After much hesitation the Sindh government renewed, at the last hour, its request to the Interior Ministry for the Rangers to stay on in the province for another one month.
The issue of contention in fact has not been extension in stay but in policing powers of the paramilitary force. It has been quite a while since the Rangers were deployed in Karachi; they started using policing powers only a short time ago to rid the megalopolis of scandalously high incidence of targeted killings, extortion, kidnapping for ransom, sectarian violence and all sorts of other crimes.
The Sindh government felt unease when the DG-Rangers in his report to the Karachi Apex Committee – which somehow found its way into the media- accused influential individuals and political parties of involvement in collecting some 230 billion rupees annually through criminal activities.
Making a bad situation worse soon afterwards, the Rangers entered the Sindh Building Control Authority and the Lines Area, and confiscated official records allegedly containing evidence of corruption worth multibillions.
The last two incidents did not sit well with the Sindh government’s sensitivities.
Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah expressed his displeasure over them in a letter he wrote to the DG-Ranger, accusing his force of acting beyond its notified mandate and terming its activities as “unacceptable”.
Many others too have raised the question, why should the Rangers or any other force pick only on alleged corruption cases in Sindh and not in other parts of the country? After all, they point out, corruption is not peculiar to Sindh. All these arguments carry weight.
Indeed, it is not for the security forces to look for evidence of financial wrongdoing in civilian organizations; and to point the finger at individuals or political parties in one part of the country.
However, the Rangers have been taking interest in corrupt practices in the Sindh government departments because of a nexus between crime and corruption – something the apex court pointed at during its hearings of the Karachi law and order case a while ago.
Following action against some officials of the Fisheries Department, for instance, two persons arrested for alleged wrongdoing confessed to giving ten percent of ill-gotten money to criminal gangs operating in Karachi and another ten percent to a group of Baloch insurgents. This and other cases finally have to be decided by the courts, of course.
As regards the legality question, the provincial government is perfectly within its rights to tell the Rangers to get out of the civilian domain. Acknowledging the prerogative, Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan, while awaiting the request from Karachi, told journalists that the Rangers would be withdrawn from the city within 24 hours after the expiry of their term of deployment. That though was an unlikely scenario.
In any event, as part of a national consensus to root out terrorism and its support structure, the paramilitary force needs to stay on to carry out operations against criminal elements, wherever and whosoever they might be.
The ongoing operations have already brought about a marked improvement in the law and order situation with a significant reduction in incidents of targeted killings, extortion, bank robberies, kidnapping for ransom.
They must continue for as long as it takes to restore peace and stability.