When the Rangers gunned down a young man in a Karachi park, the immediate reaction was against the armed forces. This was unfortunate, but was perhaps natural. The Karachi killing did not just occur out of the blue, but had happened after the Raymond Davis incident, the Abbottabad raid and the Quetta killing of Chechen women. Though no one seemed to take notice of the causes of the incident, it showed one unfortunate consequence of calling in the Rangers to perform law and order duties that is not their purpose of existence: They become more like the police they replace than anyone is willing to admit. Another thing that should be made clear about the Rangers is that they are not even formally part of the armed forces, for administratively they are under the Interior Ministry. True, they are officered exclusively by the Pakistan army, with officers above the rank of captain being posted there on deputation. They are lent by the federal government to the provinces where they have to carry out their law and order duties. The Rangers are supposed to defend the eastern border, that with India. The Rangers do not belong to a single organisation, those in the Punjab being the Sutlej Rangers, and those in Sindh being the Mehran Rangers, the latter having been deputed to Karachi for policing duties. It is noteworthy that the Rangers are not equipped for prolonged defence. They are supposed to carry out an initial defence against regular Indian forces until the army can reach. Besides this role, they are supposed to perform law and order duties when required. In India, this role is supposed to be performed by the Border Security Force (BSF). The BSF is more like a police force, with the rank structure following police rather than army patterns, as it does with the higher ranks of the Rangers where army officers are anxious not to lose their identities. Already inclined towards being a police force rather than a military organisation, the Rangers have even been given an anti-smuggling role, in which the institution has become much like ordinary police, with a 'live and let live attitude developing, depending on who has greased whose palm. One of the fallacies into which policemen, and their leaders, fall is that there are shortcuts to the painstaking hard work of proving a crime has occurred, and who has committed it, to the satisfaction of the trial court, despite the cleverness of the criminals lawyer, who will try to pick holes in the evidence presented, and will use whatever slack the rules afford him. The police thinks the rules are bent towards the criminal, but any trial lawyer will disclose the truth: We are using the colonial era legislation which is inclined towards the police, but is still fair. If the courts do not convict criminals, it is not because they have a partiality towards them, but because the police has not provided the necessary evidence. There is thus a tendency among the police to becoming judge, jury and executioner, and to follow the policy of police 'encounters, in which criminals are gunned down in cold blood. Though the present incident is being condemned as particularly heinous, and though there is no excuse for such encounters, if the Karachi police had not broken down in the first place, to the extent that the public had lost confidence in it, the Rangers would not have been called in. The Rangers were called in because the countrys largest city was in the grip of target killings. Those killings have not stopped. Indeed, the latest incident raises at least the thought, if not quite the suspicion, that the Rangers may well be part of the problem, not the solution. It needs to be determined at what level the encounter policy was given to the Rangers, for the higher the level, that will be the level at which the problem lies. Behind the encounter policy is that of the desire to give 'immediate and cheap justice, which is laudable, but which the ordinary man (and the police) seem to interpret as a policy of vengeance. It was this desire for immediate solutions to an essentially intractable problem that led to the encounter first being used under the Ayub martial law. Military men, or at least those who believe that problems can be solved by resolute interventions of the state, believe in killing criminals. However, this is not restricted to the military mindset. In Mumbai, where criminalisation occurred almost inevitably, a whole 'encounter culture developed when the problem was tackled, and there may be a comeback of the encounter as a weapon used against criminals protected by corrupt cops is coming back to perpetuate police corruption. Mumbai has many affinities with Karachi, but the Karachi incident has not just created ripples there, but also in Punjab, where the CCPO Lahore and the Lahore High Court are facing difficulties over his encounter policy. The problem with encounters is that they get hold of the wrong person too often. Even the courts do that, but much less often. Also, the courts have a finely graded range of punishment, which relies mostly on imprisonment, and reserves death only for a few. As seen in the Karachi incident, the only sentence possible for an 'encounter squad is death. Whether or not he was guilty is a separate issue, but the young man killed in Karachi is accused of eve-teasing and theft. Neither carries the death sentence in any legal system. Encounters are counterproductive in the sense of not reducing a city to peace, but of bringing a bad name to the law enforcing agency practising it. As was seen in the Kharotabad incident, the war on terror encourages the practice, and it is a reasonable question to ask if the Frontier Constabulary, which was involved, but not solely responsible, for that gunning down of Chechen people, followed the same policy of encounters. It should be noted that the Frontier Constabulary is officered like the Rangers, and is supposed to perform the same functions, but is subordinated to the provincial government much more greatly. Whenever an encounter policy has been followed, it has always collapsed after some incident like that in Karachi. Whoever ordered the encounter policy, perhaps, has the consolation that there was bound to be something like this sooner or later. However, unlike previous encounters, there were two dimensions with an element of new-ness: First, the presence of a TV cameraman, and second, the involvement of the armed forces. Though it seems as if the US plan to drive a wedge between the people and the armed forces has got another fillip, it should be noted that the killing was committed by the Rangers, not people disguised as Rangers. Similarly, there was indeed a violation of airspace in Abbottabad, and maritime surveillance planes were destroyed at PNS Mehran. There may well be an American strategy, based on the need to drive a wedge between the armed forces and the people of Pakistan, but the armed forces need to learn that they cannot get away with murder. Before military men proclaim that national security is at stake, they must show that their own hands are clean. Also, they must show that they have accountability, and do not just demand that civilians show it. n Email: maniazi@nation.com.pk