EVERY 90 days, the same ritual plays out in Sindh. The policing powers of the paramilitary Rangers come up for renewal, the provincial authorities delay the notification extending the powers of the force, a flurry of negotiations takes place and the notification is eventually issued. The policing powers of the Rangers, which allow them to carry out raids, detain and arrest people, as well as conduct prosecution, expired on April 15, and since then the force has withdrawn its personnel from deployments from a wide range of facilities including checkposts. It has retreated to its headquarters as it awaits a new notification that would grant it policing powers. In the flurry of negotiations and headlines that each such episode creates, one central fact gets obscured: the Rangers cannot be expected to police Karachi forever. The big question, therefore, is, what has the Sindh government done to prepare itself and the city’s police force for an eventual withdrawal of the paramilitary force? The strenuous efforts to remove the current IG of Sindh Police do not inspire confidence that the ruling party in the province sees the policing of the country’s largest metropolis as an important duty that should be free of all politics.
The provincial authorities have a point when they say the Rangers have overstepped their mandate on a number of occasions, either by using their powers for the apprehension of terrorists to pursue political figures instead, or by failing to notify provincial authorities prior to carrying out raids. But the Rangers have also played a crucial role in restoring peace to the city, and should continue to operate until the police force has been sufficiently revived to take up its job, which is not the case at the moment. It seems that the Sindh government is negotiating on a very narrow agenda in return for extending the policing powers of the paramilitary for another 90 days, something we have seen each time the Rangers’ powers are up for renewal. By its actions, the government has undermined its own case against the grant of an extension. It would be easier to understand its point of view, and endorse a call for highly abridged powers, as in the case of the Rangers deployed in Punjab, if one could see strenuous efforts to turn Sindh’s police into an effective, depoliticised force. Until that happens, Karachi will continue to need the Rangers.
Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2017