Editorial: Shutting the stable door…

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—File Photo


The Rangers, army, intelligence agencies and police personnel carried out a sweeping operation in Karachi jail in the wake of the startling escape of two Lashkar-e-Jhangvi prisoners the other day. The escape was mystery enough. Reportedly, the two men shaved off their beards in a courtroom washroom and then calmly walked out of the main gate of the prison. It boggles the mind how such a bold plan could have succeeded without the complicity of jail staff. If there was even the faintest smidgeon of doubt regarding this suspicion, it was blown away by the results of the sweep and search operation. Around 6,000 prisoners belonging to various political, religious and banned outfits were physically searched and their barracks and cells swept for items not allowed in jail. Lo and behold, the operation netted a veritable treasure trove of illicit things. The list of seized items is self-explanatory: 102 mobile phones, Rs 3.552 million in cash, 18 deep freezers, 449 TVs, 163 LCDs, 995 bracket fans, five packets of heroin, 22 heaters, three DVD players, 30 blankets, 10 scissors, 31 water dispensers, 400 cigarette packets, 45 knives, 46 memory cards and 50 remote control devices and other items. Needless to say, this ‘find’ makes a mockery of the jail manual, rules and security. It is inconceivable, just as in the case of the escape of the two Lashkar-e-Jhangvi terrorists, that any of this could have arrived within the prison walls without the help of the jail staff, from top to bottom. Although 12 of Karachi jail’s staff, including the superintendent and deputy superintendent, were arrested after the escape, what measures would be required now to clean up the Augean stables of the prison beggars description. The operation after the event, regardless of the ‘rich’ discovery, is little more than a face-saving attempt to shut the stable door long after the horse has bolted.

Taking their cue from the happenings in Karachi prison, the authorities in their belated wisdom carried out a similar security-oriented mock exercise in Adiala Jail Rawalpindi. Neither operation inspires any confidence in the light of the prisoners’ escape and the considerable ‘illicit’ material recovered in Karachi. It has been common knowledge for many years that our prison security resembles nothing more than a sieve through which almost anything can pass, leavened by money exchanging hands. But if this were the only worry, it would be bad enough. However, one recalls in the light of the discovery of cell phones and anti-jamming devices in Karachi prison, the incident in 2008 when jailed terrorist Omar Saeed Sheikh made hoax calls from inside Hyderabad jail to then president Asif Ali Zardari and the Chief of Army Staff in the wake of the Mumbai attacks posing as an Indian minister and using such threatening language that Pakistan and India went on high alert. Given the fact that both neighbouring countries are nuclear armed, the incident underlines the scope for mischief because of our rotten, corrupt prison system. Currently, faced with the terrorist threat and the growth of criminal activities, can the citizen rest sanguine that those behind bars can do no further mischief? The woes of governance in Pakistan are too many to recount. As it is, the justice system is virtually dysfunctional if judged by the backlog of cases. If its prison regime too continues to be so decrepit and hopeless, even the stoutest heart must quail before the implications.

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