RETHINKING POWER: Sindh to curtail Rangers’ mandate

Mirroring Punjab’s initiative, the Sindh government has re evaluated the ‘special powers’ given to the paramilitary force in Karachi.

Following a spike in incidents of kidnapping, extortion, money laundering, and terrorism the Pakistan Rangers were deployed to maintain peace in the industrial hub and economic center in 2013. The provincial government granted the paramilitary force ‘policing powers’ on the directives of the federal government. These special powers enabled the Rangers to keep suspects into their custody for three months for investigation after producing them before a relevant court instead of handing over the suspect to the police within 24 hours of arrest. Since then, the Rangers have not only dismantled a thriving underground network of anti-state elements but have also maintained law and order in a city otherwise wrought with ethnic frictions, politically charged clashes, and economic aggravation. It is no wonder then that every few months the issue of extension of Rangers’ powers in Sindh emerges as a major bone of contention between the Center and the Sindh government.

Recently the federal government had approved a Punjab government request for the deployment of Rangers in the province, where they will only ‘assist’ the Punjab police and law enforcement agencies in their fight against terrorism for 60 days. The powers that the Rangers enjoy in Sindh are vastly different from what they have in Punjab. While the Rangers in Sindh have a lead policing role, can carry out raids, arrest suspects, interrogate them, and conduct snap checking, the ‘Punjab model’ limits the role of the paramilitary force. The Sindh government has long accused the Rangers for overstepping their mandate, for example when the paramilitary force raided certain government offices in 2015 and took away records in a bid to find evidence of corruption. The provincial government also expressed grave reservations when the Rangers raided offices of a businessman in Karachi the day former president Asif Zardari returned to the country ending his 18-month long self-exile in December 2016. While the Rangers have wanted policing powers for the whole Sindh, the provincial government had been giving them special powers only for Karachi.

The question is: if the Rangers are merely ‘assisting’ the police, then is it even worth keeping them on board? The police, whether in Sindh or in Punjab, is a politicized force that is directed under the provincial government’s authority. That in itself creates a conflict of interest if the political establishment is even mildly involved in up keeping a parallel space of governance, where the politically affiliated are not only allowed to benefit politically, socially, and economically but are also able to get away with wrongdoing, corruption, fraud, and nepotism. For far too long loopholes in the administrative system have entitled the powerful and their vast machinery of control, the Rangers acted as an objective force free of bureaucratic concerns and personal gains. Not only did this enable a thorough clean up of Karachi but also helped put the trust of the common man back into the ‘system’. By limiting their powers, the provincial government stands to demoralize the force itself, and as a consequence, demoralize the citizens of Karachi.

In truth, since Zardari’s return to the country and his fresh zeal to get involved in politics before the next general elections in 2018, the political landscape of Sindh and its capital will be reexamined; with a shrinking space of policing by the Rangers, the power aims to be safely transported back into the hands of the ‘old guard’. Its almost as if street wars are being projected onto ‘turf wars’. The political forces in Sindh are not only reluctant to empower the paramilitary force, but are in constant conflict with it, and through them, the federal government.

In addition, with the recent arrest of Uzair Baloch, it has become quite obvious that different political forces (including PPP) within the province and its capital retain extensive connections with outlawed individuals, banned groups, and ‘terror’ outfits. Where these connections cement the political establishment’s connections with the city’s inner doings, it also makes them vulnerable and accountable. Uzair Baloch’s recent confession clearly states that his activities were directed under PPP’s approving gaze. By creating a network of power, it seems the ruling class enacts it own laws, precedents, and models of governance. The Rangers seem to challenge this well orchestrated system.

It is the duty of the provincial government to safeguard a safe space within which its citizens can economically thrive, demand justice, ask for security, and live a safe and successful life. By limiting the mandate of the Rangers, the government has undermined the impact it will have on the larger security situation in Karachi. In Pakistan, more so now than ever, the issue of security is embroiled with issues of political interest and the citizens suffer in the mix. While the Rangers have made significant gains in cleaning-up Karachi, it seems sometimes those gains were made on the backs of the political establishment. Then the question is: whose side is the political establishment actually on?