed. It is clear that many policing problems of the Karachi Police stem from a lack of numbers.
“It is a question of utilisation of resources more than resource shortage,” argues DIG Fazl. “We need to review the age bracket of the force that is currently deployed, whether soldiers of a certain age are even fit and equipped to be on patrol duties. I am also trying to restart the weekly morning parade that used to be conducted some time ago; that’ll enable us to gauge fitness levels.”
For DIG Fazl, the key is in ensuring that a policing system is adopted and followed, rather than to frequently chop and change things around or to provide cosmetic makeovers. But for the first DIG, the question is of assessing whether the status quo is obsolete for modern-day Karachi.
“In my book, our policing methods are obsolete and are carried on from colonial times. We haven’t updated the rule book to reflect changes in our society and, of course, in terms of technology that is now accessible to other law enforcement agencies,” says the first DIG.
“For example, we still rely on informer reports to provide intelligence, and while that is important, information gathering needs to be carried out along with Nadra, whose role is crucial towards policing. They launched their smart identity cards, but till now, they aren’t in vogue. Policing possibilities will increase substantially if smart CNICs are made mandatory,” he argues.
“But then again, perhaps we need to start from salary structures of our staff. I have witnessed very honourable and honest police officers compromise their principles when it comes to spending money on some official task; not everyone has the means to spend out of their pockets for a government-related task. It is the government’s job to ensure adequate funds for various tasks,” says the DIG.
The cost of investigation for a case, for example, is ought to be covered by the state but ends up being paid by the police officer concerned. Similarly, fuel allowance for police mobiles is very low for the extent of patrolling duties they are supposed to perform.
“If the government doesn’t give funds, then they are generated organically, in more corrupt ways. Why compel officers to adopt corrupt practices for their survival, particularly when they don’t want to?” the DIG asks rhetorically.
Although the two DIGs differ in the extent of changes required to improve policing, both argue for political insulation of the police and the primacy of accountability mechanisms.
“We have to instil a fear of punitive measures within the police cadre; that is the way we can work within the system and use it to public advantage. Accountability is a must,” says DIG Fazl. Perpetrators of street crime
In terms of broad descriptions, the Karachi police have four types of criminal profiles for elements involved in street crime.
The first is poor people, compelled to commit a crime to feed their families.
The second is lower and middle-income groups, who commit crimes to meet the gap between their desires and their income. Their upward social mobility is dependent on crime; according to one officer, cell phone snatchers often fall under this category of criminal.
The third is the thrill-seekers: those who commit crime in pursuit of joy. This type is inspired by film and media portrayal of crime and the heroism of criminals.
And lastly, there is the hardened criminal, who commits street crime to get caught and make his way to jail, in an attempt to plan something bigger with his associates in jail.
About 90pc of the crime is committed by these four criminal profiles, claim police sources, and their age bracket is between 15 and 45.
“District East is beset by street crime largely because it is a settled, affluent area. There is old money in residential areas, but there are also lots of dealings in cash in the area and money changes hands very quickly,” explains DIG Fazl. “If someone robs somebody, it is also very easy for them to flee because there are many escape routes in the area. We tend to keep a strict vigil but it is near impossible to comb the entire area because of these escape routes.”
A senior officer formerly posted in Disrict South argues that even when the police manage to catch criminal elements, lower courts tend to release them without charge, citing want of evidence.
“We caught someone red-handed at 3am on the charge of attempted sexual assault, but the courts released him since they wanted witnesses,” he narrates. “Many of these criminals hire lawyers with a team of witnesses for hire. These witnesses commit perjury but earn handsome monthly retainers from the lawyers. In effect, between the lower judiciary and lawyers, we let bonafide sexual predators out on the streets again because our law doesn’t support law enforcement.”
As recently as 2013, banks in Karachi were being routinely robbed by various militant groups in an attempt to raise funds for their respective organisations. But Awan says that the militant-groups element currently stands at 10pc; the other 90pc is carried out by criminal elements.
“Banks are soft targets; they don’t follow security advice and as a result, are often vulnerable,” argues Special Investigation Unit (SIU) chief Farooq Awan. “In fact, it isn’t even a matter of police advice anymore; there is a law for it now.”
