Dude, where’s my protocol?

On Saturday, Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced that they were issuing a notification granting additional powers to the paramilitary force Pakistan Rangers in Karachi, following an increase in violence in the city. This move, according to Malik, was due to the police force being “inadequate”. However, he was quick to reassure reporters that no shoot-at-sight orders have been issued.

According to a Dawn report published on January 5th, the additional powers allow “the paramilitary force to arrest anyone involved in violence for 90 days.” To top it off, the police forces will now carry out “surgical operations” (Malik’s words, not mine) based on intelligence reports.

According to a report published in June last year, the Sindh Assembly was told that “At least 555 police personnel have been deployed for the security and protocol of ministers, advisors and politicians in Sindh.”

Now there are two problems that I have with the Rangers getting additional powers. The citizens of Karachi barely trust the police or paramilitary forces. To quote a recent example of the police and rangers’ inefficiency, I have heard first-hand accounts of shopkeepers on M.A Jinnah Road who say, on record, that the police and the rangers stood by and let the arsonists burn down the markets in the area following the bomb blast in Karachi on 28th December 2009.

On the other hand, the police force is understaffed, has barely any training, are paid measly salaries and at times, are powerless to control the law and order situation. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve been approached by policemen asking if I can raise the issue of their meagre salaries on national television. With over 500 police personnel carrying out protocol and security duties for ministers and deployed at their residences, its no wonder that the police is “inadequate”.

As a citizen, I’d like to know how many of these ministers have had specific threats against them. Why on earth does Deputy Speaker Shehla Raza have 14 policemen guarding her life? And at the risk of sounding naive, I’m a citizen of Pakistan and a taxpayer. Where’s my protocol?

Secondly, while other provincial governments have made efforts to improve their police force in the last few years, why is Sindh lagging behind? While Karachi has been relatively shielded from major terrorist attacks (only two major bomb blasts in 2007-2009), the situation has become increasingly volatile in Karachi in the last two years with regards to target killings, clashes between political parties, gang wars, et al. The fact that the police force is still a force that one cannot trust and is beset with problems itself, is just one more glaring example of how incompetent the current provincial government is at ensuring the right of safety to its citizens. Granting additional powers to a paramilitary force, without tangible steps to improve the existing force, seems typical of the government’s solution to handling problems: “We don’t have electricity? Let’s NOT improve the existing power plants and hire new ones.” We don’t have a proper investigation cell? Let’s call the United Nations to conduct the probe.”

I can go on, but I think I’m going to go wait at the window for my police protocol.

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