KARACHI, May 19: Power riots across the city have set alarm bells ringing in the provincial security administration, which has approached the authorities in Islamabad for intervention with warnings that violent protests have badly hit regular policing and attracted criminal elements to exploit the situation that may lead to a major breakdown of law and order or a terrorist activity.
The city police, who already face a human resource crisis with fewer than 30,000 personnel available for more than 15 million Karachiites, supported the initiative and a top official confirmed on Thursday that the fresh move was being made to ‘seek assistance from the highest level to resolve the issue.’
“On an average the city witnesses more than half a dozen violent protest demonstrations against prolonged and unscheduled outages,” said a senior official dealing with security and policing.
“Most protests include arson activities and for the last week or so, we have credible reports about criminal activities in such protests such as mugging. Besides, road traffic also is frequently affected due to these protests.”
He said that the police high-ups had voiced their annoyance over the issue at a recent meeting held to review the law and order situation, pleading that they were forced to regulate protests staged by the consumers that had been allowing involvement of criminal elements.
The situation was turning from bad to worse amid persistent threats of terrorism and political violence across the city, they told the meeting, he added.
“The relevant authorities, including the interior and power ministries, in Islamabad have been apprised of the situation formally and requested to play their role to resolve the issue between the power utility and its workers that has emerged as a serious threat to the city’s law and order with scant resources available to the police,” the official said.
Power riots erupted earlier this month when more than 4,000 Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) workers went on strike against the proposed retrenchment plan of the power utility. Since then the KESC management and the labour union have time and again blamed each other for the crisis.
The month-long standoff between the two sides also failed to impress the authorities to step in and left the millions of Karachiites with no option but to protest that appeared as a challenge for the police and other law-enforcement agencies.
The city police chief also confirmed to Dawn the recent attempts by the department to approach the authorities while gauging that the situation was ‘turning serious with each passing day’.
“We have raised the issue at the highest level,” Capital City Police Officer Saud Mirza said. “The protests have not only diverted our focus from regular policing but also offered a new avenue to criminals and miscreants to exploit the situation, and we are witnessing it almost everyday.”
He responded in the affirmative when asked about his contact with the KESC management on the subject. He said that every relevant quarter had been approached amid fears that the frequent agitation could turn into a major showdown any day.
“The city faces major policing challenges and has many fronts to be taken care of. The power protests in this situation make our job more complex and difficult. We are making all-out efforts so that we can focus on areas of our primary concerns,” CCPO Mirza said.
Traffic police authorities had similar thoughts to share with Dawn. They said the protests not only affected flow of traffic on major roads but also damaged the daily business of transport services. The traffic police currently have services of only 2,100 personnel to regulate traffic of the metropolis despite having a sanctioned strength of almost 3,700 personnel.
“In these protests, there is always a first attempt to block the road,” said SSP Ali Raza, who heads Zone III of the traffic police organisational structure that includes the city’s artery Sharea Faisal. “Diversion of traffic from one route to another is always a hectic task to execute. The commuters hardly follow the directives, which lead to gridlocks and mess.”
He said that for almost a month roads under his supervision were facing traffic jams mainly due to power riots and protests.