By Zubeida Mustafa
THE TRAUMATISED citizens of Karachi, where violence has killed over 1900 people in 18 months, live with a dilemma. Should they seek the help of the police in an emergency?
The harrowing experiences people recount of the law enforcers’ highhandedness deter victims of crime from seeking redress. Only in serious cases involving murder, kidnapping and car snatching are reports lodged, when one cannot avoid dealing with the custodians of the law.
The failure of the police to curb crime and violence in Karachi in a way vindicates the skepticism of the public. The credibility of the police is low and rampant corruption has robbed them of the confidence of the people. But the situation need not be all that bleak. Crime and violence need not be the curse of Karachi, if only the political will and the necessary systems are created to make the city safe and secure.
This can be done, as has been convincingly proved by Jameel Yusuf, who co-founded with Nazim Haji the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee in 1990 when kidnapping for ransom had become a lucrative occupation in Karachi Since most of the victims were businessmen who were targeted because of their wealth, it was not surprising that two of their most dynamic members should have decided to act. That saw the birth of the CPLC, of course with the government’s blessings. Governor Fakhruddin Ebrahim gave the Committee space in the Governor’s House compound to set up its Central Reporting Cell with all its electronic adgetry and computers. Within five years, the CPLC had proved that the most hopeless of situations can be changed. The incidence of kidnapping for ransom fell from 79 in 1990 to three this year because the Committee’s success in solving a high number of cases has proved to be a deterrent.More important than that was the fact that for the first time a new avenue was now available to the harassed citizens to seek prompt redress when they became victims of police excesses. The CPLC has emerged as an arbiter to look into the citizens’ complaints against the police.
Given his excellent track record, Jameel Yusuf’s observations carry a lot of weight. But he knows his limits. He will not try to bend the law and operates within the existing legal framework — though he does feel that many laws need changing and it is time our lawmakers did something about it. He is also very categorical about the nature of the present violence in Karachi: it has political roots and should therefore be resolved at the political level. Hence the dialogue between the government and the MQM is a positive development,
though the good offices of a mediator could have helped reconcile the differences between the two sides
faster. After all, the disagreements are quite basic. The person who is seen as a terrorist by one side is a freedom fighter for the other.
Moreover, the crisis in Karachi also has a social dimension for which the CPLC chief blames the
government — in fact all governments which have been in power. They have neglected this metropolis wilfully while fleecing it to the maximum. “If you cannot provide people the basic civic amenities which are their due such as water, sanitation and electricity and they are denied their fundamental rights of schooling for their children and jobs for their youth, how can you expect the citizens not to get disgruntled. That is how some elements have been able to exploit the deprivation and discontent of the people of Karachi for their political ends,” Jameel notes philosophically. They train the teenagers to use the gun and promise to give the people what others have failed to provide in 48 years.
But even with the best of political governance, crime cannot be eradicated totally. In fact, it has been growing worldwide with the growth in population and the development of technology. This needs to be combated with the help of an efficient police force. Do we have such a force?
Jameel Yusuf has specific ideas about the role of the police. He has studied and worked with the Karachi police very closely — that is what the CPLC has been doing in the last five years — and has managed to make inroads into some vital areas of crime detection.
He admits that to a great extent the police is corrupt and inept. But for that he blames the government and the administration. No effort has been made to recruit the right people for the job. Every government which comes into office doles out political favours by getting its supporters appointed to the force. With a stroke of the pen, a political leader has hundreds of men with unknown antecedents recruited in the police. The home addresses they supply are fake. Their characters have not been verified and their records are not available. Yet they have been trained and provided arms ostensibly to fight crime.”Now you have the unenviable situation where you are required to fight the terrorism let loose by many of the same people you yourself have trained and armed. The poor civilians who are not responsible for this state of affairs have become innocent victims,” Jameel observes.
What is needed is a major change in the mode of recruitment to the force. Recruitment needs to
be conducted professionally. Why is it that no one questions the discipline in the armed forces? There is
a chain of command there, and there are rigorous procedures and qualifications for recruitment. Besides, no one can jump ranks or outsiders brought in to infiltrate it. Why are policemen appointed without proper testing? Why are many of them inducted in midstream overriding someone who should have been senior? They are not even required to have passed their Intermediate exam and that is why their expertise is so low.
Jameel Yusuf very strongly recommends that an independent commission be set up to recruit the police. Without some set standards on the basis of which the policemen are selected, the force can never act as a truly professional body. Jameel Yusuf is also critical of the fact that every government in power has sought to use the police for its pojitical ends. This has corrupted the police more than anything else and robbed it of its credibility.
