There are some lessons that we never learn. Expecting miracles from the military and paramilitary forces may be among the worst of our delusions. When we have had enough of corrupt civilian rule, we welcome military dictators with open arms. When the law and order situation gets worse, more power is handed to the paramilitary authorities. Inevitably, this has now happened in Karachi. Extraordinary powers, including the right to carry out warrantless searches, have been given to the Rangers. To expect these powers to be used wisely is extremely optimistic, almost to the point of naivety. Past experience, with the latest, example being the brutal and unjustifiable slaying of civilian Sarfaraz Shah, has shown that the Rangers are not to be trusted with unbridled power. Karachi already has a police force that has sufficient numerical strength to be capable of stabilising the city. The problem, however, is that the police is heavily politicised and will be afraid of taking sides for fear of retribution from one side or the other. The police is also dissuaded from intervening against extortionists and criminals, all of whom pay bribes to the law-enforcement authorities to ensure that they can ply their trade without worrying about the consequences. That the criminals and the politicians have formed an unholy nexus makes the job of the police even harder, as they have to separately contend with two powerful and ruthless factions.
If there is one positive to the extraordinary powers given to the Rangers, it is that this has been done in lieu of calling in the army to control the situation. Adding the army into the volatile mix, that is Karachi, may have led to a few days or weeks of calm, but would also have been followed by a release of pent-up anger that would dwarf the violence of last month. The truth is that there is no perfect solution to the situation in Karachi. Until the political parties themselves realise that power needs to be earned at the ballot box and exercised within the constraints of law, no amount of heavy-handed paramilitary tactics will lead to permanent peace.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2011.
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