The law that Awan refers to is the Sindh Security of Vulnerable Establishments Ordinance, 2015. Under the clauses of the ordinance, the deputy commissioner concerned is to constitute a security advisory committee at sub-division level. Headed by the sub-divisional police officer, these committees are to include a district administration representative, an officer each from the Special Branch of the police and the Counter Terrorism Department, as well as three representatives of local stakeholders (traders, for example).
Banks fall under the vulnerable establishment category, and as such, it is the job of a security advisory committee to advise them on security arrangements that might need to be made, based on their assessment of threat perception. In case this advice is not followed within the timeframe allowed, the committee can then recommend sealing the installation or suspension of their operations.
“There are protocols around gate security, guard bunkers inside the bank branch, CCTV backups … but none of these are followed. Local banks often tend to give us lame excuses for why their CCTV cameras aren’t working or don’t have backups, but only seldom will you find a foreign bank branch being robbed. Why? Because they follow protocols,” says Awan.
“I admit that we could do better in terms of getting the law implemented, but statistics tell us that bank heists have reduced considerably,” he says. According to the SIU chief, 30 banks were robbed in 2013, 24 in 2014, and 11 in 2015.
“Our rate of detection over the past three years has been 100pc, despite other stake holders often not pulling their weight,” he says. “It is unfortunate that three heists have been reported in January alone, but the trend shows marked improvement. It can be made better if others start being responsible about their duty towards policing.”
“Bank money is all insured by the State Bank of Pakistan, so for banks, any financial loss is automatically covered. That explains why they are lax in terms of following the law. In many cases, you’d also discover that the loss claimed is also exaggerated while the culprits are also connected on the inside,” claims a senior officer, currently serving in a sensitive district of the city.
“The purpose of those guidelines is to delay the robbers and give the police ample time to reach the bank which is under attack. People tend to mock the police for being unable to prevent any robbery ever but how can the police provide any protection or reach there in time if security advice is not being followed?” he argues.
Both officers bring the role of the third stakeholder, private security companies, into question.
“Barring a few companies, guards hired by most of them are neither vetted nor are they trained in combat,” says the senior officer. “These guards’ salaries are low and working hours are long, sometimes they aren’t fit to fulfil the job that is expected of them.”
The same is the case for households.
“Whenever you hire domestic help, you need to register them with the local police station. How many people do that? This procedure is to ensure that the police can always pursue them if they commit a crime in your home, it is for people’s security, but it is never followed by those whom we are supposed to protect,” he says.
Much like banks, the officer adds, there is often an inside link, either directly or indirectly helping those who are intent on committing a crime.
But are police stations set up to help citizens?
“An overhaul is required at the thana level, I agree, but that doesn’t mean that problems cannot be solved. You can now register FIRs online, for example, and don’t need to go to a police station. We have the CPO cell, and if more people knew about it and started reporting corruption, you’d find a fear of accountability setting in among the police cadre. We need the public’s help to do so,” says one DIG.
“Policing cannot be about the police alone,” argues another, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It needs to be understood as a collective effort. Without support from various stakeholders, and without them pulling their weight, we cannot reduce crime rates in the city or improve our systems.”
** Names changed to protect privacy and identity*
The writer tweets @ASYusuf
Community policing: gone with the barriers?
A crisis of insecurity bubbles in neighbourhoods where security measures had been taken in collaboration with the police
Started in September 2013, the Rangers-led Karachi Operation has certainly yielded some tangible results. Lyari, which was once a no-go area of sorts, is now ambling back to normalcy. Peace has returned to the neighbourhood, although the process is fraught with many allegations of extra-judicial killings. Does the end justify the means?
In the case of Lyari, local residents were mere bystanders as law enforcement personnel tackled the menace of gang-war. In other parts of the city, where residents of an area used to be taken in confidence on community policing measures, residents have been reduced to being passive bystanders after law enforcement agencies decided mid last year to disallow the use of barricades in neighbourhoods.
Previously, to ward off such incidents of roadside muggings, neighbourhood committees had secured their respective private spaces with paid security guards, who’d keep an eye on the new faces in the neighbourhood or won’t allow unidentified bikes to amble in the area.
“The barriers were naturally more secure,” says Irfan Ahmed, a resident of Gulshan-i-Iqbal and former member of a neighbourhood committee in one of the blocks. “Such crimes are a regular feature of big cities,” he says, “so the government should allow residents certain powers within their small space so that they can take care of themselves.”
