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‘Empowering Rangers alone will not address street crime’

February 08, 2022
‘Empowering Rangers alone will not address street crime’

To address the issue of rising street crime in the city, the recent demand of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) for the empowerment of the Rangers does not seem to have struck a chord with many, including the PTI’s ally Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan and civil society activists, who believe that engaging the paramilitary force is not an optimal solution to the grave issue of street crime.

Street crimes in Karachi have jumped manifold in recent months. Robbers have been mugging citizens across the city and do not hesitate to shoot and kill their victims on slight resistance.

The PTI’s demand for calling in the Rangers with powers to deal with street criminals is also a reflection of the eroding trust of people in the police as recently, some policemen were found to be involved in various crimes. A newly-wed youth was gunned down by a mugger in the Tariq Road area a few weeks ago. When the robber was identified with the help of CCTV footage, he turned out to be a policeman. And this was just one of many cases in which law enforcers were found to be involved in serious crimes.

However, the Rangers have alsoshown high-handedness in the past when they were asked to perform the policing functions in Karachi. Due to this and other reasons, the MQM-P believes that street crime should be controlled through local policing — which means recruitment of local youths in the police of their respective districts.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which is the ruling party in Sindh, does not feel the need for taking extraordinary measures to address the street crime in Karachi.

The PPP also finds no major issues in the police force. “It was the same police force, which in collaboration with the Rangers, has reduced targeted killings, extortion and street crime,” said Murtaza Wahab, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation administrator and PPP leader. He also linked the recent surge in street crime with the worsening economic condition following the coronavirus pandemic.

Call for Rangers

Khurrum Sher Zaman, the PTI’s parliamentary leader in the Sindh Assembly, in a recent letter to the Sindh chief minister demanded that the CM increase the powers of the Rangers at least for three to six months to control street crime.

Zaman told The News that every street in Karachi had become a haven for criminal elements and people were being ruthlessly killed even at their doorstep for putting up resistance during mugging bids.

Citing the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee’s (CPLC) statistics, he said that over 78,000 cases of street crime were reported in 2021. “The actual number would be higher as people are reluctant to register their complaints at police stations,” he maintained.

“Police personnel in a large number are recruited on political grounds and people with a criminal background and unstable mental conditions are also part of the police force,” the PTI leader alleged. “It is the reason that we demand powers for the Rangers to curb street crime.”

Dissenting notes

Javed Hanif, MQM-P Sindh Assembly member, was not impressed by the PTI’s demand for the Rangers’ empowerment. He said the Rangers were a paramilitary force and not trained to perform watch and ward duties.

“Instead of giving more policing powers to the Rangers, what is needed is to bring some improvement in the police force,” the MQM-P MPA added. Karamat Ali, civil society activist and member of the Sindh Safety and Police Complaints Commission (SSPCC), agreed with Hanif. “Rangers personnel’s day-to-day contact with people is very low and therefore giving them policing powers to curb street crime would not be helpful,” he said.

Local policing

According to Hanif, the deployment of ‘non-local’ police in Karachi is one of the key reasons behind the surge in street crime. “Police personnel who live in a city understand the security and crime dynamics of that city and its demography, and by deputing them in their own cities, street crime can be curbed,” he said.

He also did not restrict his demand for local policing to the Urdu-speaking population as he said the youth of all ethnicities living permanently in Karachi should be recruited in the police department and posted in areas inhabited by people of their respective ethnicities.

Hanif lamented that instead of promoting local policing, the Sindh government had been bringing police officers from other parts of the province to Karachi and because of their unfamiliarity with the city’s dynamics, they were not able to effectively deal with the crime.

Dysfunctional SSPCC

To improve the police affairs, the Sindh government had in September 2019 formed the SSPCC as a major police oversight and public complaint redressal body. However, the commission has been dysfunctional for several months with the mandatory monthly meetings of the commission not being held.

“The commission’s main objective was to bring relief to the common people, particularly to address the issue of street crime, but because of the Sindh government’s lackluster approach, the commission has become dysfunctional,” said Ali.

The civil society activist said that each district of Sindh was to have a similar commission so that the people living there would not have to come to Karachi to file complaints against police.

No dedicated minister

Ali also stressed the need for a dedicated home minister to oversee the police affairs. Currently, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, among other portfolios, also holds the portfolio of the home ministry.

By the virtue of being the home minister, Shah is also the SSPCC chairperson but due to his busy schedule, he has been unable to hold the mandatory meetings of the commission, the civil society activist said, adding that keeping the worsening security situation in the province and rising street crime in view, the CM should appoint a lawmaker from his party as the home minister.

Ali also opined that the police force should be made autonomous so that it could work independently without the interference of the ruling party and bureaucrats of the home department. To this point, Wahab said that the police force had been operating independently without interference of the home department after the SC verdict in the AD Khawaja case.

“The home secretary deals with security affairs in the province and the IGP operates independently,” said Wahab. He added that higher police officials such as IGP, DIGs and SSPs should increase inspections, beef up surveillance and appoint SHOs on merit.

Meanwhile, Hanif said the police force of the city should be overseen by the elected mayor.

A complex issue

Zoha Waseem, an expert on policing and academic at the University of Warwick, United Kingdom, does not believe that policing alone, irrespective of whether it is done by the local police or the paramilitary force, can solve the problem of street crime in Karachi.

“Street crimes [such as] theft, house robberies, snatchings, etc. are not simply crimes of opportunity that can be controlled by hardening targets or putting more officers on patrol. They may also be because of social and financial hardships,” she said. “You need to address the root causes behind the crime, such as unemployment, discrimination, lack of education, lack of access to health care, etc.”

Regarding a previous time of relative peace in the city, she said peace was achieved by various actors, including police. “Everyone from the courts to the local government was involved and funds were pumped into various services and provisions. That's how crime went down. So policing alone is not an answer, and operations alone cannot bring the crime down if you don't address the root causes.”