How many of you remember that secretly filmed video which was repeatedly shown on local television in which a young man strolls leisurely across a park? A plainclothes policeman suddenly grabs him and pushes him towards a group of armed men, one of whom holds a pistol to his head. Another shoots him twice in the thigh and he falls to the ground, bleeding profusely. He appears to be pleading for his life. But his entreaties fall on deaf ears. He dies a slow, painful death.
In case you are wondering if I am referring to a clip from one of those pirated American action-thriller sitcoms that have been unleashed on the video shops in Karachi, the answer is no. The video in question was shot locally and it is believed the cameraman is still in hiding. The men in uniform are Rangers, an internal security force with the prime objective of providing and maintaining security in war zones and areas of conflict. The victim was Sarfaraz Shah, a jaywalker suspected of being a robber.
The family of the deceased stated that Shah just happened to be strolling in the park because there was no electricity in his apartment. The Rangers insisted that the young man was about to commit a robbery. The video sparked a huge controversy at the time. There were a few editorials in the newspapers and I believe a couple of talk shows touched on the issue somewhat gingerly. Some politicians called for the Rangers involved to be prosecuted.
On June 5, 2013, on Sharae Faisal in Karachi, a Ranger shot and killed a 24-year-old man, who had gotten married 25 days earlier and was allegedly driving a friend to hospital for a session of dialysis. In the official version, the men in uniform had signalled the driver to stop his speeding car but he had apparently ignored the command. Later, the dialysis patient pointed out that in their haste to get to the hospital, they had not seen the Rangers waving them to stop.
Then, there was the more recent case of a Karachi taxi driver, who had just bought some fruit to open his fast. He was flagged down by the Rangers. But when he reversed his taxi, he was shot by Ranger Lance Naik Ghulam Rasul, while the victim’s stunned and traumatised four-year-old son witnessed the murder. The Chief Justice of Pakistan has taken suo-motu notice of the incident and the gunman is in the lock-up. Is this an indication that Rangers cannot always act with impunity and are not above the law?
Against a background of a soaring crime rate in certain sections of the city, it is extremely difficult to comment objectively on this issue, as the authorities have been struggling for quite a while to impose some semblance of order. But it is also difficult to justify the extreme measures at times taken by the Rangers in carrying out their duties. Paramilitary forces come across as a bunch of trigger-happy robots that slip into their roles like battery-operated toys and work on the principle that one should shoot first and ask questions later. And so, a force established for the protection of society, is incinerating its reputation and has ended up being feared and reviled. It is time efforts were made by those at the top to alter the image.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2013.