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April 18, 2019

Trigger happy


April 18, 2019

The residents of Karachi seem to be living in the midst of a very violent Wild West, with death by police shooting coming at regular intervals. On Tuesday, in what is the sixth such recent incident in the city, a 19-month-old baby boy was killed at a city square after becoming caught up in a shoot-out between police and alleged criminals. Just ten days ago, a ten-year-old boy had died after being caught in similar crossfire in another part of town. The parents of the baby boy say they were in a rickshaw when the incident took place and they were shocked to see the child bleeding after a burst of gunfire in the area. Other families have suffered in the same way. Over the last seven months, at least four other people have been killed in Karachi as a result of shoot-outs between law enforcers and criminals. They include ten-year-old Amal, a final year medical student, Nimra, a mechanic, Rab Nawaz, and a young man, Sajjad. It appears the police have turned the entire city into a kind of firing range, paying no heed to where their bullets go or what target they hit. Naturally, opening gunfire in the heart of our busiest metropolis is a dangerous affair. Police lack the training necessary to deal with the situations they face in a more calculated way, focused on ensuring that no harm is inflicted on ordinary citizens.

We first of all need to make it clear that such ‘collateral damage’ is not acceptable. Across the world, the police and other security agencies are trained to first of all safeguard the lives of citizens. Here we have six people, three of them small children, killed directly by the actions of our police force. There needs to be a system of accountability, penalty and justice. Trigger-happy cops cannot be allowed to wander down roads teeming with cars, rickshaws, buses and pedestrians, and unleash volleys of gunfire at will.

To a large extent, as a result of the operation carried out by the Rangers and the police in the city, the crime rate in Karachi has fallen. In 2014, the city was rated internationally as the sixth most dangerous in the world. By 2018, its place on the list had fallen to 50th place. This is indeed commendable. But the improvement should not come at the cost of the lives of the people who live peacefully in the city. To ensure this, we need far better training and far better terms of employment for our beleaguered police force. It is no easy matter policing a city of 15 million with an inadequately equipped and poorly educated force. Far more expertise in law enforcement is required. This should be the priority for our planners to avoid more tragedy in Karachi and to keep the residents safe from their own police force. In the meanwhile, someone from the Sindh government and its police force needs to take responsibility of ensuring that the police will go through whatever trainings are required that get them to look at Karachi’s residents’ lives as precious.

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