All power to the Rangers

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Fine, but not without diligent oversight

Whenever in these turbulent times the federal cabinet meets, one expects a harsh decision or three to flow from it. The Friday’s get together gave the Rangers’ powers conducting an operation clean-up at Karachi a serious upgrade: carte blanche to shoot to kill. The argument for: equipped with automatic weapons, the criminal gangs can only be bearded in their dens when the Rangers too have matching authority to overpower their blazing guns that require no permission to shoot. Indeed, the criminals with or without the umbrella of their political patrons, are trigger happy. But, so are the Rangers, goes the counter argument. Even without such powers over life and death, the Rangers, and other law enforcement agencies, have killed in cold blood. Such as that unarmed young man on July 9, 2011 – gunned down in full public view in broad daylight when he was literally grovelling for his life to be spared. The footage remains etched to the memory, thanks to an intrepid videographer who subsequently received life threats for his comeuppance for shooting the footage. That – with examples too numerous to recount – was neither an isolated incident, nor an aberration.

That said, the ongoing operation has met with some measure of success. With Lyari and its thugs aligned with the PPP also snared up by the Rangers and police dragnet, and a few prominent dons eliminated, the MQM’s screams over what it propagated as targeting its workers is now somewhat muted, and no longer dubbed in such extreme terms as Altaf Hussain’s tirade, calling it “a replica of the 1992 operation” and “a genocide of the Mohajirs.” From various reports, it can be gathered that the criminals who had fled before or early in the operation, are being mopped up from other parts of the country.

But the operation has to be taken to its next level to bring it to its logical conclusion. It can be argued, and the cabinet has seen it appropriate to concede to the rationale behind it, that the Rangers need to be further empowered to go for the criminals’ jugular and finish the job. That is why the enhanced powers – not just with the gun but also extending the period of remand on grounds of mere suspicion: tripling it from 30 days to 90. Both powers are inappropriate and overwhelming. But desperate times, as the saying goes, require desperate measures. And Karachi definitely falls in the realm of extreme category as far as malignancy is concerned. Nothing short of brutal but clinically efficient surgery is likely to produce amenable results. Even so, now that the powers have been granted, diligent oversight – judicial as well as parliamentary – is essential to ensure that these are not wantonly misused. Putting mechanisms in place that bring the Rangers to book wherever they trespass is as much a government’s responsibility as ensuring enduring peace in Karachi.