Can terrorism return to Karachi?

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By Mazhar Abbas

While Karachi operation in the last three years has produced positive results, but one thing which the apex committee has been unable to break is the strong nexus between crime and politics. Some senior officials of Rangers and police admitted it on condition of anonymity, adding that the nexus has also blocked some high-profile inquiries and cases.

Sindh Rangers have been in Karachi since 1989, but they hardly had any powers, except for during the past three years. The force has divided its target in three tiers. Except for the top tier, Rangers claim they have achieved 80 per cent success against hardened criminals or terrorists. However, they admitted that political considerations have prevented them from action against the top tier.

The possibility of any action against some top guns for their role either in terror-financing, money-laundering or land mafia, in the light of scores of joint investigation team (JIT) reports, looked remote due to political considerations. It also slowed down the process of filing cases or preparing reports, which suggested that it was causing frustration among the law-enforcement agencies (LEAs).

Sources said some of these issues in the past had been raised in the apex committee, particularly after some high profile arrests, which remained unresolved ever. After the failure of the top command to address the issue of alleged links of top tier, it was decided by the non-civilian authorities that action should be taken against those close to top tier as ‘deterrence’.

Terrorism has its own dynamics when it comes to this mega city of over 20 millions. Karachi over the years has witnessed ethnic, sectarian, political violence as well as terrorism by the outlawed groups. Each one has its political wings as well as supporters in the mainstream parties or those having soft corner for them, something which has made operation more challenging.

On the other hand, the state itself looked confused over the changing narrative about extremism, particularly when it comes to dealing with the ‘jihadi outfits’, some are outlawed, others are not.

While Rangers and police are confident that the kind of terrorism, both politically motivated or based on ethnic or sectarian, could not hit the city again at a large scale, they feared it could re-emerge in a scattered way, as there are some serious hindrance which are blocking long-term measures, on political and administrative front and most importantly on the legal front.

They believe that if political leadership did not show seriousness about addressing the root-causes of Karachi’s political and economic dynamics, the terror could re-emerge, sources said. Differences persist over the handling of the operations between Rangers and the Sindh government, while police, being the junior partner, also have their reservations.

One of the reasons why chances of ‘return’ of terror networks still persist has been the lack of a political will or in some cases support of top tier leadership to the criminals, corrupt mafia and their nexus due to which operation has not be extended beyond Karachi.

Officials believe that they have broken the backbone of terror networks and their masters, but fear that if some related issues were not addressed, the polarised society like Sindh has the potential to find ‘young recruits’.

Some officials, on the condition of anonymity, cited several examples as to how some suspected terrorists, criminals managed to escape and those arrested are not being prosecuted and, as a result, there are chances they would be bailed out. They also complained with the media which they said, at times, showed some suspects as ‘hero’.

The record showed that over 7,000 suspects had been arrested till this day by the law-enforcement agencies. Those arrested, interrogated, prosecuted and got convicted by the Rangers numbered 12, while those who joined interrogation and were prosecuted by the police and Rangers were 236.

Prosecution process is very slow for different reasons. The way it is being dealt with, particularly in cases where political links of one party or the other were found, chances of conviction are not more than five per cent. If that is true, 95 per cent suspects would get ‘benefit of doubt’ due to bad prosecution, JITs or interrogation.

This practice led to the release of many suspected terrorists, who after being bailed out, again started terror or criminal activities. They become more vulnerable and available for carrying out violence.

The case of Uzair Baloch, ring-leader of Lyari gang war, is cited as the classical example of ‘political considerations’, in handling his prosecution.

“He is acting like a king in jail, getting VIP treatment, operating through cell-phones and expressing confidence of getting out soon. From where he is getting all this confidence and assurance,” asked a senior official of Rangers, on condition of anonymity.

Karachi Central Jail has been converted into a safe haven for many suspected criminals and terrorists. Not only jail officials, police but even political workers feared that no matter how successful operation looked on ground, we are still far from seeing long-term results of the operation.

An official source disclosed that after the arrest of people like Dr Asim Hussain, Nisar Morai and Uzair Baloch, inquires were halted, as political considerations prevailed.

In old cases of targeted killings, whether suspects belonged to alleged militant wing of MQM, Lyari gang war or outlawed groups, FIRs in majority of the cases were filed against unknown people, something which gives the benefit of doubt to the suspects.

Secondly, in old cases in particular, witnesses are not available. Thirdly, even if there are few witnesses, due to lack of witness, protection law or measures, witnesses avoided identifying the criminals in courts for security fears.

The same happened in some of the cases dealing with suspected militants of MQM, ANP and some religious parties, where fingers were pointed towards alleged links of political leadership.

Irrespective of how logical and intellectually correct, IG Sindh AD Khwaja, in his assessment, despite telling the half truth, Sindh Rangers, for all practical purposes, are now the permanent feature of this city and very unlikely to be withdrawn in near future.

There are three reasons: (1) the Sindh government is not interested in making police a professional force, apparently due to political consideration; (2) There should be an increase in the police strength in accordance with the ratio of the Karachi population, and (3) Govt is not ready to give true metropolitan status to the mega city and have a metropolitan police system.

AD Khwaja was quite right when he said that one cannot expect police to perform in the 21st century under the Police Act, 1861, which had been replaced with the Police Order, 2002, considered far better, and enforced in improved form in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in particular.

While Mr Khwaja clearly pointed finger at some irrational decisions taken by the Sindh government like introducing Police Act, 1861, he did not give reasons behind the failures of 1992 and post-1998 Governor’s Rule. While he rightly pointed out towards the killing of police officers, who participated in the police operation in 1995, he did not give the data of extra-judicial killings.

Record showed that in most of the judicial inquiries into extrajudicial killings, it was found that the police killed suspects in ‘line of duty’, while no judicial inquiry was held where the top police officers were killed, as in majority of cases the FIRs were registered against unknown persons. Matters related to all these issues have come up in the apex committee meetings, but situation also reverted to square one, each time when cases related to the politically linked people came up.

Census in Sindh, followed by delimitation of constituencies and the next general elections would be crucial for the province including Karachi, its politics and law and order situation. But, if the nexus between crime and politics remains intact and continues to become part of the problem rather solution and the establishment also fails to address the issue of extremism, Karachi would be vulnerable to terrorism.courtesy The News.

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