The Supreme Court verdict on lawlessness in Karachi comprises observations, suggestions, warnings, and orders. Some of the orders given will help improve the situation for the time being though much will depend on whether the government implements the apex court’s suggestions in letter and spirit. What appears from the statements of its spokesmen is that the PPP leadership is busy in comprehending the full implications of the judgment and finding lacunas that could be used to avoid implementing unwelcome suggestions.
The directive to the police and Rangers to stop killings and extortion are likely to be implemented efficiently on account of the high level committee headed by CJ Sindh High Court appointed to oversee their performance. The committee would supervise the closure of no go areas and ensure that law enforcement agencies take action indiscriminately against those involved in causing disturbances in Karachi. The committee is required to meet at least once in a month to review the implementation of this judgment and copy of the proceedings shall be transmitted to the Registrar of the SC for the apex court’s perusal and for passing appropriate orders if needed.
Orders given directly to government departments and civil servants are likely to be carried out. One such directive is the setting up of a special joint cell comprising Nadra and police personnel with an aim to resolve the chronic issue of illegal aliens in Karachi who are often involved in crime.
There are reports of hundreds of thousands of such people from dozens of countries living without proper papers in the metropolis. The illegal residents are often used by the MQM to add to its ethnic weight. In case the committee starts working in earnest, Karachi would be rid of those who commit crime and take the first flight out to some other country.
The court however envisages a greater role on the part of the government in setting things right. The underlying perception is that the executive authority can stem the tide of criminality in Karachi if it really wants to. The court has pointed out the systematic shortcomings for rectification. A lot of burden has thus been put on the government’s shoulders.
The court requires the government to depoliticize the police. The judgment warns that “unless there is a depoliticised police, the situation of law and order is likely to become more aggravated, no sooner the assistance of Rangers is withdrawn…” Similarly the directive to appoint an independent and depoliticised investigation agency to probe cases honestly and without being influenced in any manner is quite timely.
The major roadblock in the way is the government itself which appoints its blue eyed boys to crucial posts in police and investigating agencies to get its illegal orders carried out. These orders could be the harassment of political opponents and protection to financiers involved in illegal activities. Such recruitments are also made to continue the highly dangerous practice of extra-judicial killings in the name of reducing heinous crimes. The malaise is not specific to Sindh alone.
The doctrine of the separation of powers is the pet excuse employed by the government to justify the appointment of favourites. It is argued that appointments, transfers and demotions of civil servants come under the government’s purview and the SC has no authority to interfere in the matter. During the last two years, the federal government has resisted or delayed the appointment of honest enquiry officers to shield certain PPP leaders and those belonging to the parties allied to it.
The apex court has proposed that besides implementing the laws already on the statute book, the government should also undertake legislation to curb the proliferation of weapons in Karachi. It has suggested new legislation to curb the incidence of land grabbing.
Whether the verdict reins in the criminal elements in political parties or not, it would force the parties to ponder over the consequences of inaction. Much will depend on whether the government can muster enough political will to implement the suggested measures.
As the case of Ajmal Pahari indicates, political exigencies have stopped the government in the past from taking the required action. These still exist. The court has tried to put the fear of God in the ruling coalition by pointing out that what is at stake in case of continued inaction is the life of the system. Another ominous prospect in case of failure to disaffiliate criminal elements associated with a party is that it may entail consequences of a penal nature against the party or person responsible whether in office or not
There is also the observation about the MQM. The court has observed that though the banning any political party including MQM, “against whom all the interveners mostly had voiced complaints” is not within domain of the Court at this stage. It has, however, reminded the federal government of its responsibility in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of the country to act under Article 17. Meanwhile “The Court will remain, in appropriate proceedings, the ultimate arbiter of this question but will not allow any government to avoid its duty under the law and the constitution.”
The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.