By Zubeida Mustafa
WHILE going to the Karachi Press Club to attend a press conference called by the Citizens Trust Against Crime, I noticed heavy traffic moving in the wrong direction on a one-way street. When I asked Amjad, who was driving me, about this waywardness, he succinctly commented, “Bibi, aap ko pata naheen yeh Pakistan hai. Yahan koi poochnay wala naheen.” (This is Pakistan. No one checks).
A while later this was confirmed by the CTAC, a not-for-profit trust, when speaking of infringements of the law that are common in Karachi. What is worrying is the nexus between crime and the instruments of crime. The key facilitators are unlicensed weapons, illegal vehicles and untraceable SIMs.
According to the CTAC, these three often come together “to form a lethal arrangement that breeds and promotes crimes of all shades”.
After much research, the CTAC has collected data that underlines the staggering magnitude of the violation of the law with regard to illegally issued SIMs, unregistered vehicles and the proliferation of (unlawful) weapons in the country. These are found to be invariably involved in the crimes that are committed.
Had the figures not been so stupendous, one would have dismissed this as simply a case of misgovernance. Take the case of weapons, the most lethal of the three tools of crime. According to the CTAC, 70,000 arm licences have been issued to our parliamentarians alone, making the National Assembly the most militarised legislature in the world.
Many of these licences are for prohibited bores and are illegally used. Thus there are reportedly 2,300 private militias operating in the country, defying with impunity Article 256 of the Constitution that prohibits their formation.
Political and religious parties have armed wings not just for protection but also for their arm-twisting tactics. I am told that a hired assassin does not cost much. We can add to these private entrepreneurs in the world of crime who rob banks and snatch cars and mobile phones.
The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) has allowed the unregulated issuance of SIMs that makes it impossible to trace the owners.
The CTAC quoted the figure of 40,000 for Afghan subscribers who have obtained SIMs in Pakistan and are untraceable. There have been cases of legally registered phone users discovering their personal details being used by phone companies to issue SIMs to strangers.
Similar are the wrongdoings in the context of motor vehicles. According to the CTAC thousands of “illegal, unregistered, smuggled, non-duty-paid, foreign and fake number plate vehicles” ply on our roads.
The government and police themselves have no knowledge of the number of transgressors. The CTAC estimates that 30pc of vehicles with green number plates (that only government vehicles can supposedly use) are fake. Other culprits are SUVs with foreign number plates.
One may well ask whether this phenomenon makes the police, the PTA and the excise department equal partners in crime.
Aren’t they conniving with the criminals by helping them cover up their tracks? Many targeted killings, bomb explosions, extortions and terrorist acts could have been prevented if investigations were thorough.
But how can they be when the owners of weapons, cars and mobile phones used for criminal activities cannot be traced in the absence of proper registration?
If this willingness to turn a blind eye to the violation of laws on a mass scale is simply rooted in corruption and apathy, it may still be possible to take corrective measures. The CTAC has made some sound recommendations which make sense.
A deweaponisation commission should be set up immediately which should have all firearm licences cancelled, to be issued again with proper biometrics. Similarly, the PTA should ensure the registration of SIMs and IMEIs which it can do if it does not submit to the bullying tactics of the powers that be and commercial interests. Some progress has been made in the registration of vehicles we have been told.
The problem begins when the government itself is more than corrupt — when it is criminalised and lacks the will to act. This has been demonstrated by its unwillingness to reform the police by depoliticising the force.
A member of the audience at the press conference pointed out that the CTAC was not addressing the root cause of crime — poverty, illiteracy and unemployment. Admittedly, these lead to unrest but the real cause of crime is the breakdown of the policing system that allows criminals to go scot-free. It is the police challenge that needs to be addressed on a priority basis.
The most heinous crimes are committed by the rich and the powerful with the connivance of the police. With criminals armed to the hilt, the resistance staged by the concerned section of civil society turns it into an unequal battle.