“When you send people who have the wrong tools into those situations … they don’t (know) anything else really to do other than use force.” This aptly describes what unfolded at the Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Park in Karachi yesterday, when a Pakistani Ranger – a paramilitary soldier – fired upon an accused thief as he pleaded for his life. As a video of the incident shows, 25-year-old Sarfaraz Shah used no force as a Ranger pointed his rifle towards him. Shah seemed to be pleading, and placed his hand on the rifle in a non-threatening manner. But the Ranger, seemingly threatened, fired and killed him. Four other Rangers stood by and watched, and by some accounts, encouraged the Ranger to shoot.

Yet, the blame for this manslaughter in broad daylight cannot exclusively fall on the Ranger and his companions. The quote above belongs isn’t related to this incident. It’s from an article about an altercation in Montreal, Canada on Tuesday that left a homeless man, who the police were trying to arrest, and an innocent bystander dead. And even though the two tragedies were literally worlds apart, the lesson is the same: when law enforcers do not have the proper training to deal with certain situations, the results are deadly.

Quite obviously lacking proper training, the other Rangers simply stood aside as Shah pleaded. They should have rushed to overpower and arrest him instead of behaving as casual onlookers. That would’ve been the common sense approach for any set of police officers with a modicum of training. It is apparent that the Rangers were not properly trained in dealing with unarmed suspects; that, or they acted with malice towards a civilian. The bigger issue, however, is the presence of a paramilitary force in a park that families frequent.

The Pakistan Rangers have been given extensive policing powers in the past decade to quell the law and order situation in the metropolis of Karachi. In January 2010, their mandate to detain and arrest suspects was extended to allow them to tackle the increasing incidence of targeted killings. They are on the frontlines against terrorists and the violent gangs, for which they have paid dearly and courageously for their lives.

But they are not a policing force. They simply had no place patrolling a civilian park, which should reasonably fall under the mandate of the Sindh Police, not paramilitary forces. It is amply clear from the numerous reports of “encounters” – where suspects and bystander alike are killed – that Rangers lack the training and tact required for community policing.

For far too long, the Sindh government has outsourced its policing responsibilities to the Rangers in its search for quick and easy solutions to the dearth of well trained provincial police officers. The consequence of that shortsightedness is the slaughter of young Sarfaraz Shah and many, many other undocumented encounters. Should the government’s policing strategy continue and should it eschew a community-centred, civilian response to policing, the ultimate victim will be the (already precarious) faith in the state’s institutions.

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