Another factor which he thinks is important to promote a closer rapport between the public and the police is to give it a local complexion. “I don’t ask for the police to be constituted on ethnic lines,” the CPLC chief stresses. “What I do want is that the policemen in a thana be taken from the same neighbourhood where they have lived for years and have their roots there.” Thus they will not only have an interest in the community tljey are serving. They will also be known to the people who live in that neighbourhood. That will act as a check on their committing any excesses. It will also facilitate the work of law enforcement. The police could be linked up with voluntary citizens’ organisations of the area. This liaison between the police and the neighbourhood would be more effective in maintaining law and order
Buf that is not all. The whole system has to be revamped and the police has to be trained and equipped as a modern force. That would by itself help root out quite a bit of the corruption in its ranks. At present, the lowly-paid policeman is expected to run a thana in which even the stationery is not provided. On nine litres of petrol, the mobile is expected to patrol the thana round the clock. The thanedar is expected to feed his family on Rs 2000 or so a month. In other words, the government will have to spend more money on this sector if the police are to work more honestly and efficiently.
The system is so corrupt and obsolete that it is unbelievable. Jameel Yusuf gives examples. “The police
comes out with names of people who are wanted for innumerable crimes. They are nominated in FIRs
as was the case with the Liaquatabad supermarket killings. But they cannot be identified because the police has no records, though they are all men wanted for earlier crimes. They don’t even have photographs
This inefficiency and corruption extend to other departments of the administration as well and affect
the working of the police. For a paltry sum of Rs 2000, a person can obtain a fake identity card. We
have caught people who had fixed their picture on the ID card of a dead man and got away with it.Many people are released on bail on the basis of forged documents which cannot be verified because a letter from one government department never reaches another. Thus the criminal is back in the world of crime,” Jameel Yusuf says.
But most appalling is the failure of the authorities to acquire the latest technology for storing data, monitoring and scanning records. Such technology is available in Pakistan and the CPLC has demonstrated
its effectiveness. At its central reporting cell, computers are used to keep records of all.the cars registered with the motor vehicle department and of the vehicles snatched. This makes it possible to trace their movement in many cases. That is how at one time the CPLC could recover more than 40 per cent of the cars lost. (The recovery rate has gone down not because of any lapses in monitoring but because of lack ,of cooperation tion from the other provinces where these cars are re-registered and sold.)
With the help of this data, the CPLC can tell you which colour and make is most in demand by the car-lifters (white/red Suzuki), which are the days of the week you are most vulnerable (Thursday)
and the time and locality you are most likely to be a victim (one example, between 8-9 p.m. in the
Delton area of Defence Society). The cell has used computers to draw pictures of suspects and scanners to intercept telephone conversations which has helped them trace kidnappers demanding a ransom. Modern technology and methodology are available to conduct investigations in a civilized and scientific manner without torturing and killing a man. Jameel Yusuf is sorry that they are not being put to use in Pakistan by the police
The CPLC’s mandate is not to replace the police. But in the areas it has been asked to intervene, the CPLC has made a breakthrough. This should be reassuring to a demoralised public. But by its very nature, the agency cannot adopt a high profile. When the people in distress who approach it for help do not want the case to be publicised, Jameel Yusuf says that they have to respect the wishes of the party concerned. If they start producing an annual report of their work, they will be treading on many toes. So they keep quiet about it. They, however, have their accounts audited and they are available for scrutiny. But there is one area in which the CPLC would not like to be he quiet: in creating public awareness about safety measures. “We would like to tell the people how to protect their houses and motor cars. What to do and what not to do to preempt the criminal,” the CPLC chief says. But their resources are limited. They have tried a media campaign in newspapers. The ideal would be crime-watch spots on television but the government has not responded to this suggestion and CPLC does not have the resources to do it on its own as PTV wants it to ay excise duty for such ads. The disarray in the administration and the relative efficiency of the unofficial sector has convinced Jameel Yusuf that the only hope for the country lies in entrusting more and more responsibility to the NGOs. True, not all NGOs are honest and actually functioning. But there are some which are doing good work and making a headway. He is right, for after all the CPLC is an NGO, and its limited resources notwithstanding, it has achieved what the police could not.
But one may add, it is not just the expertise that is necessary. Motivation, dynamism and integrity also count. The CPLC has all three under Jameel Yusuf’s leadership.
Soure: Dawn 28 July 1995