Thursday, March 27, 2008

May 12 Carnage Role of Police

The News
May 15,2007

May 12 carnage: role of the police

By Afzal A Shigri

May 12 will be remembered in Karachi not for the complete breakdown of law and order or for the wanton killings but for the lack of the writ of state and absence or inaction of law-enforcement agencies. The citizens of Karachi have never felt so helpless and totally abandoned despite a history of living through widespread violence and breakdown of law and order in the past. With the announcement of the programme for the visit of the Chief Justice of Pakistan to the Sindh Bar Council function and the decision by the MQM to take out a rally, one could see the grave dangers inherent in such a situation. The intelligence agencies had warned the government well in time about the possibility of a clash between the rival political groupings. Except for the routine communication of this information to the parties concerned and to the law-enforcement agencies, no serious efforts were made to defuse the situation. No efforts were made to persuade the Sindh Bar Council to postpone the function or ask the MQM to change the schedule of its programme. The government had the option of imposing restrictions on these gatherings under preventive laws. No one seems to have considered this option seriously. While the provincial government showed total lack of interest in dealing with the impending disaster, the federal government confined itself to communicating the report to the Registrar of the Supreme Court and probably to the provincial government. The images on TV of Sharea Faisal with trucks and containers blocking it completely were a perfect recipe to demoralise the law-enforcement agencies and the emergency services in case of a disaster. The rival political groups had prepared well for the showdown and were heavily armed. Who started the race for deploying the arms will never be known, but in the underworld of murky politics of Karachi the word spreads fast and preparations are carried out with ruthless efficiency by rival parties. When the political parties, obviously with a number of armed supporters, tried to go to the airport they were confronted by armed gangs of the opposite parties that resulted in intense firing between the two who were using automatic assault weapons. Sharea Faisal looked like a war zone with disturbing pictures of the injured and dead lying on the main road of the city without any intervention by the police. Unfortunately, in Karachi even national political parties have an ethnic tilt. Therefore, in a situation like this the fault-lines in the city get activated. The FTC crossing, Natha Khan Goth, Drigh Railway Station, Madam Apartments, Malir Halt, Malir City, Banaras Colony, Jehangir Road and Patel Para are old flashpoints that again saw pitched battles during the day. The AAJ TV station was surrounded and fired upon for more than six hours without any intervention by the police. The police had a laid-back attitude. It either had no information or was following illegal instructions of non-intervention despite the mayhem. The tragic incident has raised many questions that must be answered, and the people of Pakistan, particularly those of Karachi, have a right to know the reasons for this inaction by the provincial government and the law-enforcement agencies. While one does appreciate the resource constraints of the law- enforcement agencies in such a widespread grave situation, one is horrified at the complete inaction by the police and Rangers who were conspicuous by their absence from the scene and had left the city at the mercy of the armed goons of the rival political parties.The provincial government and the law-enforcement agencies in Karachi failed to perform their duties, and that resulted in 36 deaths and 160 injuries. It would be worthwhile to remind the Chief Minister and the police officers of their legal obligation under the constitution and the laws of their duties that they failed to perform. Under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan maintenance of law and order in the province is the responsibility of the provincial government (Article 137). It was the duty of the chief minister and the collective responsibility of the cabinet under Article 130 (4) to attend to the developing situation that had all the signs of degenerating into a serious disturbance of public peace threatening the lives of innocent citizens. The chief minister took his oath of office under Articles 131 (4) and 132 (2) and promised to discharge his duties and perform his functions to the best of his “ability, faithfully in accordance with the Constitutions of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the law.” He and the police were not visible and it was the governor who had to face the media and somehow justify the inaction of the provincial government. Police Order 2002 lays down the duties of the police officer under Article 4, which states, “Subject to law it shall be the duty of every police officer to: (a) protect the life, property and liberty of citizens; (b) preserve and promote public peace,” The preamble of Police Order 2002 clearly states: “The police has an obligation and duty to function according to the Constitution, law, and democratic aspirations of the people; and such functioning of the police requires it to be professional, service-oriented, and accountable to the people.”The large number of killings, injuries and loss to property and the incalculable loss to the people of Pakistan due to the complete collapse of law and order in Karachi despite the presence of thousands of policemen, Rangers and FC personnel must be accounted for. Every citizen of this country has the right to have an answer to the following questions:* Why was no action taken to defuse the explosive situation that continued for a long time?* Why was the option of preventive action not exercised to stop the functions and rallies well in time? * Why was the police not deployed at sensitive points with orders to intervene and strongly deal with miscreants?* Why did the police not take the initiative to maintain order, despite its legal obligation to do so without waiting for any orders?* Why were the Rangers and the FC personnel not deployed to deal with the emerging situation?* Why did the chief minister decide to go into the background and leave it to the governor to exercise the powers of the provincial government?It is not only the answers to these questions that are important, there is also an urgent need to deal with the situation now emerging in the city. The provincial government must think out of the box and rise above political affiliations in the maintenance of order. There is no point in blaming the Sindh Bar Council or the political parties for the tragedy. This cannot absolve the provincial government and the law-enforcement agencies of their responsibility to perform their duties, as clearly provided in the constitution and the laws.This mishandling of the situation that resulted in clashes between rival political parties is as expected degenerating into ethnic clashes that can spiral out of control with extremely negative ramifications for Karachi and Pakistan. The federal government must intervene now and provide full and immediate support to the province to control the situation. Half-hearted measures and a partisan approach in dealing with the situation will further exacerbate the very serious situation that requires a strong and transparent handling now. Tomorrow may be too late for many. The writer is a former inspector-general of police. Email:

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