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Who will help the police?

Naeem Sadiq
Express Tribune
February 10, 2014

27 policemen were killed in Karachi in the first month of this year. Another six lost their lives in the first 3 days of February. This is the highest number of policemen killed in any city of the world in any one month. Can any police force continue to function with such massive loss of lives? Clearly we are doing something that is blatantly inappropriate and unprofessional. It requires no counter-terrorism expert to understand that the only way to fight insurgency is to work proactively and eliminate or control its primary life-support components.

The militancy in Karachi (and in Pakistan) has escalated to its next logical level – a war between the private militias and the state institutions. Lacking in training, technology, motivation and equipment, the police stands in the first line of fire and must bear the largest brunt. To make matters worse, it is controlled by those who themselves represent one or the other militia. When things begin to get ugly, our immediate recourse is to fall back on the Rangers. This may be termed as a replacement policy for short term gain. Only few understand that the police does not need to be replaced. It needs to be reformed and liberated. The role of the state must be twofold. To resurrect the police force and to eliminate the core components of violence.

With 20 million weapons in the hands of civilians , there is absolutely no chance of peace making a voluntary appearance. Any sensible state will leave everything and go after deweaponisation as its first priority. The state has inadvertently promoted the growth of private armies (forbidden by the Constitution of Pakistan) by granting millions of gun licenses. It now needs to mitigate its past blunders by launching a massive across-the-board deweaponisation.

The Arms Ordinance of Pakistan, instead of controlling the licenses has been the largest source of indiscriminate proliferation of weapons. It enables the government to give any number of licenses to those it wishes to appease or bribe. As an example, 69473 prohibited bore gun licenses were issued to parliamentarians in the last 5 years – essentially generating 300 or so private parliamentary armies. In Karachi, just one Assistant Commissioner issued over 5000 fake gun licenses in nine months and pocketed the fee. The discretionary Arms Ordinance ought to be struck down to give a clear message that the government will no longer be engaged in patronizing militancy or creating private militias.

There are thousands of vehicles with fake, foreign, AFR or missing number plates that move around unchecked on the streets, often indulging in crime, bomb attacks and kidnapping – with no traces of their origin or ownership. The government is guilty of not having registered thousands of vehicles that are in its own use, thus providing opportunities to criminals to use “look-alike” number plates. The government needs to clamp down and make sure that nothing moves on a road unless it is fully registered and traceable.

There are estimated 40-60 million illegal, untraceable and foreign SIMs being used in Pakistan. The PTA has failed to take any action to curb this vital component of militancy. All SIMs need to be blocked (in phases) and replaced by SIMs traceable to individuals through CNIC, address and biometrics. As a first step limiting one or two SIMs per person will immediately eliminate a very large segment of irregular SIMs.

Pakistan is a haven for investment in crime and militancy. Killers can rest assured they will not be hanged. They can kill as many people as they wish. They will be facilitated to escape from prisons. Their release would be open to negotiation and they would be free to come back for further killing. The government must put an end to this dithering and pussyfooting and carry out execution of those whose death sentences have been confirmed by the Supreme Court.

Many of the police processes go back at least a hundred years. There is no way the police can handle complex modern-day militancy with ancient means and methods. The police needs to have rapid access to data relating to criminals, vehicles, weapons, inmates and SIMs. It must have on-line links with NADRA to speedily carry out background verification of suspects.

Finally we need to focus on improving and expediting the dilapidated criminal justice system, without which the police would only be going around in circles. Rapid and concurrent action on the above mentioned initiatives may be our only chance to curb militancy, to establish the writ of the state and to enable the police to protect itself and others.