By Afzal Ali Shigri
The writer is a former inspector general of police, sindh
THE population of Karachi, the country’s commercial hub, continues to burgeon despite serious security concerns. Attracting and absorbing people from across Pakistan, the city now has residents in excess of 20 million. This is a mini-Pakistan, where settlers of diverse ethnic backgrounds lived in complete harmony for decades.
That is, until 1985, when a road accident triggered widespread protests against the government. The fury of the violence stunned everyone, and this soon degenerated into ethnic conflict. Since then, Karachi has seen repeated violent clashes over ethnic and sectarian issues. The city has never been the same again, but has amazingly not lost its charm.
Notwithstanding the rise in population and economic growth, the administration of the city has seen little improvement. Complex problems in all areas of governance and management have multiplied. The city stands divided along the fault lines of ethnicity, religion, culture and income. The collapse of the criminal justice system that guarantees the security of the common man is at the top of this list of classic repeated failures.
The ongoing operation should be an eye-opener because the outcome so far has been dismal.
Today, Karachi has the dubious distinction of being one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Each cycle of violence is progressively worse: ‘no-go’ areas, rampant street crime and ‘secured’ safe spaces for the elite are the manifestations of this collapse. Sheer resilience and the desire to survive have led people to readjust their expectations of the state, and the sustainability of a functioning chaos has been ensured.
Informal structures have taken root in this situation, with non-state actors having started to expand their sphere of influence and, as in a medieval fiefdom, resorted to plundering and extortion, euphemistically called ‘bhatta’ and ‘donation’. As it is muscle power that ensures control, organised crime and terrorist outfits have emerged as dominant players. There is a pressing need to set up a criminal justice system that ensures peaceful existence for citizens as enshrined in the Constitution. Continuing lawlessness also paves the way for extra-constitutional options to pre-empt the collapse of the state.
Yet, whenever we discuss security issues, we only speak of the police. Everyone conveniently ignores the ground reality that, in order to maintain peace, we need to first assess the efficacy of the existing criminal justice system and come up with solutions that address the full spectrum of restructuring and improvement. The police are one part of this structure; the other parts include prosecution, the prisons department, the courts system and the probation department. Even our focus on the police has not led to improvements here. If anything, we have continuously taken steps to weaken and dismantle the existing police structure.
The police department does not have sufficient resources. Its training is neglected and the internal administration is compromised as a result of interference and corruption. The department is demoralised since it becomes a scapegoat for the political blunders of the government. Indeed, it is remarkable that this force still confronts dangerous criminals and terrorists.
The strength of the Karachi police was around 30,000 in 1990; today, with double the population in the city, there has only been an increase of 5,000 in the police personnel strength. In the early 1990s, for the support of the police, 15,000 Rangers, a paramilitary force, were inducted for a limited period that was to be withdrawn within a given time limit. This has not happened, and has resultantly created a dichotomy: overlapping responsibility gives rise to even more confusion in an already very messy structure. The Rangers’ induction has brought about serious distortions and has blurred the lines of control and responsibility. The state has failed to bring about any improvements in policing.
Meanwhile, prosecution agencies have a poor track record with low-quality prosecutors, serious resource constraints and interference. The prisons are overcrowded and prison buildings collapsing. This department is faced with a perpetual shortage of strength and resources. The probation department, though it has very important responsibilities, apparently exists only on paper.
Similarly, the courts do not have adequate infrastructure and resources; the number of judges is far less than the requirement. According to the Justice and Law Commission Annual Report, 2011, there were 127 judges including district judges in Karachi. They had to deal with all civil and criminal cases, numbering 85,260 in the city. These civil and criminal matters exist in addition to innumerable issues including remand, bail and other miscellaneous matters.
The courts are overburdened, but also expected to try and punish desperate criminals and terrorists. The protection of judges and members of their families is not satisfactory. In some cases, there is practically no security for them. So it’s no surprise that the rate of conviction for terrorists is very low. Such a fractured and ineffective criminal justice system cannot address the colossal problems of a megacity like Karachi.
The ongoing operation should be an eye-opener because the outcome so far has been dismal. If the government is serious about securing Karachi, the federation and provincial governments should go for restructuring the system to deal effectively with the problems. Massive inputs will be needed with a clean and professional police force that is answerable to the law, and the law alone. Simultaneously, after a realistic assessment, the requirements of other elements should be met on a priority basis.
It is time to recognise that Karachi needs a stand-alone administrative structure insulated from all extraneous influence. It can no longer be treated as just another administrative division of a province. The government at the centre and that in the province must realise that in order to achieve the dream of a prosperous country, such an investment as has been outlined in the foregoing discussion is fully justified. This is not a quick fix but a very long and difficult path that must be traversed if the country is to survive as a democratic, prosperous and modern state of the 21st century.
The writer is a former inspector general of the police, Sindh.
Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2014