Monday, December 14, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Dec 14, 2015

Centre-Sindh rift Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar has whaled into the Sindh government for procrastinating over extending the Rangers' mandate to continue the Karachi operation. The Sindh government has refrained from extending the mandate that expired on December 4 through an executive decision and has instead referred the matter for broad consultation to the Sindh Assembly. Since the matter has yet to be discussed in the Assembly, a gap of 10 days and counting has opened up in the Rangers' campaign. Chaudhry Nisar warns the Sindh government against playing politics with the Rangers issue. He says other legal and constitutional options would be considered and presented to the prime minister if the Rangers' mandate is not extended. Some would interpret this as a thinly veiled threat. Chaudhry Nisar interprets the 'foot dragging' on the issue by the Sindh government as an effort to make the Karachi operation controversial just to save one person. No doubt the reference is to Dr Asim Hussain, currently in detention and being investigated on a raft of terrorism and corruption charges. Chaudhry Nisar reminds us that the Karachi operation was launched against criminals and terrorists by taking all political parties and stakeholders on board. He also reminds us that Farooq Sattar of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) himself called for the operation on August 13, 2013. Chaudhry Nisar mounted a stout defence of the Rangers as a well trained, professional force and said any criticism of the force would not be tolerated (he neglects to inform us what he plans to do if such criticism continues). He then went on to assert that only terrorists and criminals would benefit if the Rangers' powers were made controversial. The Rangers were making sacrifices to purge Karachi of these evils, he said, and the people and business community of the city were satisfied with the operation and wanted it to continue to its logical conclusion (as though on cue, the Karachi Association of Trade and Industry issued a statement of support for the operation on the same day). Last but not least, what seemed to be worrying Chaudhry Nisar was that the delay by the Sindh government would demoralise the Rangers and embolden the criminals and terrorists operating in the city. On the Pakistan People's Party's (PPP's) part, two responses appeared. One was by Adviser to Sindh Chief Minister on Information Maula Bux Chandio, who expressed the hope that the provincial government would grant an extension to the Rangers' policing powers in Karachi on Monday (today). He argued though that a constitutional requirement needed to be met, that is why the issue had been referred to the Sindh Assembly. Probably what Mr Chandio was alluding to were the reservations in the Sindh government regarding a federal force, the Rangers, invited to assist the provincial administration in tackling Karachi's situation, overwhelming the province's purview in law and order issues. The second, more considered response from the PPP came in a press conference by the party's leaders, in which the PPP spokesman Senator Farhatullah Babar set out the party's response to Chaudhry Nisar's statements. Senator Farhatullah Babar focused attention on the Karachi operation having been launched on the recommendation of and with the support of the Sindh government. It was decided, he added, that the Rangers' mandate would be decided by the Sindh government (in line with the constitutional position). Referring to the statement of the chief minister Sindh a day earlier, he pinned down the mandate to curbing four distinct crimes: terrorism, targeted killings, kidnapping for ransom and extortion. In several ways, he conceded, the Rangers had performed this assigned role in a commendable manner. However, he took issue with Chaudhry Nisar's seeking to equate the criticism of a federal force overstepping its mandate with undermining the operation. He categorically rejected the notion that the PPP's reservations were because of one or more individuals and said the real issue was of the Rangers going beyond their remit to include actions against alleged corruption, a problem that should be tackled by the institutions whose task this is. The Rangers have been deployed in Karachi for more than 15 years. During this considerable period and through the tenure of successive governments, the wisdom finally dawned (spurred on by egging from the military) that the police had been rendered ineffective over time because of political interference and therefore the paramilitary force should tackle crime and terrorism. Discomfort followed when the MQM and PPP began to be targeted, the firmer on terrorism suspicions, the latter on an ill-defined alleged nexus between crime and terrorism (with some spice added by allegations of corruption). Chaudhry Nisar's aggressive approach may prove the wrong tack. The federal and provincial governments need to put their heads together, define the Rangers' mandate afresh and winkle out any creases regarding where their remit ends. Karachi needs the Centre and Sindh to work together, not at loggerheads.

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