The decision of the Sindh government to curtail the paramilitary Rangers’ powers and delay the extension of their ongoing mission in Karachi has invited criticism from the Ministry of Interior as well as the Pakistan Rangers themselves. According to the notification by the Sindh government, as per Article 147, the paramilitary force is responsible for the security of the CM House, Governor House, courts, provincial assembly, oil refinery, airport and other important installations.
Perhaps the usual discussions of civil-military relations, inter-provincial relations and federalism are not a full explanation for the timing of the decision. At the root of this matter, it would appear, are the recent disappearances of former President Asif Ali Zardari’s close aides – allegedly involved in terrorist activities – and the Uzair Baloch controversy.
PPP has been trying to distance itself from Baloch since his arrest in 2014, but his recent revelations to a special JIT and subsequent arrests by the paramilitary forces have unnerved the provincial government. Furthermore, analysts have termed this decision by the provincial government as a tactic to put pressure on the paramilitary force as a response to the increasing pressure it was putting on the government, what with such high-profile arrests.
While some valid questions can be raised over the continuous presence of the Rangers in the province, the issue has acquired a political colour. Therefore, the reasons given by Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah are somewhat shaky. The Rangers were deployed initially to restore law and order in the city, not to become a private security firm for VIPs.
Secondly, a comparison of the situation in Punjab and Sindh at the moment can obfuscate the core issue here. While Punjab has been criticised severely for not allowing Rangers to operate in the past, the Rangers have been leading the counter-terrorism operation in Punjab under the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, the same law under which the paramilitary force has been operating in Sindh. The Rangers have a massive role in stabilising the situation in the city of Karachi. The provincial government ought to be cognizant of this in making its decisions.
Lastly, the opposition in the National Assembly had staged a walkout on the 13th of April following the disappearance of Zardari’s close aides. Reports suggest that the arrests have not been made by the police – pointing fingers towards the Rangers’ and other law enforcement agencies. Regardless of whose custody they are in, they should be produced before the court under the law and given a fair trial to allay any fears of political victimisation. *