KARACHI: Even before the start of the Karachi operation in 2013, it was a known fact that the Sindh police were under-resourced and ill-equipped to effectively carry out the fight against militants.
Today, with most of the fighting against gangsters and terrorists over, the police are nearly as ill-equipped as they were before.
In the last few years, several attempts were made to better equip the province's first line of defence — from promises of bulletproof jackets to modern artillery and state-of-the-art armoured personnel carriers (APCs) — but the provincial police is still on the front without adequate protection.
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APCs that never came
Since 2012, several attempts have been made to procure APCs for the police but all have failed for one reason or another. Former president Asif Ali Zardari had even disbursed Rs5 billion for the purpose but the deal got ensnared in a controversy surrounding kickbacks and dubious tenders.
In early 2014, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar had pledged to disburse funds from the federal government for the procurement of APCs and other gadgets 'within weeks'. There has been no mention of the promise since. "It is a closed issue as nothing was documented [with regards to the disbursement of funds]," explained DIG Technical and Transport Imran Yaqoob Minhas, when asked to comment.
Every cop in Karachi involved in the operation against militants, gangsters and criminals has one major demand: adequate measures for their own safety.
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"From the very first day, the police did not want to be a part of the operation as we had already learnt our lesson from the 1990s operation," said a frustrated police inspector.
The issue of APCs came to light following the battering the vehicles took in the 2012 Lyari operation against gangsters in which, besides loss of around 18 APCs, Civil Lines SHO Fawwad Khan lost his life when he was attacked while conducting the operation from inside one. As a result, the police decided to purchase better quality APCs for the beleaguered force.
Sindh police were planning to enter into an agreement with Yugoimport SDPR, a Serbian state-run company, for the purchase of 20 Lazar-II armoured fighting vehicles of B-7 category at a cost Rs1.23 billion. However, the move failed as corruption claims surfaced and the matter went to court.
"Actually, it was a simple matter. We were not purchasing the Lazar-II as we had only proposed for them and asked the relevant authorities for their approval, but elements who do not want the Sindh police to buy foreign APCs made the issue controversial," explained a former finance department chief of the Sindh police.
In February 2015, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Defence Production criticised the Sindh government's move to purchase the APCs from a Serbian company at a higher cost as the same could be made available locally at a lower cost.
Terming the Sindh police's 'decision' an injustice to the taxpayer, the standing committee suggested that the same APCs could be provided by Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT). In the standing committee meeting, HIT chairman Lt Gen Wajid Hussain briefed lawmakers that the APC provided to the government of Sindh in 2005 was of B-6 grade, as required by the police then. However, he said the HIT can now supply the advanced B-7 version for Rs50 million per vehicle, whereas the foreign company would sell it for Rs170 million per unit. In March 2015, the Supreme Court deemed illegal the agreement regarding the purchase of APCs by Sindh police from Serbia.
Something's better than nothing
As the issue of APCs remained unresolved, the police got a minimal boost in their capabilities when the army handed over modern weapons and other combat gear to them, which included nearly 500 bulletproof vests, 500 helmets and 700 9mm pistols worth Rs65 million in September last year following directives of army chief General Raheel Sharif in a meeting of the provincial apex committee earlier that year.
Since then, there has been no new initiative by the provincial government regarding the purchase of the 'much-needed' APCs.
Policemen are dejected with the delay. "It is very difficult to take part in any operation without adequate safety measures. The common cop in the city has no security for himself. You are talking about APCs but I would say even helmets and bulletproof jackets are not sufficiently available," said District Malir SSP Rao Anwar. "I am using an old APC. Only I know how I am maintaining it [from his own pocket]," he said, explaining that the APC he's using can protect him from small arms fire but would not help in a large-scare attack [with use of heavy weapons].
When The Express Tribune approached the Sindh IG about the issue, he said there is no proposal to acquire APCs at the moment. "There is no such proposal in hand at present," said Sindh IG AD Khawaja when asked about his plans to mitigate problems faced by the Karachi police. He did not comment further.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 20th, 2016.