In the wake of violent crimes in the city, perceptions regarding security and law enforcement have been impacted
ammar Abbas, 48, has to wait for half an hour every day to enter an upscale housing society, where he works as domestic help. “I have got an identity card that was issued to me by the society. In the morning, there is a crowd gathered at the entrance. Everyone has to prove their identity to get in. Most of the people in the crowd are labourers and domestic workers,” he tells The News on Sunday (TNS).
Abbas says that it was not like this in the past. “But then gunmen broke into a shop selling stitched clothes which was next to a bank, in broad daylight. They tortured the shopkeepers, tied them up and made off with valuables. After that, the residents protested against the administration and security was beefed up.”
Islamabad is considered more responsive to crime in terms of law enforcement than other cities. The responsiveness, however, does not make it prone to panic, especially in the wake of high-profile crime cases. The city has 25 police stations, an inspector general in Grade 21, four deputies in Grade 20, 12 senior superintendents, 20 superintendents and more than 40 deputy superintendents, inspectors and constables.
Overall, the strength of the police and their allied staff is over 12,000.
But this number is small considering they have to look after about three million people.
Politics and property are two subjects all kinds of people in Islamabad are most keen to discuss – from shopkeepers to bureaucrats and university professors. Ten percent of the citizens are active social media users. The city also has studios of all national media outlets. Mainstream and social media shape much of the local discourse.
This perhaps is part of the reason that a wave of panic swept through the city in the wake of news about the cold-blooded murder of Sarah, allegedly at the hands of her husband, Shahnawaz, son of noted media person Ayaz Amir.
The promptness with which the police dealt with the case could not allay the panic following the cold-blooded murder being discussed on the media.
Syed Zeeshan Naqvi, a deputy mayor of the federal capital, says politics is an important factor.
“Crime rate started increasing when Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, as interior minister, ordered removal of police and rangers pickets from entrances and exits of the city,” says Naqvi.
Islamabad lies between the Punjab and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Its geography attracts criminal gangs that prefer to concentrate on its borders. They frequently commit a crime and cross into the Punjab or the KP, where they simply melt away.
“The image that the police wish is one thing, the one they have in public is quite another,” says Azhar Jatoi, vice president of the National Press Club.
Naqvi says if the police can secure its entry and exit points, the crime rate will plummet. “In the past, criminals were stopped and detected at the pickets. Rangers were also stationed there. There was concern among criminals about the pickets and they knew that they could not get away easily,” explains Naqvi.
Dr Nasir Khan, the incumbent IG, has a clear strategy about optimal use of available resources. He has proposed the use of technology to put police on the path of modernisation to combat criminals, who are often more tech savvy than some of the traditional investigators.
He has been working on the installation of safe city cameras as the first step to combat street crimes.
In recent weeks, four major attempts by various political parties to bring the city to a standstill have been thwarted.
As a matter of fact, if a political party or a group can bring 5,000 people or more, no police force can stop the rioting in the heart of urban centres. For IG Dr Khan, the secret to halting potential riots lies in breaking up large crowds into small groups with the minimum use of force.
A visit to the police facilitation centre on the Islamabad Expressway shows that people can easily lodge their complaints, mostly about loss of documents or release of security clearance certificates.
Patrolling in rural areas of the district has been increased and processing of cases paced up.
But the performance hardly comes into account when a single crime case consolidates public perception about inefficiency of the police.
Azhar Jatoi, the vice president of the National Press Club, says that the house of a senior journalist was robbed in Media Town recently. “I fail to see the performance you talk about at Loi Bher police station. The image that the police wish is one thing, and the one they have among the public is quite another,” he says.
Before Sarah’s murder, Noor Mukaddam’s case had stirred everyone across the country. These cases took place in Sector F and Shahzad Town. These high-profile cases have ignited debate on the role of police in prevention of violent crimes.
Proceedings in the court regarding the case indicate that the police intend to leave no stone unturned in the investigation. Islamabad police have been releasing frequent updates of the case to prevent panic in the city.
Qammar Abbas, the domestic help who requires security clearance to reach his workplace, says that initially some people had protested about security lapses at entrance. “Now people complain about rigid security protocols and the long wait at the entrances.”
The writer teaches development support communication at the International Islamic University Islamabad. He tweets @HassanShehzadZand can be reached at Hassan.shehzad @iiui.edu.pk