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Becoming a statistic

April 10, 2017


IN the decade that I’ve lived in Karachi, the city has been good to me. Given the alarmingly high rates of crime, though, all this meant was that my turn was long overdue. So it was that my luck ran out a few days into the new year and I became part of the stats column pertaining to armed robbery.

I was sitting in my car, working on a computer in a quiet lane in Defence; I had dropped someone to the house whose gate I was parked in front of, having decided to wait out the hour they needed. A man tapped on my window, and pulled out a gun when I refused to lower it. There was another man on a motorbike behind my vehicle, cutting off my exit.

Our exchange, which probably lasted just a few minutes, was of course much more violent than I’m putting down here. I am fortunate in that I was let off having only been stripped of my rings and such-like. Fortunate, because many people have ended up being killed or injured in such situations. Fortunate, because I did not lose credit cards and identity documents.

When my nerves had stopped jangling, I drove over to the Darakshan police station that is just a few streets away. I am well aware of the police’s well-documented reluctance to file an FIR in cases such as these, where there is nothing to go on, and I didn’t plan to insist on it.

The duty officer ran a weary hand over a haggard face. I wrote down an account of what had occurred, and a description of the stolen items. I wrote down a description of the man, said that, yes, I’d recognise him if I saw him again, and insisted that, no, he was not a Pakhtun.

After that, I drove back and picked up the person for whom I had been waiting. The residents of the house were suitably horrified; one of their family had similarly been robbed recently, right around the corner.

The presence of police vehicles suggested some sort of collusion...

A friend asked later, didn’t anyone from all the other houses notice? But there had been nothing to see, just a man talking to a woman sitting in a car; for all anyone knew, he might have been in her employ. I did conjecture, though, that this crime probably took place because the opportunity presented itself — these men probably worked in one of the houses nearby, had noticed me and scoped me out. When you set out to carry out a hold-up or two, you head to where people are likely to be, rather than a quiet, leafy residential lane lined with high walls and closed gates.

I have reason to visit that same house several times every week, and so I’ve fallen into the habit of scanning faces. And last Monday, the unusual part of my otherwise clichéd story occurred: a man was exiting the house opposite, and it was him that three months ago robbed me at this very place.

When I told this to another person who also does this trip several times a week, he said that he had noticed that there didn’t seem to be a family in that particular house; from the sorts of vehicles (including police) and persons (carrying visible weapons) he’d seen there, it was likely the sort of shady establishment that are often run by persons such as politicians who want to keep their dirt away from their private residences.

I’m pretty sure I have my assailant correctly identified, but I’m not going to go to the police. Not only have I no faith, I am also well aware of the sorts of hassles and runarounds citizens end up facing in such situations. Moreover, if my friend’s conjecture about it being a shady establishment is correct, do I want to put myself on the radar of such people, mark myself out as an inconvenience?

Persons such as myself have only the law on their side, and not just does the law effectively not exist in this country, the fact that police vehicles are sometimes parked at this location would suggest some sort of collusion that make it unlikely that any outcomes would be in my favour.

By the standards of Pakistani society in general, I am not an ‘ordinary’ citizen, elevated as I am to a position of relative privilege by virtue of economic status, education, employment and so on. Where I find myself in such a frustrating position, what of the hapless millions that are so much more desperately vulnerable?

But I’ve saved the kicker for the last: according to a former police officer published on these pages last Monday, ironically the very day I recognised my assailant, “the total budget allocated by the provincial governments for investigations works out, on average, to no more than Rs200-400 per case”.

That’s a figure as remarkable, perhaps, as the crime statistics.

The writer is a member of staff.

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2017