Karachi—Rangers’ operation in Karachi and Sindh came to a grinding halt from midnight Wednesday after the expiry of authority given to them by the provincial government, and there seems little hope of its revival for the next two days.
The reason is very simple. The Para-military force, despite being a federal organisation, has to have powers to operate or execute its plans from the provincial governments. The Sindh administration, for the last few months, has been feeling irritated by raids from NAB on offices or departments under its control or by the recent announcement from Rangers chief Maj-General Bilal Akbar to extend the Operation clean-up to interior of the southern territory, instead of confining it to the port city only.
Although DG Rangers had a long discussion with Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah over the issues of release of a wanted person Asad Kharal from the custody of men under his command by a crowd of his supporters and also the police force, but nothing tangible emerged.
Differences on the issue as to how could security forces could stand eyeball to eye ball against each other, has caused a friction between civilian administration and personnel under army’s command. The crisis, lingering on for quite some time, assumed horrendous dimension when the chief minister issued a statement, saying that powers could only be extended to Para-military force to operate in Karachi, and that too in the four specialized fields like kidnapping for ransom, extortion, target killing etc, but will not be allowed to be extended to areas in the interior, where police alone had the authority to deal with law and order situation.
Hope of the thickening crisis resolving quickly gained ground when federal interior minister Chaudhry Nisar addressed a communication to Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, but even the federation’s assertion to avoid delay on the sensitive subject, was conveniently overlooked. The matter has been hanging fire for three days now. The chief minister sheltered behind the argument that he had to consult his party leadership before deciding the issue.
But a scheduled meeting called in Dubai for July 19 by PPP co-chairman and former President Asif Ali Zardari has been delayed as the chief minister, the provincial Home Minister Anwar Sial, and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto, remained in Karachi, awaiting Zardari’s return to Dubai from London, where he had been held up for unexplained reasons.
The situation has begun to be at boiling point where not only the ongoing Karachi operation will suffer, and has in fact been halted from Thursday, but looks like loaded with all kinds of eventualities , including friction between Federation and the Sindh province, as well as between Rangers, present in Sindh for well over 20 years, might assume horrendous proportions.
As of July 20, all wings of the Rangers have stopped carrying out raids in Sindh on being stripped of policing powers to deal with criminals, extortionists, target killers and all those involved in heinous crimes. It had dealt with such elements with appreciable success and had won accolades for that, a vocal reservation coming from MQM, and muted voices being raised by some other political factions or groups.
The Rangers have been in Karachi and rest of Sindh under Article-147 of the Constitution, and under powers vested in them by the Pakistan Protection Act, which expired on July 15, and has to be renewed for two more years after advice from the prime minister and approval from the President of Pakistan.
The Sindh government had reluctantly agreed to extend the Rangers presence in the province and powers to operate against criminals for one year, but whether it would renew that extension remains to be seen. The special policing powers of the Act-1997 and were accorded to Rangers for Karachi Division only to combat terrorism and other high-profile crimes.
There is also a ticklish issue as to whether the Sindh government, after consulting its leadership will take the matter to the Sindh Assembly or renew the powers through administrative order, for apprehensions has been voiced that after the 18th amendment to the Constitution, provinces have acquired considerable authority in dealing with matters solely of their own concern.
The Sindh CM is also likely to draft a formal response to the letter sent to him by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan calling upon the former to extend the special policing powers of Rangers for the sake of peace and maintenance of law and order in Karachi. The Sindh CM is being approached by several other relevant top-level quarters on the issue of special policing powers of Rangers in Karachi urging him to extend it for another term. The special policing powers of Rangers became controversial this time as Rangers took action on July 13 and arrested an influential person, Asad Kharral in Larkana who is stated to be close to Sindh Home Minister Suhail Anwar Khan Siyal. The Sindh CM later held out the viewpoint that the Rangers had gone beyond its powers while doing the action in Larkana as its special policing powers were confined to Karachi Division only.
It has been feared in influential circles that Rangers will withdraw its force deployed for the security of VIPs and important establishment, but so far no concrete evidence of that has been visible about that.
Meanwhile, Rangers have released a statement, acting under powers bestowed on the paramilitary force under Article-147 the Pakistan Rangers Sindh arrested 533 suspects out of whom 478 suspects were handed over to the police for processing while 55 suspects were handed over to various law enforcement agencies including FIA, ANF, Pakistan Customs, FC and the Irrigation Department.
The paramilitary force detained 127 illegal Afghan nationals, 34 members of banned organizations, 16 members of separatist groups, 4 members belonging to MQM’s militant wing, 18 dacoits, 10 smugglers, 11 poachers, 24 drug dealers and 234 suspects involved in various crimes, the statement added.
During the operations conducted in interior Sindh, two paramilitary forces officers and one soldier laid down their lives while another two were wounded.