THERE is a palpable sense of insecurity that citizens across the country must have felt recently, thanks to the harsh realities of living through a slow-burning economic crisis. However, in Karachi, this insecurity has taken a particularly twisted form ever since some elements tried to tie a series of recent mugging-related deaths to rumours about ‘dangerous criminals’ relocating to the city after the recent floods. WhatsApp groups are now abuzz with moral panic, and the MQM, true to its roots, is demanding more firearm licences for locals.
A worrying increase in lynching incidents and vigilante justice has followed the initial wave of citizen deaths during mugging attempts. The city’s police chief, Additional Inspector General Javed Odho, has made matters worse. After initially dismissing complaints of rising street crime as panic-mongering, he has taken a problematic step that will encourage more people to take the law into their hands. After a mugging incident on Monday saw the victim kill one of the suspects, the city police chief promptly announced a Rs50,000 ‘award’ for the former. There is a troubling history to such rewards. A similar one was handed to a citizen in 2016 for acting ‘valiantly’ in gunning down two suspects who had tried to rob his family. While conferring the award, a former Sindh police chief had encouraged other citizens to ‘assist’ the police through similar ‘efforts’. It appears Mr Odho has taken a leaf out of that playbook. While public anger against violent crime is and should remain high, it is highly irresponsible for the police to encourage people to mete out punishments on the streets. It is the police which is ultimately responsible for ensuring the safety of life and property of all citizens; it should make an effort to uphold that responsibility to the best of its abilities, not look for an easy way out by encouraging vigilantism. In a city that still smoulders with ethnic, sectarian and political tensions, it can quickly turn into a recipe for disaster.
Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2022