After a lull, there has been an uptick in target killings and extortion, said Manzoor Wassan and Farooq Sattar at a joint press conference on Saturday.
“Forget America or England, people are now going to Kenya with their capital because they can’t do business here,” remarked Sattar, who is the minister for overseas Pakistanis. He was referring to the burgeoning extortion racket in Karachi. “If capital continues to flow out of the country, then it will increase unemployment which could lead to many more issues,” he warned.
The two ministers held the press conference after meeting law enforcement and businesses. “The months of September through January we managed to reduce target killings and sectarian killings but recently we have seen a reemergence,” said Home Minister Wassan. The extortion slips are resurfacing.
They identified NA-252 and NA-249 and specifically Kharadar, Mithadar, Timber Market, Jodia Bazaar, Eidgah, PIB, Bahadurabad as hotspots.
An anti-extortion cell was set up in the Crime Investigation Agency and another under the Rangers. They will be working closely with traders to open lines of communication so that complaints can be heard and acted on. Sattar added that it was important for the public to do its part by forming committees with the SSPs in their neighbourhood police stations to help with intelligence gathering. A major problem with this sort of cooperation between the police and informants or just the general public is that the public fears retribution from criminal gangs. No witness protection programme exists even though the government says it is working on one.
“Regardless of a witness protection bill, we have made it so that people who want to give information to the police can do it completely anonymously over the phone if they wish,” said Sattar.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik is also being consulted on a strategy to help track down criminals who extort traders over the phone. Their calls need to be traced and the process for acquiring a SIM card needs to have more stringent checks.
The security agencies are monitoring different roads to see how criminals enter markets. The mobility of the police in sensitive areas is another issue that the home ministry says it is working on.
Wassan said that he was strengthening the police force but he didn’t give any specifics.
Responding to a question about political patronage for extortionists, Sattar offered a vague explanation by saying, “any black sheep found in political parties will be exposed.”
Even though parties have urged that Karachi be cleaned of weapons, no plan drafted by them or the government has seen the light of day. Despite restrictions on the display of arms, men still roam around with them clearly visible.
“There are still restrictions on the display of arms but we eased it because innocent people who have licences and keep guns for protection go through a lot of trouble when they are checked at every check point,” said Wassan.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 11th, 2012.