‘Egalitarian’ crime: cut above the rest?

Published December 20, 2021
Police officials stop people on the road heading towards Daman-e-Koh in Islamabad. — APP/File
Police officials stop people on the road heading towards Daman-e-Koh in Islamabad. — APP/File

NO doubt, Pakistan is far from alone in that each reported atrocity is rapidly and of necessity replaced in the headlines by a newer act of anarchy. Yet, this country seems to do such a particularly good job of it.

The appalling crime in Sialkot is of a proportion that all the attention and aversion it has garnered, be it from local residents, non-resident Pakistanis, government, opposition, and ulema circles, cannot be enough.

Why this atrocity has in particular hit such a very raw nerve, though, is difficult to quantify: it was also in Sialkot in 2010, for example, that brothers Mughees and Muneeb Butt were lynched — killed, strung up, their bodies mutilated; in 2014, Shama and Shahzad Masih from Kot Radha Kishan (just 60km from Lahore) were beaten to near-death and then thrown alive into a brick kiln to reach a terrifying fate; the horrors are too numerous to recount here, and there’s little point since we remember them all anyway.

Beyond these terrible tragedies that must of necessity stand out, the running and consistent reportage of, shall we say, more run-of-the-mill crimes tends to get eclipsed. But where the particularly horrifying crimes betray patterns, so do the others: the cell-phone snatchings, the vehicle-liftings, the armed robberies in residences and commercial concerns, the murders over ‘personal enmities’, all of which continue to be reported from across the country with mind-numbing regularity. Taken together, this latter category betrays a trend where increasingly, crime in Pakistan is at least egalitarian — no one is insulated or safe.

This last was demonstrated by a couple of pieces of news in recent days from our capital, the so-called ‘Safe City’ — tidy, leafy, criss-crossed all over by cameras, equipped with law enforcement with picture-perfect vehicles and uniforms.

But an armed robbery in Islamabad’s well-protected sector of F-7/3 — almost exactly opposite the house of the inspector general of police — caused something of a stir in this city of the most privileged (as a generalisation) of Pakistanis. The daylight raid on the house of a businessman, Yasir Ansari, netted the four armed intruders over Rs9.5m, foreign currency, and gold.

It is an illustration of how the siege mentality increasingly being reported amongst Pakistan’s millions can work against them. Outside the IGP’s house are always a couple of police dalaas, and round-the-clock police guards. But once the black Toyota Corolla carrying the robbers had gained ingress into Mr Ansari’s premises, and the gates shut behind it, who on the street outside could possibly suspect what in fact was under way behind those same high walls that had been meant to protect the homeowners?

(Also, given how this particular vehicle, particularly when occupied by large, neat, hard-looking men in white shalwar kameez and black waistcoats, especially in the heavily surveilled Islamabad, has become inextricably associated with shadowy agencies and their spooks, what poor footpath-pounding policeman would ever dare flag it down? Such is the link between this vehicle and its ability to get through check posts that, reportedly, there is extra ‘on’ money for ordering it in black.)

Back to the point, however. A few days earlier, a similar daylight robbery had been carried out at the F-10 house of Senator Nuzhat Sadiq. On Nov 23, the Senate Standing Committee on Interior met at Parliament House.

Taking up the issue of growing crime in the capital, the committee was provided data showing that in 2018, a total of 9,465 cases of crime were registered in Islamabad, followed by 9,748 in 2019 and 10,539 last year. Pressed for details, the SSP Investigation said that so far this year, in this city, 130 murder, 954 robbery, 585 theft, and 47 rape cases had been reported.

‘Had been reported.’ Here lies the rub. DIG Afzal Ahmed Kauser told the Senate committee that the police were now registering FIRs of “almost all” applicants, which is why an upward trend was in evidence. That begs the question, why were FIRs concerning any and all complaints of crime not already being registered?

Isn’t any crime a transgression against the law, and must it not be given equal attention? Or is there much to read into the fact that with reference to the raid at Mr Ansari’s residence, police officials contacted by the press were hesitant of saying much since, they said, the incident was an embarrassment for the capital police.

It is no secret, after all, that many crimes never get taken at all to the gates of the police since the victims have little faith in the law enforcers and even lower expectations of justice; and, even when reported, the police are often reluctant to file an FIR because the audit of unresolved cases on the books casts the force in a poor light.

At the Nov 23 Senate Standing Committee meeting, referring to the robbery of Senator Sadiq’s F-10 house, Senator Saifullah Abro observed: “This is not a katcha area, rather, the federal capital.”

That says a lot about the sense of security that Islamabadis have enjoyed for so long. Insulated from the frightening realities of rising crime that the rest of the country has for so long contended with, the capital appears to finally be waking up to that fact that it cannot forever cushion itself from the hardships faced by 200 million people — and, indeed, why should it be so privileged in a country where unemployment, a disaffected youth, the number of firearms on the streets, and an increasing distance between have and have-nots, are rising rapidly?

Is crime in katcha areas, or in Karachi, or Faisalabad, more tolerable than that in the leafy green lanes of Islamabad?

The writer is a journalist.

hajrahmumtaz@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, December 20th, 2021

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