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July 6, 2020

‘Policing Karachi remains a perennial challenge

Karachi

July 6, 2020

Globally, metropolitan cities have their own police commissioners or police chiefs, independent of their respective province’s or state’s political system or bureaucracy. Whether or not it is a good option for Karachi, there is an urgent need of wider dialogue on policing options for the city.

The suggestion was made in a position paper titled ‘Governance failure and violent extremism’, which was primarily based on the discussions held during an interactive dialogue series organised by the Social Policy & Development Centre, a Karachi-based think tank.

A number of security experts, civil society activists, law enforcement officials, media professionals and academics participated in the interactive series to discuss various topics covering a range of drivers of violent extremism in Pakistan.

Since the police are a critical institution for governance, the interactive dialogue series mainly focused on them, with most of the participants agreeing that policing Karachi remains a perennial problem.

The position paper cited the work of Dr Zoha Waseem, who is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Global City Policing, University College London.

The essay read that the Karachi police operates within “political patronage, financial weaknesses, corruption, poor training, legal frameworks entrenched in colonial thoughts and practices, unimplemented reforms and a general lack of faith in the courts” within the larger context of grave multiple security threats.

The paper said that on the one hand the police represent a coercive force for the people, but on the other, some dialogue participants opined that the law enforcement apparatus has lost credibility in the eyes of the people.

“Stories about their corruption are legion: from high-level police officers being bankrolled by political parties or mafia bosses to low-level officers demanding bribes to register FIRs and extorting money from poor people on the roads and in markets.”

According to open-source data compiled by Dr Zoha, over 3,000 civilians were killed in Karachi by the police in alleged encounters between 2011 and 2018.

In one particularly notorious case, Sindh’s encounter specialist SP Rao Anwar reportedly killed 444 people in 475 such encounters, during which not a single policeman was injured or killed, nor did the officer in question face any inquiries.

On the other hand, the police themselves operate in a high-stress environment, weighed down by limitations, while over 7,000 policemen have been killed in the line of duty across the country.

A police officer participating in the dialogue said that almost half of the law enforcement force is afflicted with some or the other medical problem, particularly high blood pressure, adding that they are overworked with 12-hour-long shifts, and are severely stressed and underpaid.

Moreover, lamented the officer, the police have to contend with a perpetually hostile media, saying that any misstep may bring the media down hard on the police that at times the law enforcers back off completely, compromising the security aims.

“The inefficiency caused by this situation may have a detrimental effect on the desired outcome of the counter-violent extremism efforts,” read the position paper while quoting the police officer.

Discussing future direction, the dialogue participants suggested revisiting the Police Order 2002 to see what went wrong. The officer acknowledged police shortcomings and underscored the need for public participation in policing, saying that policies elsewhere are made in consultation with communities and are fixed over years of trial and error.

“Since people do not feel connected to the police, initiating a public conversation while considering reforms pathways is the way forward — more so since the prime minister has announced a public service reforms initiative,” stated the report.