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August 11, 2016

Lessons from May 12


August 11, 2016

Two lessons need to be learnt from the gory events of May 12, 2007 in Karachi. Firstly those responsible for the implementation of the law must be insulated from the rulers of the day so that no partiality is shown towards the political leadership. This is good governance.

Secondly, those responsible for implementing the law – the executive and the police/Rangers – must be subject to instant and constant accountability. This ensures good governance. Karachi proved that there is a chasm between the fair application of the law and the personal interests of the rulers. In such an environment the politicians become the pollutants and the law enforcers the abettors.

The implementation of the law is vitiated to the extent that personal or extraneous circumstances influence those administering the law. This is as true for the maintenance of peace and order as it is for dealing with resource allocation, taxation, security of life and limb or indeed for road use or water distribution.

Let us see whether the facts on the ground squared up with the law on May 12, 2007. I believe I am aware of these as I was then the chief secretary of the province. CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry was to address the bar in the premises of the Sindh High Court. The law allowed him to do so – except where the Karachi police (the office of district magistrate having being abolished) or the home secretary believed that the visit would seriously disturb public peace and tranquillity and lead to bloody violence.

The then president Musharraf and his team feared the chief justice due to apprehensions about being disqualified from seeking reelection. CJ Chaudhry was, therefore, to be prevented from going to the bar. This was improper, but sadly the police and the Rangers acquiesced to the demand of the rulers rather than uphold the law.

A repeat of the rapturous welcome accorded to the Justice Chaudhry in Lahore, which incidentally was peaceful, could not therefore be countenanced in Karachi for obvious political reasons. The president ensured that his allies in the province, the PML-Q and the MQM, would organise a counter-demonstration against the chief justice.

Any convergence of the two bitterly opposed rallies on Drigh Road or in the high court would certainly have led to a confrontation with a very high probability of violence. The likelihood of bloody conflict was deemed higher than 80 percent. The law, therefore, could not allow the armed rallies to proceed as they wished. One or both the groups needed to be prohibited by the administration to secure peace.

In the absence of well-defined governmental tiers of commissioner and district magistrate, no communication was possible with the main protagonists. The police were seen by the opposition as partisan and as an extension of the government of the day. The chief secretary was accordingly sucked into the melee almost immediately as there was no other impartial forum available for the parties to talk to.

Two suggestions were, therefore, put forward to preempt the danger. The chief justice of the Sindh High Court, the governor and the chief secretary recommended that the bar meeting and the two organized rallies be called off or banned. This proposal was rejected by the president who wanted to display ‘peoples’ power’ to neutralise his opponent. CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry was then requested to travel to the bar meeting by helicopter. This proposal was also not acceptable to both parties. The gloves were off.

A day earlier, as tensions soared, the chief secretary conveyed to the secretary of the prime minister, as the latter was not available on telephone, that there was likelihood of serious mayhem in Karachi in view of the tense conditions. The next day the dire predictions were borne out with widespread violence consuming the lives of 48 innocent daily wage labourers – 40 of them poor Pakhtuns.

Later the revenge-seeking violent strikes were thwarted with the greatest difficulty through ‘jirgas’ and personal requests. Not having heeded the advice proffered earlier the same president Musharraf requested with the chief secretary to use his ‘ethnic connections’ with the Pakhtuns to ward off further blood-letting. The president was politely told that the chief secretary was trying to restore peace and that he had no bias or prejudice involving anyone.

In the pre-devolution era the district/divisional police and executive authorities would have prepared and executed a vigorous action plan in advance to secure security through local communications and preventive police measures. These could not be undertaken because the rulers in Karachi and Islamabad were themselves taking district-level police decisions. The law was ignored in its entirety.

Traditionally in Sindh, and perhaps elsewhere too, the senior bureaucracy and the police remain passive spectators to the orders of the rulers vile as these may be. It was pitiable to see the highest officials of the police and the Rangers, with considerable brass on their shoulders, accept and execute illegitimate orders merely to benefit the rulers.

One additional factor that caused the complete breakdown of security that day was the ill-advised Police Order 2002 which led to the police becoming totally unaccountable. All powers were provided to the police but they were not made responsible to any effective watchdog. No one paid for the loss of 48 lives.

The farcical ‘public safety commissions’ were mere recommendatory bodies not empowered to override the police fiat. Further, even convening their meeting was a challenging task which often took weeks. These were no more than Trojan horses whose actual function was different from their appearance. No wonder these were scrapped by all provinces soon after.

Once during those tense times I suggested, only half in jest, that General Tanvir Naqvi and his police cohorts be called to Karachi to rectify the omissions on ground.

Such safety commissions have now been reintroduced in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; they will remain stillborn as before. God help the ordinary citizen. Obviously the government is unaware of the reasons for police failure. Police performance can only be improved when it is effectively made accountable and judged through key performance indicators objectively applied.

There was a third lesson learnt from Karachi – the functioning of the judiciary has not improved either. All sacrifices were in vain. Only the chief secretary was removed because he resisted despotism!

The writer is a former Khyber political agent and has served as chief secretary GB, AJK, NWFP and Sindh.

Email: [email protected]



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