‘Rangers mean business’

Why many of Karachi's traders support the paramilitary force

‘Rangers mean business’
Although the Rangers had a significant presence in Karachi before the recent law-enforcement operation, they had a limited mandate. They were not authorized to deal with cases of robbery, extortion and abduction – everyday crimes in which the traders and industrialists were the key victims.

When Karachi was on the brink of a law-and-order breakdown, the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) issued an ultimatum. Enough is enough, they said, asking for wider powers for the Rangers to cleanse the city of crime. The KCCI leadership had always expressed deep concerns about the influence of politicians on Sindh police, where most of the recruitments were being done on political grounds (a prime reason for the ongoing lawlessness).

In October 2014, the Rangers director-general, Maj Gen Bilal Akbar, visited KCCI. In a closed-doors session with the members, he listened to their complaints and assured them that the paramilitary force will focus on creating a secure business environment in the city.

On May 16, the Karachi alumni of the National Security Workshops at Islamabad’s National Defence University organized a seminar on peace and security in the city. In an often-quoted speech at the event, Karachi Corps Commander Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar stressed the need for the independence of the local administration, declaring that Karachi – which generates 65% of Pakistan’s revenue – was being targeted on purpose to disrupt Pakistan’s international trade and economic engine.

Two weeks later, Maj Gen Bilal Akbar surprised everyone when he said Rs 230 billion were generated in criminal activities in the city every year. “A systematic and regular distribution is in place for these amounts to reach certain influential people,” he said. A huge sum of the money, he said, was being used to buy illegal weapons and ammunition.

And that is why late last year when the KCCI found out the Sindh government wanted to limit the power of Rangers, arguing that corruption cases were outside their jurisdiction, the KCCI led a vociferous campaign in their favour.

Karachi’s businessmen believe that law and order conditions in the city have improved since the beginning of the Rangers-led operation. Lyari had become a war zone where it had become impossible to live or trade in. The Rangers rid the area of the battling gangs. Other parts of Karachi had become Taliban strongholds. The Rangers freed them from the influence of those extremists. Militant wings of political parties were contained largely, and most of the extortionists went underground.
'Our foreign buyers ask us questions about law and order in Karachi'

“I am in constant communication with law-enforcement agencies and I convey to them the concerns of the industrialists,” said Junaid Makda, president of the SITE Association of Industry. SITE is the largest industrial estate in Pakistan. “Rangers have now become an integral part of the SITE landscape,” he said. “There has been a substantial decrease in crime in the area.”

“Those of us who are primarily involved in exports have to face a barrage of questions from our foreign buyers regarding law and order in Karachi,” said Shabbir Ahmed, chairman of Pakistan Bedwear Exporters Association.

For many traders, a decline in crime will also bigger-picture concerns. A poor economy and bad governance lead to crime, high unemployment, and a general dissatisfaction in the society. The rise in violent crime and extremism in Karachi was mostly because of these factors. As the conditions for business begin to improve, economic activity will help address the root causes of terrorism and crime. A large number of traders in Karachi see the Rangers’ efforts for good governance in that context.

The writer is a former president of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Twitter: MajydAziz