KARACHI, Nov 6: Shakil Farooqi was one of at least 20 people robbed while travelling on the 7-C bus near the Nazimabad inquiry office last month.
Farooqi, a shipping company accountant on his way to work, recalls that three armed young men took only about five minutes to rob all of those on board the bus before asking the driver to hit the brakes and disembarking, melting into the crowd.
Amir Sheikh, the owner of an industrial unit in Korangi, was with his teenage son when two armed men held them up at gunpoint near his Defence, Phase VI, home, relieving them of thousands of rupees, Sheikh’s credit cards and their cellphones and wristwatches.
Muhammad Ramzan wasn’t quite as fortunate. Heading to his hometown of Bahawalpur on the Fareed Express train service ahead of the Eid holidays last week, Ramzan was shot twice by armed men who robbed the passengers of one of the train’s wagons as it passed through the Dumba Goth area of Landhi.
Ramzan had attempted to resist the attackers, and was shot dead.
With over 14,000 victims this year alone, street crime at gunpoint remains a serious problem in the country’s largest city, and the city police’s approach to combating it remains not at all clear, experts say.
None of the above victims, for example, lodged a complaint at their local police station.
Even Ramzan’s relatives only filed a First Information Report after he succumbed to his wounds while being treated at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC).
”The number of reported crimes is much lower than the situation on ground,” Ahmed Chinoy, the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) chief told Dawn. “People have gradually accepted street crime as a part of regular life. No effective effort from police, coupled with typical thana culture have convinced them to stay away from reporting the crime.”
Despite the lack of reporting, the CPLC’s data still counts 8,807 victims of cellphone theft, 4,176 of motorcycle theft and 1,305 of car theft (all at gunpoint) this year alone.
The city’s transporters are often either victims or witnesses of these crimes, and they say the lack of security on Karachi’s main transportation routes is appalling.
”There are many areas where our buses are taken hostage by groups of armed men and passengers are robbed,” said Irshad Bukhari of the Karachi Transport Ittehad. “Saddar, New Karachi, Banaras, Landhi, Korangi, Surjani Town, Gulistan-i-Jauhar, Dalmia and the list goes on. We keep hearing our drivers showing reluctance to operate on certain routes.”
Innovative approaches The police’s approach to combating the problem appears unclear, and with victims lacking confidence in their ability to track down the perpetrators, the number of actual cases remains “terribly higher” than those recorded, a senior police officer said.
The criminals, meanwhile, continue to innovate: from common street holdups to robbing guests at marriage ceremonies.
”In mid-September, we had a wedding ceremony on our lawn with around 500 guests attending the event,” said Shahid Nazeer, a manager of a wedding lawn in Block I of North Nazimabad. “As the guests were leaving after dinner at midnight, some five youngsters wearing jeans and shirts entered the lawn, pulled out guns, disarmed our security guard and locked the main entrance and exit. They held more than 100 guests and staff hostage for nearly 15 minutes to snatch valuables from almost everyone.”
In his late 50s, Nazeer has been in the marriage lawn business for 17 years and claims to have seen many robberies over the years. The holdup in September, he says, was the scariest.
”You can imagine the level of their boldness and fear of any law, police or anything. After that experience, we have put a notice board outside the wedding lawn, which with other warnings reads that we would not be responsible for losses in case of any robbery.
“It’s a strange condition, but it’s in line with recent trends.”
Mixed priorities While the authorities continue to launch “targeted operations” in conjunction with the Rangers and Frontier Constabulary paramilitary troops against those involved in political violence, it would appear that combating street crime is low on the government’s list of priorities.
”In the case of street crime, the area police are primarily responsible to control and keep checks,” Additional IG Ghulam Shabbir Sheikh, who is currently the city’s acting police chief, told Dawn. “In a season like Eid or other major events, the ratio of street crime increases to some level and for that the entire city police force is engaged in different capacities.”
The Sindh police authorities do not appear to be assigning the issue the kind of importance that Karachi’s citizens – people like Farooqi, Sheikh (and his son) and Ramzan – do. Experts say that given the current approach, it is difficult to see things changing for the better.
“The way our police take it, I don’t think there would be any positive change soon. But the people must understand they should report it, at least to the CPLC, to put the incident on record. It would help in designing the strategy sooner or later,” said the CPLC’s Chinoy.