ISLAMABAD: The government has decided against deploying army in Karachi and, instead, resolved to utilise the civil administration for restoring normality in the metropolis.
According to sources in the presidency and interior ministry, the decision was taken at different forums, including a high-level security meeting presided over by President Asif Ali Zardari and attended also by Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Sindh Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza.
The president was briefed on the Karachi situation and decided to give more powers to civil armed forces to handle the situation. A proposal to enforce curfew in some areas of the city for a thorough search operation was discussed, but no decision was taken.
Although the interior minister had given ‘shoot on sight’ powers to the Rangers in August this year, that did not bring about any improvement in the situation.
The deployment of army in Karachi was also ruled out earlier on Wednesday by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. He told reporters that the civil administration and security agencies were capable of restoring law and order.
When his attention was drawn to a statement of Minister of State for Ports and Shipping Nabeel Gabol calling for deployment of army to help the civilian government, the prime minister said: “It was his personal view. It is not the point of view of my party (PPP).”
Answering a question about possibility of involvement of foreign elements in the unrest, he said he would be able to say something only after he received a detailed report from the federal interior minister.
Mr Gilani condemned the Karachi killings and said he had talked to all stakeholders, including Dr Farooq Sattar of the MQM, and efforts were being made to restore peace in the city.
He said he had called the interior minister, Sindh Governor Ishratul Ibad, Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah and the provincial home minister and asked them to take effective measures to curb lawlessness.
Mr Gilani said that not only the MQM and ANP but all political parties were seriously concerned about the situation in Karachi and wanted all matters resolved through peaceful means.
“The army can be called in to assist the civil government, but the political leadership of the country is capable of handling the situation,” he said.
And the meeting chaired by the president took the same decision and decided to launch a large-scale search operation in the troubled areas to apprehend criminals and seize illegal arms.
But political observers and experienced officials are of the opinion that civil armed forces are not capable of conducting such an operation. However, a former Sindh police chief told Dawn that police alone could handle the situation provided they were not politicised.
“If the provincial government wants to get positive results it would have to appoint an honest and dedicated man as head of police and he should be given a free hand to do his job,” he said.
The former IG said the orders of ‘shoot on sight’ given to the Rangers would never work because such orders had also been given to police in the past. But, he said, police officers who had taken part in the operations and killed criminals later faced dire consequences and some of them were killed by the groups they had hit.
Answering a question about the option of surgical strikes, he said such actions would create hatred among people for police.
Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said that President Zardari had stressed the need for ruthless action against criminals and terrorists involved in target killings in Karachi.
He quoted the president as saying at the meeting: “A handful of vicious elements will not be allowed to disturb peace and stability of the country’s economic hub and peace will be restored at all costs.”
Meanwhile, the interior minister told reporters that several extortion groups, and not the MQM and ANP, were involved in the target killings. These groups, Mr Malik said, were working in several areas of Karachi, including Lyari and Shershah, and they had divided areas among themselves for extorting money.
“Security agencies have found lists from people arrested on charges of extorting money in various areas and the director general of Rangers has been directed to arrest those involved in this crime,” he said.
He praised religious scholars for their cooperation in maintaining peace and eradicating the menace of corruption and extremism.