Before the recent law-enforcement operation in Karachi had begun, I met a police officer who had been relieved from a key post because of political pressure. He told me off the record that there had been no developments in the case of the assassination of journalist Wali Khan Babar because of politics.
Months later, the Rangers arrest a key suspect from the pre-dawn raid on the MQM headquarters. Faisal, alias Mota, had been convicted and sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court in absentia. Many believed the police could not have carried out such a raid, because they would not have the government’s permission. Faisal is now in prison.
But Amir Khan, another MQM leader arrested in the same raid, is out on bail, because of what a judge called “weak prosecution”. The Rangers had detained him for 90 days, but could find solid evidence against him.
But for many who praise such raids for subjecting the powerful to the law are not concerned with conviction rates. They credit the Rangers for restoring peace in the city, but not the police.
“You just can’t compare the two forces,” said Khurram Sher Zaman, a PTI lawmaker from Sindh. “Around 11,000 people had been killed in Karachi in six years, before the Rangers were granted special powers.” He said police was loyal to politicians, but the Rangers did not succumb to political pressures.
Atiq Mir – the president of Karachi Tajir Ittehad who led a siege of Sindh Assembly after they passed a resolution last month placing curbs on Rangers’ powers – insists only the paramilitary force deserves credit for the restoration of peace in Karachi.
“The police have been made obedient to political leaders systemically,” according to Zahid Askari, a spokesman for Jamaat-e-Islami. “A large number of political workers were inducted into the police service, affecting its performance negatively.”
The ruling PPP and its former coalition partner MQM have reservations about specific actions against their men, but publically, they too agree with the popular opinion.
“You can’t compare the two forces”
“We fully appreciate the role of Rangers, but the role of police is equally important in restoring peace in the city,” said A Rasheed Channa, a spokesman for Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah. He said effective action by the police was a result of the provincial government’s capacity building measures. “We have provided them the best training, increased their salaries, and provided them with good infrastructure.”
According to a Rangers spokesman, they paramilitary force has conducted 2,410 operations since January 1, 2015, in which 4,074 suspects were apprehended. Of them, 2,198 suspects – including 887 suspected terrorists, 268 suspected assassins, 97 extortion suspects and 49 suspects of abduction for ransom – were handed over to the police. The Rangers were also involved in 69 gunfights with suspects, in which 152 suspected terrorists and criminals were killed, a report says. Twelve Rangers personnel died in the encounters and 20 were injured.
At least 67 policemen died in the line of duty in 2015. In 2014, the number was much higher, at 132.
Karachi police says it has arrested 12,235 suspected criminals and terrorists across the province in 2015. Of them, 453 were associated with Al Qaeda and Taliban, police says. Another 194 such suspects were “neutralized” in gunfights, said a police report. It also claims killing 201 suspect target killers in such encounters. Another 95 suspected assassins.
The number of murders in the city was recorded at 2,032 – a significant decrease compared with the 3,628 last year. There were only give ‘acts of terrorism’ in 2015 says the police report, compared with 22 in 2014.
A number of police officers I spoke to think the police is not appreciated. The West district of Karachi – where four industrial zones had become Taliban strongholds – are now peaceful, the police says.
On April 13, police found an explosives factory and killed five suspected Al Qaeda militants, including the suspected mastermind of the attacks on a Rangers van at the Qalandria Chowrangi. The arrest of Mehfoozullah Bhalu – made by police – proved vital in decreasing crime in the city’s hotspot, they say.
“At least 32 policemen sacrificed their lives in gunfights that killed 181 hardened terrorists, mostly associated with TTP and sectarian organizations and involved in murder and extortion,” said Feroz Shah, the DIG of the West district.
Two most important cases – Perveen Rehman murder case and Dr Shakil Auj Case – were also solved by police, another police officer said. Police arrested most of the suspects in the Safoora bus shooting, and unearthed a terrorist network previously associated with Al Qaeda and making efforts to form an alliance with the Islamic State. Raja Umar Khattab – who had been working on the group for years – also exposed a large network of women supporting and planning terrorism. Police also claim credit for arresting the suspected assassins of human rights activist Sabeen Mehmud, PTI leader Zehra Shahid, and American professor Debra Lobo, as well as the perpetrators of terrorist attacks on the members of the Bohri community, police, and Rangers.
Arrests are not the only yardsticks security experts use. “According to reports submitted in the Apex Committee meeting, 80 percent of those challaned in the court by the Rangers have either been freed by the courts or are out on bails,” according to Noman Rafique Khan, president of the Crime Reporters Association (CRA). According to Khan, the 90-day detentions of suspects by Rangers do not always translate to strong interrogation, investigation or prosecution.
He says the two law enforcement agencies should not be compared because they have different jobs. When the Karachi operation began, the Rangers were primarily given the task to deal with kidnapping, murder, extortion and terrorism cases, whereas police were assigned routine duty, such as street crime and other small crimes.
“Although they have both made some progress, they have not fully achieved their goals,” according to Khan. “For example, the police report says abductions for ransom have decreased from 59 to one, but it doesn’t tell us that they have been replaced by short-term kidnappings.”
Karachi lies on fault lines of various kinds – political, ethnic and sectarian, analysts say. While Rangers are important in dealing with some of these conflicts, the police has the expertise to deal with others. The two forces will have to work together to restore peace in Karachi.
The writer is a journalist based in Karachi