Karachi: Lawless Streets

While the state authorities have been busy shifting responsibility, the criminals have been on a rampage on the streets of Karachi.

4 mins read
AIG Imran Yaqoob Minhas [File Photo/ News International]

On April 9, 2024, the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) released a report on street crimes in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh. The report revealed that as many as 22,627 crimes were reported in the city in the first three months (January-March) of 2024. During this period, 154 people lost their lives in various incidents, including 59 people who lost their lives while resisting robberies in the port city. 373 cars, 15,968 motorcycles and 6,102 mobile phones were snatched or stolen in Karachi during this period. The CPLC report further said that 25 incidents of extortion and five incidents of kidnapping for ransom were reported in Karachi.

On April 8, 2024, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) noted with concern that the state of law and order in Karachi has “deteriorated alarmingly”. Data presented before a high-level security meeting during the first week of April 2024 showed more than 250 persons in Karachi were shot dead and another 1,052 were wounded by street criminals between January 2022 and March 28, 2024. In a post on social media platform X, HRCP noted, ”Tens of thousands of street crimes were registered by the police in 2023, in which over a hundred people lost their lives. The first quarter of 2024 has followed the same pattern.” HRCP pointed out that retaliatory vigilantism and increased brutality by citizens in response to the crime wave was “not the answer”, and added that the government’s failure to address rising crime levels was “shocking”. “The underlying factors such as economic desperation and unemployment need to be addressed urgently as well,” HRCP stressed.

On April 7, 2024, Karachi Police chief Additional Inspector General (AIG) Imran Yaqoob disclosed that the crime rate in the city was recorded at 166 cases per day in 2024. Earlier, the single day highest crime rate was at 140 cases per day in 2023, as disclosed by the then AIG Karachi Javed Alam Odho on February 4.

On April 10, 2024, AIG Yaqoob stated that the majority of the persons committing crimes in the city were outsiders, including those from interior Sindh and Balochistan. He added that approximately 400,000 ‘professional’ beggars and criminal elements turn to Karachi during Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr, and that not only do these beggars pose a challenge, but criminal elements also take advantage of the festive atmosphere to commit crimes. Yaqoob highlighted, further, that the documented population in Karachi is relatively low compared to the actual population, estimated to be between 25 and 30 million people. “With such a staggering number, it becomes a challenge for law enforcement agencies to keep a close watch on all individuals,” he added.

Meanwhile, according to the performance report presented to the Sindh Police chief Rifat Mukhtar Raja on January 2, 2024, at least 21 Police personnel from the Sindh Police lost their lives in the line of duty in encounters during coordinated efforts against street crimes and terrorism across Sindh in 2023. The report highlighted the significant impact of Police action, resulting in the elimination of 1,726 criminal gangs through 3,158 Police encounters across various Police ranges in the Province. In Karachi range alone, 10,449 suspects, one terrorist, one target killer, one robber, 20 highway robbers, 23 kidnappers, along with 1,515 criminals and 9,090 fugitives, were arrested in 1,080 Police encounters.

However, on April 9, 2024, Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) Karachi In-charge Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Raja Umar Khattab accused the Sindh Home Ministry of ‘non-cooperation’ on weapons’ supply line data in Karachi. In an exclusive interview with ARY News, Raja Umar Khattab disclosed that Inspector General (IG) Sindh tasked CTD to disrupt the weapons’ supply line in the province, especially in Karachi, but “despite numerous attempts, the Sindh Home Ministry failed in sharing data.” The CTD head reportedly claimed that investigations revealed that weapons in Karachi were being provided by 17 weapons’ dealers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Illegal weapons were being trafficked to Karachi by crossing two provinces via transport, for deliveries on online orders. Khattab said street criminals in Karachi had the bulk of illegal weapons and they shared them with each other, for street crimes. Raja Umar Khattab further reveals that around 70 per cent of illegal weapons were smuggled Karachi with the mediation of online channels. He further claimed that the majority of ‘government employees’ were part of the arms supply fraud.

A spike in crime incidents in Karachi has stirred fears of insurgents regaining a foothold in Karachi. Indeed, CTD’s Raja Umar Khattab emphasised that the rise in extortion cases in Karachi was an indicator of Taliban’s (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, TTP) growing presence in Karachi.

However, while street crime continues to stalk the province, terrorism-related incidents have declined. Terrorism-related incidents were at an all-time low in the first three and half months of 2024.  According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Karachi recorded nine fatalities [seven civilians, one Security Force (SF) trooper and one militant] in six terrorism related incidents in 2024, as compared to 18 fatalities (seven civilians, four SF personnel and seven militants) in eight terrorism related incidents during the corresponding period of 2023, a decline of 50 per cent.

On April 10, 2024, amid rising incidents of street crimes, extortion, and abductions in the province, particularly in Karachi, Sindh Chief Minister (CM) Murad Ali Shah blamed the previous caretaker Government for the deteriorating law and order situation. Responding to a question, Shah claimed that the law-and-order situation worsened due to a major reshuffle in the Police department by the caretaker government ahead of the February 8, 2024, general elections. He claimed,

This reshuffle affected the entire policing system, from additional inspector generals (AIGs) to station house officers (SHOs). However, the government is taking strict measures to improve the overall law and order situation, including in Karachi, rural areas, and particularly in the katcha area.

Not surprisingly, on April 9, 2014, a senior leader of the main opposition party in Sindh, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) Mustafa Kamal demanded that Karachi be handed over to the Pakistan Army for three months. “Karachi should be handed over to the army for three months as the Sindh government is not serious in providing protection to the life and property of citizens,” Kamal stated. It is notable that the Pakistan Rangers (Sindh), a para-military force, had been deployed in Karachi since 1989. On April 5, 2024, Pakistan Rangers Director General (DG) sought special policing powers for the whole of Sindh, amid the deteriorating law-and-order situation in the province.

On April 6, 2024, as violent street crimes surged, the Sindh High Court (SHC) set a one-month deadline for the provincial authorities to restore law-and-order in the province. Justice Abbasi also directed authorities to take strict action against “influential persons” who were involved in sabotaging the law-and-order administration.

While the state authorities have been busy shifting responsibility, the criminals have been on a rampage on the streets of Karachi. This is a replay of the decade of 1990s, and it was only after the intervention of the Army and some heavy handed and indiscriminate operations that the rampant gangs of Karachi were brought under control. There is evident backsliding once again, and the costs of recovery will, once again, be heavy.

Tushar Ranjan Mohanty

Tushar Ranjan Mohanty is a Counter-terrorism Expert on Pakistan at Institute for Conflict Management (ICM) in New Delhi

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