Worsening crime scene in Karachi

After what seems to be a couple of years of comparative peace, street crime seems to be making a comeback in Karachi. According to local media, more than 50,000 incidents of street crime were reported in Karachi during the first eight months of 2021. Most of these incidents involved motorcycle snatching, mobile phone snatching and car theft. In this time period, Karachi residents were deprived of 34,181 motorcycles, 14,578 mobile phones and 1,268 cars. More tragically, 54 people lost their lives while 458 people sustained injuries.

Now we are told that things are getting worse. Till mid-February 2022 (only during one and a half months this year), 13 people have died and there have been 11,000 reported incidents of street crime. And 3,845 mobile phones were snatched in Karachi from January 1 to February 17, besides 672 motorcycles and 20 cars.

Needless to say there has been outrage over the rise in crime and the needless deaths. The recent killing of senior news producer, Athar Mateen, by armed robbers as he tried to save a passerby from being mugged, has once again put the spotlight on Karachi. The media has started to report more aggressively on rising crime rates. However, as is the case with Karachi’s crime cycle (high one month, low the other), the media’s interest is sometimes not consistent. At the same time, the media continues to expose weak links in Karachi’s crime fighting apparatus but it seems not much is being done.

The question is: what is the Sindh government doing to arrest this trend? In the past, police have blamed the rising crime on political patronage and gang violence in parts of the city. Now both these things are under control. In one meeting, police actually claimed that the crime has gone down. This was not true.

Possibly it is time for a complete overhaul of the policing system in Karachi. Till now we have seen efforts done in bits and pieces. For example, the deployment of the Rangers is done when things get bad. After they conduct their operations, crime does settle down. But then after a few months we again witness an upward trend. Innocent lives are needlessly lost as Karachi witnesses its cycle of violence. The Rangers are no solution; neither are police awareness campaigns or new specialised units. Proper policing cannot depend on elite units set up to combat crimes. This is the job of the regular police cadre.

Like all modern cities, to begin with Karachi needs an elected leadership to run its affairs. This means an elected local government – with a Mayor heading the city’s services. For seventy years it has been a dream for us to see an empowered local government system where the elected representatives have control over not just the municipal services but law and order as well.

In the past we have seen one party or another pushing for local government. But when their fortunes change, it changes their tune. As part of the government, parties and politicians take a back seat and let the bureaucracy take decisions. This system cannot sustain for long. Already we have suffered tremendously because of this.

We need to adopt modern crime fighting techniques. But modernisation of both the law and order system in Sindh and other provinces cannot come from within. These reforms have to be well thought of after proper debate, and implemented without fear or favour. Hiring, postings and transfers can only be done on merit. What we are seeing today is the opposite. More importantly we need a professional and qualified leadership to take things forward.

The other issue is public support. In the past we have seen campaigns being run and members of the public being part of joint committees like the Citizens Police Liaison Committee (CPLC). The CPLC has to be revitalised. After doing some excellent work after its inception, today the CPLC seems to have lost relevance.

Finally all this can happen if there is a political will and commitment of all those stakeholders who are part of the law and order machinery. The Centre and the province will have to sit together and cooperate – which is sometimes a stumbling block when it comes to decisions of such sensitive nature. At the end of the day, like in the case of the Green Line project, consensus has to be developed to move forward.

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