KARACHI: The plot is all too familiar by now. A young delinquent, high on his father’s economic prowess and political clout, shoots someone. Then he smiles for the cameras as he is taken to court, knowing all too well that he is above the law.
No, this isn’t a badly-written movie script. This is reality – all too familiar for far too many families who have lost their loved ones to gun-wielding ‘untouchables’ living in Defence Housing Authority (DHA). Most cases are not reported for fear of repercussions. Those that do make it to the mainstream media, often after having made rounds in social media, lose steam quickly.
Take the recent case of young Zafir Fahim Zubairi for example. He had only just celebrated his 18th birthday, excited about the prospects of finally being allowed to drive. He had been practicing for months with his father and also with a registered motor driving training centre.
On the morning of December 3, six days after his birthday, Zafir was shot dead in an incident of road rage as he drove around Do Darya with his friends. He hit a motorcyclist, sped off and was chased and gunned down by a group of men. The perpetrator was later arrested by the police.
Shahzaib Khan, the young son of police officer Aurangzeb Khan, was killed in a similar manner on December 25, 2012. The case sparked country-wide debate on abuse of power by the scion of a wealthy family, Shahrukh Jatoi. The latter was later seen making a victory sign as he was escorted to court.
Sulaiman Lashari, another unsuspecting teenager, was killed outside his house in DHA. The 18-year-old was shot dead on his balcony a little after midnight on May 8, 2014 as he was studying an exam the next day. The primary accused in the case, Salman Abro, son of then Sakrand Police Training Centre SSP Ghulam Sarwar Abro, was alleged to have committed the crime over a petty issue.
Unfortunately, there are common threads in all these cases – the support given to these youths by their well-connected parents who provide them guards and weapons and the lack of implementation of the law by law enforcement agencies.
The high-profile Shazaib murder recently took a dramatic twist as the Sindh High Court (SHC) set aside the death sentence awarded to Shahrukh and ordered a retrial of the case. Shahrukh, the son of an influential feudal lord, Sikandar Jatoi, had filed an appeal in SHC against his death sentence. The Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in June 2013 had awarded him and his friend Siraj death sentences for killing Shahzaib. Two other accused, Sajjad and Lashari, were given life imprisonment. Meanwhile, Sulaiman’s case is still pending.
However, the police have acquired the remand of Khawar Burney, the son of an influential man – Ishtiaq Burney – till December 11. Khawar is accused of killing Zafir. Home Minister Sohail Anwar Siyal has also sought a report from the South DIG and investigations SSP regarding the incident.
Civil society also held a march on Saturday to express their solidarity with Zafir’s family at Seaview. The march was attended by a large number of people, including police officials.
But the question is, after Shahzaib, Sulaiman and Zafir, who will be next?
“In my honest opinion, these are isolated incidents in Karachi, a city that has a population of more than 20 million people. In America these kinds of incidents occur every few months in which 20 or 40 people are killed but thank God the situation here is not as bad,” said District South SSP Javed Akbar Riaz. “The police’s past was very bad. But now it has changed now and there is no one above the law. Earlier, everyone thought they were above the law and they did not fear the police,” he explained.
The officer said that part of the issue is that parent’s fail to instill proper values in their children. “Providing sophisticated weapons to their teenagers is totally wrong and this culture should be stopped,” he urged.
Giving the example of the people’s mindset, SSP Riaz said that few days ago, he stopped a man in an SUV who violated a traffic signal. “When I chased and intercepted him, he told me he would call the corps commander. But when I called the traffic warden and asked him to challan him for the violation, the man immediately apologised to me because he knew he was not above the law,” he explained. “We have to continue our professional practices to make people aware that no one is above the law.”
SSP Riaz said that there were several dens of vice – guesthouses where illegal activities take place, liquor and shisha shops – in DHA with powerful people backing them but the police have finally shut all of them down.
“Until and unless we establish our writ, no one will obey the law,” he explained. The officer said that everything that is legal is allowed, even heavy motorcycle racing, but those breaking the law will be dealt with accordingly. He said that these cases often occur around the city but are highlighted in DHA.
A parent’s plea
“Parents have to keep a check on their children,” stressed Fahim Zubairi, the father of first-year student Zafir who recently became a victim of gun culture. “Parents should keep monitoring the activities or movement of their children. They should know when, where and whom their children are meeting. They should have a list of contact details of their children’s friends. I always had a list of contact number of Zafir’s friends,” he said.
The grieving father has vowed to bring an end to gun culture, especially among youngsters. “Taking a selfie with guns is not a big issue but having guns, owing them and using them in public to kill innocent people is a huge problem,” he said.
Besides parents, the second step is of law enforcement agencies as laws should be strictly implemented. “Until people are not held accountable and still use political or other influence [to get out of crimes], this culture will continue to be promoted,” Zubairi said. “The intolerance amongst youngsters should also be eliminated.”
He said that his lawyers are fighting the case and he is especially thankful to the home minister for his efforts in getting justice to his family and taking immediate action against the culprits.
“This culture has been promoted now and its elimination will take time. Implementation of the law by law enforcers and better [parenting] are the best ways to eliminate this culture,” he explained.
Former Citizens-Police Liaison Committee chief Ahmed Chinoy demanded that the city be made free of weapons. “There should be a complete ban on arms – licensed or unlicensed both should be banned,” he said. “People from different walks of life are living in Defence. They are the richest people. They are feudals with each having almost 50 security guards with sophisticated weapons,” he said.
The former law officer said that these youths are learning all these unlawful activities from their own homes. “When a son of a feudal or a wealthy man living in Defence goes to school with 20 security guards, what will he learn from them?” he questioned.
He said that these people are very influential. “They know that they can buy the police, lawyers and even their opponents because they have power and money,” accused Chinoy. “Can you imagine that Karachi has a police force of some 30,000 officers while there is an army of over 100,000 private security guards with better weapons than the police? This is the biggest issue in Karachi,” he lamented.
Speaking about the Shahrukh case, he said that whenever he leaves jail, he always makes a victory sign. “I want to ask one thing – what message does he want to convey by making that sign?” he questioned.
Part of the problem
“Gun culture is present in the whole of Karachi but Defence is in the limelight because of [the residents] as every second politician, bureaucrat, feudal, police official and businessman lives here,” said Cantonment Board Clifton Vice-President Aziz Suharwardy. “They have guards, most of whom are illiterate from rural areas and are with their children in the name of protection.”
He stressed that there is a dire need for reforms in society. “In Defence, there is not only a gun culture. There is a gun plus VVIP culture,” he said. “It is the responsibility of the government to eliminate or demote this culture but those [officials] who could do it are themselves part of the problem.”