Saturday, December 19, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Dec 20, 2015

Rangers’ powers The controversy over the Rangers’ powers in the Karachi operation continues, with various stakeholders delivering their views, which may lead to even more controversy. For example, Corps Commander Karachi Lt-General Naveed Mukhtar during a visit to the Rangers’ headquarters, praised the paramilitary force as the ‘backbone’ of the anti-terrorist operation and ascribed the relative peace in Karachi to the special powers previously assigned to the Rangers. Those powers have recently been curtailed by the Sindh government through a resolution passed by the Sindh Assembly amidst protests from the opposition. The resolution has substituted “sectarian killings” for “terrorism”, restricted the Rangers’ power to put terrorism suspects in preventive detention without the prior approval of the chief minister, prevented any raid on the Sindh government’s offices without prior written approval of the chief secretary, and confined the Rangers to assisting the Sindh police to the exclusion of any federal institution (the context being the FIA and NAB). While the Sindh government’s thrust is to reassert its control of the operation that falls within the purview of the province and resist what it views as encroachment on its turf by federal institutions such as the Rangers, FIA and NAB that have overstepped their remit (in the case of the Rangers mandated by the Sindh government under Article 147 of the Constitution), the message by the Karachi Corps Commander seems to be that the Rangers will continue the operation (as before?). This conflict between the Centre and Sindh found an echo in unnecessarily provocative remarks against the Sindh government by Senator Mushahidullah Khan of the PML-N, for which he had later to apologise and were expunged after a vociferous protest and walkout by the opposition. The worthy senator lost his ministry for indiscreet remarks and Friday’s performance in the upper house indicates that he has yet to overcome the affliction of foot-in-mouth disease from which he and others of his party’s leadership suffer. Despite the criticism by some quarters that the PPP Sindh government is only trying to protect its incarcerated leader Dr Asim Hussain and others against corruption allegations, this cannot become a justification for riding roughshod over provincial autonomy, which has been achieved after prolonged struggle, culminating in the 18th Amendment. Corruption can and should be tackled by the institutions charged with this responsibility. It should not become the basis for an expanding sphere of operations by the Rangers. In fact it could be argued that the ham-handed manner in which the Rangers have handled such matters has led to the conflict between the Centre and Sindh and culminated in restricting the powers of the paramilitary force to what the Sindh government mandates. There are many in the country who a priori have no patience with such arguments, focused as they are almost obsessively on the PPP’s alleged corrupt culture. For example, long time critic of both the major political parties, the PPP and PML-N, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s Imran Khan, has once again contributed to the controversy by warning that withdrawal of the Rangers from Karachi will inevitably result in a resumption of the killings that have characterised Karachi for years. To prove his point, he refers to the post-1992 operation situation that led to the sustained killing of policemen who had conducted that operation. In the latest version of the pot calling the kettle black, former Sindh home minister Zulfiqar Mirza has leaned on the Centre, army and Rangers to score points against his erstwhile party of which he was not only a longtime member, but widely considered close to former president and PPP co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari. For all the high faluting ‘principles’ being cited in the critique of the Rangers’ powers being restricted, perhaps the most important trend of increasing establishment crowding into civilian space and the Centre into provincial purview is being ignored. Irrespective, wisdom demands that the powers that be revisit their approach and sit down with the Sindh government to sort out the parameters of the Karachi operation lest it fall victim to these turf wars.

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