They  can be seen  arrogantly wearing  their power, wealth and position on their sleeves.  You can easily spot them not standing in a queue, breaking the traffic light, not willing to be searched,  demanding  fast track treatment at airport counters and  taking guards and weapons in prohibited areas.  But the ultimate status symbol of the Pakistani elite lies in its capacity to violate vehicle related laws.  How can you be a person of any significance in this country, if your number plate looks exactly like that of every other common citizen.  You are an influential  person only when you drive a smuggled or unregistered vehicle, use a fancy or a foreign number plate, do not pay  road tax and carry obscene  emblems or shields to display your status.

The Sindh Police recently launched an excellent initiative to crack down on illegal vehicles.  While the operation on one hand  appears to be doing extremely well,  it has also  vividly exposed the cracks in the state machinery itself.   The first and the most important shortcoming observed was a structural disconnect between  various law-enforcing  departments.   Thus even a   relatively simple task required the coming together of Range Police, The Traffic Police, the E&T (Excise & Taxation) department, the Anti Car lifting cell, the Rangers, the CPLC  and the T&T department of police.  Clearly the biggest challenge was not the illegal vehicles but the time and effort required to integrate, convince and  cajole everyone to arrive on the same page.

The second major obstacle encountered was the arrogance and resistance from the higher officials of the government itself.    Often  using illegal number plates, hidden by intimidating emblems like MNAs, MPAs, Commissioners, DCs, Press, Police etc,  this fossilized breed of colonial rulers, resisted and threatened  the police for doing their lawful duty.   It is sad that Pakistani bureaucracy is still infested with petty “Representatives of Crown”  who believe that the laws are meant only for their subjects.  This trend can be reversed only if the police is  empowered, autonomous and has the capacity to check all violators regardless of their status.  Every police official ought to emulate the London Traffic Warden who slapped Hillary Clinton’s vehicle  with an £80 fine for failure to pay the parking fee.

The third issue that surfaced prominently was what may be termed as institutional lawlessness.  Some 2000 Sindh government vehicles are not registered with the Excise and Taxation Department.  These lawless official vehicles pay no taxes, use self-styled number plates and  have been found involved in crime and violence.  The E&T website fails to display the registration data of the government and police  vehicles on its website.  By hiding this information the Sindh government creates endless opportunities for duplication,  corruption and crime.

The Islamabad police deserves  credit for resolving some of these  issues by putting together an  integrated database of three important components – registration data of vehicles, data of stolen vehicles and crime record of proclaimed offenders, court absconders, military deserters and challaned  & convicted persons.   The   complete information is made readily available to the picket in-charges or the  patrol officers using  dedicated GSM Subscriber Identity Modules (SIMs).

By entering any one element of information,  a police officer can promptly access  the full details like registration number, make, model, colour,  engine number  and the name and  CNIC of the person in whose name the vehicle is registered.  The search also generates information on other aspects of  a vehicle such as registration,  tax payment,  stolen status, repeat offences etc.

The Sindh police could   rapidly adopt the Islamabad model  of an integrated and rapid data access system.    This could bring a quantum improvement in its  ability to detect illegal vehicles  and identify criminals of all shades.  With the introduction of this new tool, the police could make  informed and real time security and crime related decisions.  Hopefully this will no longer require assembling a grand ‘jirga’ of half a dozen departments, every time an illegal vehicle has to be brought to book.

Karachi and Sindh are the victims of brutal crime and militancy.  The government’s initiative to purge the city of illegal vehicles  ought to begin by registration and tax payment of  all government vehicles.   There is an urgent need to develop a common and immediately accessible database  for all vehicles, crimes and criminals.  Vehicles are an integral component of most crimes  and need to be traceable to specific individuals and addresses throughout their lifecycle.

All private, government and police vehicles must carry  standardized   number plates that are identical  for all citizens and all government departments. The ridiculous practice of first issuing distinctive  government number plates and then issuing hundreds of “cover number plates” to hide the distinction is itself prone to criminal misuse  and must be discontinued forthwith.