Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry led the vociferous chorus for continued deployment of Sindh Rangers in the metropolis. The worsening law and order scenario in Karachi had reached a crescendo, prompting the representative body of 21,000 direct and another 30,000 indirect members to demand immediate deployment of the Army to usher in sanity.
Although the Rangers were conspicuous by their presence in the city, they had a limited mandate and not authorized to tackle instances of dacoities, extortion, or kidnapping for ransom. Trade and industry became every day victims. When matters reached the boiling point, KCCI issued the final ultimatum. Enough is enough. Give widespread powers to Rangers. Cleanse the city of the menace of desperadoes. KCCI leadership had always expressed deep concern over politicizing of Sindh Police since most of recruitments were being done on political grounds, a prime reason for the ongoing lawlessness. Police must be de-politicized on priority basis, because the Police hierarchy was subservient to the political forces much to the chagrin of the citizens. Nazim Haji, a former Chief of Citizen Police Liaison Committee, very harshly commented, "The Rangers have done an excellent job so far in spite of coordinating with a Police force led by a corrupt and incompetent Sindh IGP".
In October 2014, Maj Gen Bilal Akbar, DG Sindh Rangers, visited KCCI and had a closed-door session with the members. After listening to a litany of complaints, he assured them that Rangers officials were working round-the-clock to share the grievances and risks suffered by Karachi citizens with special focus on creating a secure business environment. He highlighted the action plan to improve the law and order situation.
On May 16, 2015, we, the Alumni of National Security Workshops of National Defence University, Islamabad, organized "National Seminar on Peace, Security & Governance in Karachi" where Karachi Corps Commander Lt. General Naveed Mukhtar was the Chief Guest. In a highly quoted and much discussed speech, he identified the parallel power centers in the city as obstacles for law and order. He stressed on the need for operational and professional independence of local administration, particularly, Karachi Police, in order to achieve peace and stability. He said Karachi was targeted to disrupt Pakistan's international trade and economic engine since the city accounted for 65% of Pakistan's revenue. He made it clear that the targeted operation would continue until its logical conclusion. His address was a morale booster for trade and industry and helped restore confidence.
A couple of weeks later, Maj Gen Bilal Akbar revealed the astonishing news that Rs 230 billion was the annual illegal collection in Karachi. This was done through extortion, kidnapping for ransom, distribution of water, sale of snatched hides of sacrificial animals, illegal marriage halls, and other criminal activities. He disclosed that, "a systematic and regular distribution is in place for these amounts to reach certain influential people". What was disturbing was that huge amounts from these collections were used to procure illegal arms and ammunition.
It was with shock and consternation that the business community found out that the Sindh government was playing politics in the case of renewal of the Ranger's tenure. The Sindh government's stand was that Rangers exceeded their mandate by hitting on corruption cases. Its fury was in response to the high profile arrest and incarceration of a close confidant of PPP Co-Chairman. The business community, on the other hand, applauded the publicized action of Rangers but expressed disapproval and contempt at the escape from the country of those who were branded in media as very corrupt. There were whispers in markets of secret deals enabling the corrupt to flee. The leaders of seven Town Associations, representing all industrial estates, and some trade Associations organized a protest at Karachi Press Club to demand extension of the mandate. They warned that playing politics would incur the wrath of industrialists and their workers. The next day, the mandate was renewed. At an informal meeting, one trader even demanded that Karachi should be separated from Sindh. Surprisingly, there were no arguments against this by others.
The law and order situation in Karachi improved due to the ubiquitous presence of Rangers and the many raids made daily. Lyari was transformed from a war zone into a safer place of residence and for commerce. The focus of Rangers was to rid the area from the menacing and dangerous Lyari Gang War. Moreover, those pockets that had become strongholds of Taliban were freed from their influence. Militant wings of political parties were contained largely while most of the extortionists went underground.
Junaid Makda, President SITE Association of Industry, the largest industrial estate in Pakistan, disclosed, "I am in constant communication with law enforcing agencies and I convey to them the concerns of industrialists. Rangers have now become an integral part of the SITE landscape. There has been a substantial decrease in crimes in SITE. Recently, when Sindh government was hesitating to renew the Rangers tenure in Karachi, we saw an increase in mobile snatching and looting of wages of workers. However, since last couple of weeks there is peace and security due to presence of Rangers".
There has been a marked slowdown in going after the corrupt since the arrest of Dr Asim Hussain. The business community feels that the tough statements emanating out of the Sindh government have resulted in Rangers losing the momentum in arresting corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. A vocal exporter, Shabir Ahmed, Chairman of Pakistan Bedwear Exporters Association, remarked that "Those of us who are primarily involved in exports have to face a barrage of questions from our foreign buyers regarding the petty politics of Sindh government in trying to hinder the excellent operation conducted by Rangers. They are amazed that a civilian government was impeding the process of improving law and order in Karachi just to protect known corrupt people. This is unheard of in any civilized society. It is shameful".
Notwithstanding this anxiety, people who have an ear in the right circles keep reassuring business leaders that there has been no receding from the action plan, and criminals, terrorists, and corrupt would be nabbed despite any political pressures.
The law and order improvement in Karachi can be gauged from certain revealing statistics comparing 2015 with 2013. Car snatching down 71% from 1128 to 329 while car thefts reduced by nearly 54% from 3841 to 1775. Target killings went down 27% to 153 from 209 while other killings went down 69% from 2789 to 874. Extortion cases reduced by 60% from 533 to 210 while kidnapping for ransom went down 58% from 85 to 36. The only blot was motorcycle-snatching statistics. These went up from 16583 to 17551, an increase of 6%.
Poor economy and bad governance put together would always result in excessive crime, in high unemployment, and in dissatisfaction. The deteriorating law and order situation in Karachi was mostly due to these factors. The economy is improving, law and order is much better, but bad governance is still critically prevalent in the Sindh government. The Rangers are striving to play a prominent role in introducing good governance. The ball is now in the court of Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah. He has to decide between peace and mayhem in Karachi, the vibrant soul of Pakistan.