THE scale of corruption and crime in the police forces of the country is often guessed at, but rarely is it described in clinical detail. The killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud and the revelations about Rao Anwar and his associates’ vast empire of criminality, abductions and murder have shocked a nation inured to police brutality and wrongdoing. It has also spawned fresh public interest in the widely known but barely investigated issue of extrajudicial killings. An investigative report in this newspaper yesterday has added important details to numerous allegations against Mr Anwar and his gang in police uniform. Patronised and protected by political and permanent elements of the state, it seems that the disgraced policeman Rao Anwar had set up a virtual mafia of his own in his jurisdiction and established nothing short of a reign of terror. The general public is keenly aware that it must be wary of the police, but Mr Anwar’s rule in Malir, Karachi, was grotesquely violent — violence that is perhaps only outdone by the impunity with which he carried out his activities. In death, Naqeebullah has become a symbol of hope that positive change is both possible and desperately needed. The culture of the police acting outside the law has to be brought to an end.

In truth, there is little that can be done when the political and security arms of the state are both deeply involved in and connive with the police to commit crimes. The long fight against militancy and terrorism has created fresh justifications for extreme violence, even summary executions, against all manner of citizens, whether criminal or not. The case of Naqeebullah cannot be an isolated incident and a full official investigation of Mr Anwar’s record will surely unearth new horrors and shocking evidence. What is clear is that public pressure, scrutiny by legislatures and the judicial process can combine to put pressure on the state to reform. Undeniable flaws as there are in the judicial system, extrajudicial killings are not a solution; such killings perhaps only worsen the cycle of violence. The problem is manifestly not limited to Karachi in general, but is a national problem. With policing mostly a provincial matter, coordinating reforms across the provinces will need significant effort. Commendable legislative reforms in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are a step in the right direction, but cannot be judged as effective yet. A line in the sand must be drawn: no more extrajudicial killings.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2018

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