Senate panel calls for action against illegal SIMs
By: Ammar Shahbazi
Karachi: Out of the 120 million SIM cards in circulation across Pakistan, 67% (80 million) are illegal as they are either issued against bogus documents or no documents at all, stated Sharfuddin Memon, consultant to the Home Department of Sindh, who quoted figures from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authorities (PTA).
He was speaking at a meeting organised by the Standing Committee on Human Rights in the Sindh Assembly on Thursday. The committee, chaired by MNA Riaz Fatyana, would present its recommendations to the Sindh Governor and lobby for legislation on human rights issues after consulting various civil society activists as well as law and order experts in the province.
One of the main reasons for the increase in crime, Memon pointed out, was the misuse of the cell phone. “We are in negotiations with the cellular companies to crack down on illegally issued SIM cards, but little progress has been made as the practice is still prevalent,” he added.
Memon proposed that when delivering SIMs, cellular companies should use the same procedure followed by banks for credit cards.
“They should be delivered to the customer’s home address. This way, the networks will have a record of the customer’s location” The speakers discussed various loopholes in the law and order system of the province and proposed ways to eliminate them. One of the factors highlighted by the additional chief secretary to the Home Department, Wasim Ahmed, was the ‘patronage criminal elements received from various political parties.’
“Notwithstanding the weaknesses of the police department, it should be mentioned that criminal elements in the city enjoy political patronage, which negates the efforts of law enforcement agencies to prosecute them,” he said.
Khushbakht Shujaat, an MNA of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and a member of the standing committee, echoed Ahmed’s views and said political parties needed to stop patronising criminals or else the police force would not be able to reduce crime in the city.
Meanwhile, Wasim Ahmed also pointed out that only 4,000 of the 32,000 officially inducted policemen were working at 112 police stations as the majority of them were deployed for the security of VIPs.
Stressing on the importance of de-weaponisation in Karachi, Atiya Enayatullah, a member of the standing committee, said that Karachi was the second most dangerous city in the world. She also believed that the nature of sectarian killing in Karachi was very different to that of the violence in Gilgit.
“The government should first tackle illegal weapons and then begin a crackdown on licensed arms.” However, quoting data from his department, Wasim Ahmed said that 20% of the weapons confiscated by the police were illegal, but most of the crimes in the city were committed with licensed arms, which only made matters more difficult for law enforcers.
The lack of trust of citizens in law enforcement agencies was also cited as a major hurdle in curbing crime. Ahmed Chinoy, the chief of the Citizens’ Police Liaison Committee (CPLC), said that only 20-25% of extortion cases get reported, which showed the trust-deficit between the business community and law enforcement agencies.
“We cannot deter these criminal elements if citizens do not cooperate with the police. Preferring to keep quiet about the threat only emboldens extortionists, who will come back to demand more money,” said Chinoy.
Also, the poor conviction rate caused a number of questions to be raised about the overall mechanism of prosecution and the judicial process in the province.
“The target killers and extortionists arrested by us were mostly released by the courts. If a habitual criminal finds out that he will eventually be released, regardless of the nature of the offence, we as a society should forget about deterring these elements,” said Memon.
Memon resented the fact that criminals were often represented by strong lawyers in courts and law enforcement agencies did not have a solid witness protection program in place. “These factors help criminals get away with their crimes. When the prosecution starts, witnesses do not feel safe while facing the suspect in court. There is no safety for them. Although the home department has introduced one in the province, we have to make it universal,” added Memon.
Commenting on the general state of criminal prosecution in the country, Riaz Fatyana, chairman of the Standing Committee on Human Rights, said criminals were always on the safe side when being prosecuted. “It’s either the incompetence of the police or the political patronage received by criminals. If not that, the judge receives a call and the decision is delayed. So it is really difficult to hold a criminal accountable in this country,” said the chairman.