After land management, water distribution and policing, has Pakistan Rangers now also assumed the responsibility of managing and conducting elections in Karachi? We hope not. On Tuesday, the paramilitary force wrote a letter to the home department requesting that NADRA’s biometric verification system and 1,000 closed-circuit cameras be installed at all 213 polling stations for by-elections in the Azizabad constituency (NA-246) on April 23. Some would argue that the letter is merely a “word of advice” from Rangers on how to ensure that the elections are free and fair – particularly since politician Nabeel Gabol, who resigned from the MQM and his NA-246 seat, has alleged that the May 2013 elections in the constituency were rigged. Without questioning Rangers’ intentions, it must be noted that in an environment in which there are already questions surrounding its role in Karachi, particularly with regards to its operation against militants and allegations by certain political parties that they are being unfairly targetted, it would not be advisable for the paramilitary force to act in ways that may be perceived as an overstepping of its jurisdiction. Already, it has been decided that Rangers will be deployed in and outside polling stations during the by-election and the official in-charge of the Rangers at each polling station will enjoy the powers of the first class magistrate to conduct summary trial of offenders.

However, these are directions issued by the Election Commission, the rightful authority in such matters, and therefore acceptable. But for Rangers to make themselves directly involved in this by-election by dictating its rules and procedures will only cause controversy that the force can ill-afford at a point when it is under close scrutiny for its growing role in Karachi. It would be best if Rangers stuck to the task the government has assigned it, which is peacekeeping in Pakistan’s sprawling, violent conurbation.