KARACHI: With recent approval from the Sindh cabinet for procurement of 7,000 pistols for police, authorities at the helm of affairs are confident that the force in Karachi will be equipped with handguns completely replacing the decades-old practice of carrying AK-47 assault rifles.

The move came amid growing security challenges, which made it necessary to use effective and easy-to-handle firearms in urban policing against organised criminal gangs and militant outfits.

The officials said the decision was part of departmental reforms pledged by Sindh Inspector General of Police Mushtaq Ahmed Mahar in the aftermath of collateral damages during recent encounters and growing complaints of street crime mainly in Karachi. The situation not only led to the loss of precious lives, but also raised questions over professionalism and policing skills of the law enforcement agency.

Handguns being provided after some passers-by caught in crossfire due to bullets fired from policemen’s AK-47 rifles

“We have been procuring these pistols for a while and this approval is I think third of its kind. After the approval, 7,000 pieces will arrive but we would need another or two such consignments for Karachi force. We hope within a year we would replace AK-47 rifles the Karachi force has been using with pistols,” a top-ranking official said.

New challenge

While the recent surge in street crime emerging as a new challenge for the Karachi police, the professional excellence, training and expertise in use of assault rifles in urban policing always remain in question for the law enforcement agency.

In August 2018 11-year-old Amal Umer was shot at and killed in the crossfire between police and robbers in DHA. Later, an inquiry proved that it was the bullet of a policeman’s assault rifle that took the girl’s life.

The very next year, a third-year medical student Nimra Baig met the same fate in North Karachi when she was caught in the crossfire between armed bandits and local policemen while going home with her elder brother on motorcycle.

“The Sindh police chief has issued new guidelines for reforms in overall policing and directed officers to ensure their prompt implementation,” said the official. “The fresh set of instructions has directly come from the top authorities involving several measures that include regular firing exercises, deployment of young policemen at public places and replacement of old fleet of vehicles with new ones.”

The measures include acquisition of 9mm pistols to be given to the operational force in Karachi, the official said, adding: “It is a principled decision that the conventional weapons, which have been in use of police force for the past two decades, will gradually be replaced with their improved versions. Cities like Karachi have become heavily weaponised over the years and the old weapons are becoming ineffective in such a situation.”

There was a belief in the police hierarchy that apart from lack of professionalism and policing skills, the arms currently in use were not easy to handle and unfit for the security environment of Karachi, he added.

At present, the official said, the city police were using sub-machine guns (calibre 7.62mm), AK-47 assault rifles, commonly known as Kalashnikov, and G-3 rifles. Similarly, 9mm metric calibre SMGs of MP-5 were also in use of some police units, he added.

Retired military officers had also been helping the Sindh police over the past couple of years to choose and use the kind of guns needed for policing in Karachi hence the plan for procurement of small arms, he said.

The Karachi police backed by Sindh Rangers have taken on threats ranging from terrorist attacks to deadly battles with gangsters, street criminals and hitmen associated with political groups and succeeded to a certain degree in improving the city’s security environment.

Street crime major challenge

Peace has returned to residential and commercial areas after years of bloodshed on sectarian, ethnic and political grounds following the targeted operation launched in September 2013 by authorities.

Still, street crime remains a major challenge for the law enforcement agencies and police authorities are pledging that the reforms being introduced would ultimately have a positive effect on the performance of the law enforcement agency.

“The recently launched street watch force is also made to fight increasing street crime,” he said.

“You would have already started noticing that in a few areas policemen have been carrying small weapons like 9mm pistols and not AK-47 assault rifles. New inductees, after their passing-out ceremony, are being armed with 9mm pistols,” he said.

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2022

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