Ahmed observes that since last few months police patrolling in his area is practically vanished. “The city has certainly gotten better in many respects, but it seems the local police have disappeared from the scene,” he says.
“They were courteous but were looking for cash and gold, nothing more. We didn’t report it to the police because what’s the point?
Many of these community policing measures were agreed upon between citizens and law enforcement through the offices of the Citizens Police Liaison Committee (CPLC), particularly during the reign of Mustafa Kamal, the former city nazim from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).
The CPLC head office is, of course, situated in the premises of the Governor House. Before the Karachi Operation, the CPLC drew much legitimacy and power through its connection with the Governor House. But once the Rangers took over, the CPLC lost some of its bite.
“Around the time of the Azizabad by-elections, numerous CPLC offices were shut down by the Rangers and their equipment seized. In some cases, the offices remained open but they were merely glorified guards with a rudimentary CCTV system,” explain sources.
In turn, what has happened is that crime in settled neighbourhoods has increased and house robberies are becoming more common.
“Robbers entered our house around noon,” says Imran Ali Khan*, a resident of North Nazimabad. “They were courteous but were looking for cash and gold, nothing more. We didn’t report it to the police because what’s the point?”
While the number of regular target killings on ethnic and sectarian grounds, which had become a signature of Karachi’s deadly violence, have shown a marked decrease, along with other deadly acts such as kidnapping-for-ransom, the paramilitary forces’ gradual takeover of the law and order machinery in the city seems to have absolved the police of its primary duties of keeping an eye over everyday petty crimes. Crimes like robbery, bank heists and roadside muggings, especially mobile snatching at gunpoint, all seem to have remained unaffected by the rising intensity of the Karachi Operation.
Zahid Qureshi, a resident of Gulistan-i-Jauhar, was mugged near Bahria University at Dalmia Road in March last year. He was going home from work in a rickshaw when a man barged into the vehicle as it was limping forward in a traffic jam. “It took less than 10 seconds,” he recalls, “I was stripped of my cell phone, NIC, ATM and university card.”
Qureshi remembers when he went to register an FIR, the policemen knew it was a mere formality. “They were not interested in the details and never asked me about the incident as in to help them investigate.” He needed the FIR since the document was required to re-apply for the NIC and ATM card, which he got. And the matter ended there. “Had I only lost my phone, I would not have bothered to report it. I needed that piece of paper for official purposes.”
Abid Ali, a teacher, fended off a robbery at Karachi’s Tyre Market last Sunday (Jan 31). Two shots were fired yet the muggers were not able to take away much. “I gave away my phone but resisted when they asked for my car’s key,” he says. “It was on the main road and there were people everywhere, so I thought I should take my chance.”
“I work eight hours a day to provide a better life to my family, how can I just give away my hard-earned money in seconds?” he asks. He didn’t bother to register an FIR.
In another such incident, Mohammad Aoun, an employee of a private organisation, got mugged near Defence View in August last year. He was also on a rickshaw when two men on a motorcycle took away his cell phone flashing a gun. “I just called the network and blocked the SIM.” That was all.
In theory, there is a system of reporting a stolen cell phone and having it retrieved. Every cell phone has an IMEI number, usually printed on the box in which the phone was packaged. The IMEI number is reported to the CPLC, who in turn, track the exact location of where the phone is through this number.
CPLC sources explain that not only do very few people report their stolen phones and provide their IMEI numbers, but of those that do, almost nobody follows up their case. Many such “petty” street crimes go unreported as cellular networks have made it hassle-free to switch-off a SIM and promise to keep the number safe until the user gets a new cell phone.
Former CPLC chief Ahmed Chinoy argues that when “big fishes” are hounded, as criminals are in the Rangers-led operation, they resort to ‘small crimes’ in order to survive. “What happens is that they are on a run; their major revenue source — say extortion — is blocked, so they eke out a living through petty crimes.”
Ahmed believes that the best way to stop such lawlessness is to empower local police and allow them freedom to exercise power. “A SHO at a local police station is the most informed person in an area, because he knows the ‘crucial points’ in a neighbourhood where such crimes take place and even the kind of people who might be involved if they are from the neighbourhood.”
“Because to curtail such incidents, the law enforcers require to develop a sense of personal relationship with the people of the neighbourhood, which is crucial for policing, and this can only happen if you follow a bottom-to-up strategy and not the other way around.”
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, February 7th, 2016