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.