Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made it clear during his visit to Karachi last week that the targeted operation in Karachi will continue indefinitely. With the paramilitary forces active on the ground, this time, Karachiites are hoping things will genuinely take a turn for the better.
While talking to businessmen and senior media persons in Karachi, the prime minister warned that criminals should not remain under the illusion that the operation would be concluded in two, four or six months. “The action will continue until the last criminal is netted,” he announced.
According to Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, more than 9,000 criminals have been arrested and 36,000 weapons seized as police and Rangers continue to raid the criminal hideouts based on intelligence being provided by the spy agencies.
The operation, which started in the first week of September, is generally being lauded by the people of Karachi — there is a marked reduction in street crimes and other forms of violence that flourished during the five years of Pakistan People’s Party-led government.
Independent observers claim the operation is bearing fruit as there is a visible decline in the number of targeted killings in the city, which was once the order of the day.
Some experts are of the opinion that the arrested 9,000 criminals will return to the streets soon.
Given the intensity and apparent impartiality of the law-enforcers, the current operation seems different from the ones previously conducted. “This time, I think, there is a possibility the arrested criminals will be convicted in the courts as the law enforcers seem serious in meting out severe punishment to the miscreants. We saw the agencies have arrested the big fish, who were untouchable in the previous government,” says Farhat Parveen, Executive Director NOW Communities, an NGO working for the restoration of peace in Karachi.
Despite a dismal conviction rate, the Sindh police are hopeful they will manage to build up the cases against those arrested and get them convicted.
“The criminals are being booked according to their involvement in various crimes” says Shahid Hayat, Karachi Police Chief, while talking to The News on Sunday. “I agree that investigating these cases won’t be easy as there are a lot of hurdles in the way, but we are bolstering our investigation units to complete the process.”
Hayat explains when an arrested target killer confesses that he killed, say, 50 people, the police have to go through a lot of behind-the-scene work to establish one case against him. “For a murderer of say 50 victims, we have to take out the FIRs of each case (which are usually registered against unidentified killers), then look for witnesses in each one, he says.
He adds witnesses do not come forward that easily, as the city has a history of political and religious outfits killing witnesses in order to silence them — “The process is not easy, but with more investigators, cases can be built.”
Apart from the action of law enforcement agencies, the Sindh government has also come up with favourable laws that are helping the law enforcers in the ongoing operation. For instance, the duration of conviction on account of possessing illegal weapon has been increased from a maximum three and a half years of imprisonment to 14 years. Then, the paramilitary force, Rangers, have been given the right to hold an individual for three months without prosecuting or booking the accused on any charges.
And most crucial is the transfer of high profile cases from Karachi to other cities within the province for hearing. For instance, the Sindh government managed to shift the hearing of Geo-News reporter Wali Babar’s murder case from Karachi to the anti-terrorism court (ATC) of Kandhkot, a tehsil in Kashmore District.
Despite the relative peace the on-going operation has brought to Karachi, it seems the law enforcers were convinced about closing the cases of some of the accused too early. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) accused the law enforcers of killing people “on mere suspicion” and the political and religious parties time and again accused the agencies of doing the same. There is little doubt the law enforcement agencies chose to ‘clean up’ the city of criminals belonging to political parties.
The Mutahhida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Ahle Sunnah Wal Jamaat (erstwhile Sipah-e-Sahaba) and PPP-backed Lyari group Aman Committee had accused the Rangers and police of extra-judicial killings.
The HRCP Chairperson Zohra Yusuf had pointed while talking to The News on Sunday, “There is a visible decline in the number of targeted killings since the operation began, but there is almost an equal increase in extra-judicial killings, which is as grave.”
But no one can deny the fact that the operation is yielding meaningful results.