The interior ministry has decided to give the paramilitary Rangers in Karachi sweeping powers to curb violence, specifically the targeted killings that are occurring with increasing frequency in the city. Among these powers is the authority to arrest anyone involved in violence for 90 days.
According to official figures, 256 people have been killed in the past six months alone in incidents of targeted killing. There can be no two views on the need for the state to deal firmly with criminals and violent elements within the ambit of the law. But we question the wisdom of giving such extensive powers to the Rangers. Are the Rangers meant to aid Karachi’s regular force in curbing crime? Or does the move reflect the state’s lack of trust in the capabilities of the police force?
Reports about the increase in the Rangers’ powers had been circulating for months. Some have justified giving the Rangers more powers because of the general consensus that the police are too politicised to be able to operate independently. It is argued that if the Rangers carry out operations against politically linked suspects on their own, they could do a better job. Well-connected suspects are said to be freed from police custody because of their links to those with clout. Though the politicisation of the police is no secret, bypassing the civil law-enforcement structure is surely not the answer. In order to achieve results, wouldn’t it be better to overhaul the provincially controlled police and improve the investigation process than grant the federally controlled Rangers far-reaching powers?
We must also see the Rangers’ past record in Karachi to decide whether giving the paramilitary force extra powers would be beneficial in the long term. The Rangers have been in the metropolis for over two decades now. Their performance can be described as patchy at best; they have also been criticised for standing aside when a deteriorating law and order situation has caused trouble to flare in the city. The Rangers’ commercial activities have also drawn censure. Police reform and de-weaponising Karachi are the key to peace in the metropolis, not sweeping powers for the Rangers.