The Sindh Rangers was first called in Karachi, by late Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto after three PSF members were gunned down at Karachi University in 1989. The Article 147 was invoked and they were deployed in aid of civil power. Twenty-one years have passed and it’s the time to review its success and failure when a cross section of society lauded their efforts but some questions remain unanswered.
During its presence three major operations had been conducted in Karachi – army operation, police operation and the present Rangers operation, considered as the most effective. There are two major reasons behind its success. Firstly, it is by and large balanced and, secondly, Rangers for the first time had been given special powers under ATA.
The failures include lack of coordination between the Centre and Sindh government, inability to make police as an effective alternate force strong enough to replace the paramilitary even after two decades and to depoliticise the police, poor investigation and prosecution as a result of which even high-profile cases could not be proceeded and most importantly the role of premier intelligence agencies whose alleged political consideration of 'good and bad', particularly in the MQM cases, damaged the operational forces as well. It happened in 1992 and even now.
Too much emphasis had been given to defame suspects rather getting them convicted in the court of law. Video leaks, JIT leaks – either of MQM’s alleged militants or those close to former president Asif Ali Zardari – did not help anyone. On the contrary, it raised questions on the operation.
After the release of Dr Asim's video, the reaction was too sharp and at one stage the PPP leaders even intended to bring resolution both against Centre and Rangers. Surprisingly, the PPP leaders defended the video leak of MQM militant Saulat Mirza and that too from the death cell.
The Rangers, on the other hand, defended its operation though, they still believe that had they been given powers of prosecution, separate police stations, and also allowed to appoint special prosecutors, results could be more effective. Once it had even submitted a plea in the Supreme Court but was opposed by the provincial government.
The Sindh government now faces a dilemma as the Rangers is not ready for a one-sided operation or to seek permission from the chief minister or the Sindh government prior to the arrest as in the past some suspects managed to escape once the news was leak.
The current apex committee with a new corps commander, new DG Rangers and also a more effective and active chief minister, must give a new look to the operation. It has to be unbiased, result-oriented and above political considerations.
Sources say the raids at the offices of Anwar Majeed and that too on the day when former president Asif Ali Zardari had arrived after a year-long self exile caused a lot of embarrassment to Murad Ali Shah, as Mr Zardari expressed his anger.
Special powers to the Rangers under ATA had been given in the light of a presentation given at the central apex committee meeting attended by the PM and the former army chief around two years back, in which it feared the increased involvement of RAW in Karachi.
Under the powers granted through ATA as well as under Protection of Pakistan Act, the Rangers was allowed to detain suspects for 90 days and also investigate before handing them over to police.
In many cases, including that of Dr Asim, the Rangers blamed police for mishandling the case. On the other hand, the chief minister also had some reservations regarding the manner in which tall claims were made about the biggest arms haul from a house in Azizabad but nothing surfaced at the end.
In this case, police came under serious embarrassment and so was the CM, as the government in meetings with security agencies raised question as why political considerations affected the probe which has now been closed.
Although the Rangers may again get extension in the special powers, the chief minister is still curious to know what was actually came out from the raid at Anwar Majeed’s offices and why he was put in an embarrassing position.
In the last 21 years, only once a summary to withdraw the Rangers and replaced it with police was sent. It was during Benazir Bhutto's second government in 1996, just months before her government was removed after the assassination of her brother Mir Murtaza Bhutto.
This fact was confirmed to me by none other than the former Sindh police chief, Dr Shoaib Suddle. The reason cited was an improved law and order situation. "Yes! It is true as we were satisfied because there had been no political interference during that period," he said.
At time of launching the present operation – in Sept 2013 just three months after the third PML-N government came into power and the fifth PPP government in Sindh (1972-77, 1988-1990, 1993-96, 2008-13 and 2013), it was decided that the Rangers would act as the lead force to combat terrorists of the outlawed group and other outfits.
The decision came in the backdrop of the Supreme Court’s 2011 orders in Karachi law and order case. The former chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, had taken suo-moto after a rise in the killings, particularly in Lyari. From 2008 to 2010, when Dr Zulfiqar Mirza was the home minister, law and order situation deteriorated with a series of ethnic killings between the Lyari gangs and MQM.
However, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, former army chief Raheel Sharif, former president Asif Ali Zardari, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar and others finalised the 'Karachi Targeted Action,' they had also approved a review committee or grievances and redresses committee.
One of the reasons behind such a committee was to ensure that no injustice was done, keeping the past experiences of operations which had witnessed numerous complaints of extrajudicial killings and incidents of missing persons.
The first opposition to the idea came from the then Sindh government, which took a position in the presence of ‘captain of the operation’ Qaim Ali Shah, that there was no need of such a committee. A year later, the same captain expressed his reservations and called for a review after the arrest of Dr Asim.
One of the reasons why this operation gave more positive results than the previous three, including 1998 governor's rule, had been an apolitical approach, particularly in the first two years.
While the MQM had supported the operation and even had demanded army operation, some serious mishandling on the part of law enforcement agencies and the federal and Sindh government raised questions.
In these 21 years, there has been lot of bloodshed, assassinations of key political leaders, extrajudicial killings, extortion, kidnapping for ransom, but finally there have relatively peaceful three years, mainly because of an effective role assigned to the Rangers.
Any extension needs a review but not because some close friends of those close to PPP leadership were caught, as it has to be performance based.
The lasting solution to Sindh rests in a political solution – free of militancy and the justice delivered clearly visible. Unless we have an apolitical metropolitan police force, Rangers presence is inevitable.
The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang.
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