On the evening of April 4, 2016, a number of TV channels began splashing the ‘breaking news’ of a gun attack on a vehicle at Nagan Chowrangi Karachi. While three persons lost their lives, the news acquired a special significance because of the unique characteristics of the vehicle that was attacked. It was a private vehicle, specially painted to impersonate the appearance of a police look-alike, with complete markings and monograms of Sindh Police and fitted with flashing lights used by the police mobiles. Interestingly (and arrogantly) it carried no number plates and was neither listed in police inventory nor registered with the Excise and Taxation department of Sindh.
The incident of April 4, 2016 brings to surface a unique policing duality in the province of Sindh. Based on the type of services offered, there are at least two versions of police operating in the province – a ‘Personal’ police and a ‘Parallel’ police. What are these two types of policing systems and how do they serve or spoil the lives of ordinary citizens.
The ‘Personal’ police primarily exists to support and protect the ruling elite of Pakistan. Thousands of these fine policemen and their vehicles are deployed to protect a few hundred people in every town. Needless to say that all expenses of ‘Personal’ police are paid from the public exchequer. There are scores of homes in every upscale locality where the ‘Personal’ police can be seen diligently rendering its personal services, encroaching on public land, pitching tents, positioning vehicles and placing containers to safeguard the rich and the powerful. Pictures B and C reveal just one aspect (personal home protection) of the services offered the ‘Personal’ police.
The ‘Parallel’ police, largely operating in the province of Sindh is essentially a self-appointed and self-operated autonomous militia that appears to voluntarily fill the vacuum created by the primary police. The ‘Parallel’ police operates a large and well established network consisting of hundreds of police look-alike vehicles, often operated by the rich and the powerful. Pictures D, E, F, G and H demonstrate just a few of the many impersonating techniques used by the ‘Parallel’ police. This informal sector of policing is used to project one’s power, conduct and cover up illegal activities, extort money and indulge in crime and militancy.
The ‘Personal’ police have little time or inclination to check the lawlessness of the ‘Parallel’ police. Not all of its own vehicles are registered with the E&T Department and some do not carry any number plate at all. It is common knowledge that many police officials use their officially allocated number plates on more than one vehicle at the same time.
A number of systemic organisational breakdowns need to be addressed to seek a long term solution to this deadly duality in the police system. The Sindh government and the Sindh police ought to register each and every official vehicle with E&T department. An on-going institutional program be instituted to round up an estimated 200,000 vehicles that blatantly carry fraudulent number plates in Sindh, many of them impersonating as government or police vehicles. The police ought to develop its own capacity to verify the credentials of any vehicle from any location. All this can however be achieved only if the Sindh police is empowered, reformed, restructured and above all, rescued from political influences?