The Pakistani city of Karachi has long struggled with violence and terrorist activity, and its Rangers paramilitary force has come up with a novel way to help keep citizens safe.
The Rangers are based in Karachi, one of the most violent cities in Pakistan and indeed the world. The military-backed force is tasked with protecting the city from terrorist elements and organized crime.
Security forces use WhatsApp to keep Karachi safe
It may seem like an unlikely initiative but the Rangers are now using WhatsApp to call in the troops. The controversial paramilitary force is now inviting citizens to send crime scene and terror attack information via the popular chat messaging service.
The standard police force of 27,000 struggled for a long time to keep the 20 million citizens of Karachi safe. The Pakistani police have also become targets of violent attacks by criminals and terrorists.
Last week seven officers were shot and killed in an execution style attack attributed to Islamist militants. The terrorists targeted a polio vaccination security team and security forces could not reach the scene fast enough to prevent the killings.
Rangers fight terrorists and organized crime
This is where the Rangers step in. The military led force of 15,000 has been present in Karachi since 1990 in order to back up the standard police force. During that time it has come in for criticism from human rights defenders, who accuse its members of heavy handed tactics.
Rangers regularly do battle against the Taliban, al-Qaeda and ISIS while being forced to rely on sometimes unreliable public services. Power and gas shortages are common, and local helplines for police and medical services do not always operate.
As a result the Rangers have turned to WhatsApp to keep Karachi safe. The head of the Rangers, Maj. Gen. Bilal Akbar, told NBC News that the new scheme will improve emergency response and intelligence gathering.
“It’s expected to enhance our abilities in Karachi,” he said. The paramilitaries also released a 40-second video called “Rangers Madadgar,” or Rangers Helper, which has proven to be a sensation on WhatsApp groups across Pakistan.
Video encourages citizens to use new service
The video was released by spokesman Maj. Muhammad Sibtain on Monday, and implores citizens to “not hold back” and “contribute in protecting themselves and Karachi.”
The video shows real crime scene images and promises that Rangers will attend any emergency. It also encourages citizens to report criminal or terrorist activity that they are aware of.
“Send videos, pictures and documents of any suspicious activity now,” a male voice in the video says. Social media has reacted positively to the initiative.
“Good initiative,” tweeted Fahd Humayun, a security analyst at the Jinnah Institute, a liberal Pakistani think-tank.
Authorities regaining trust of public in Pakistan
A security official told NBC that Pakistani authorities have been contending with a “confidence problem over the years.” This has meant that citizens have been reluctant to provide witness accounts for fear of reprisals.
“The WhatsApp approach will keep them away form the pressures of publicly sharing what they saw,” explained the official, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press. “And it replaces the police helpline that one one ever picks up.”
The new scheme could have a dramatic effect on improving security in Karachi. The situation remains critical, with regular violent attacks and a populace that lives in fear of criminal elements.
Confidence in authorities needs to increase further
The recent publication of the leaked Panama Papers has led to widespread questioning of the ruling class in Pakistan. Among the powerful members of society linked to offshore accounts were family members of current prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
Although holding offshore accounts is not illegal in itself, they are commonly used to hide assets and avoid paying taxes. Powerful members of society from around the world have been caught up in the scandal, and its effects have already been felt in Pakistan.
At the same time as pressure is growing for a full investigation into alleged tax dodging by rich Pakistanis, the armed forces has take action to stamp out corruption. Last Thursday Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif dismissed 12 officers for corruption.
The Chief of Army Staff (COAS) said “across the board accountability is necessary for the solidarity, integrity and prosperity of Pakistan,” and that victory in the war on terror would remain out of reach “the menace of corruption is uprooted.”
It must be hoped that a corruption clampdown and the new WhatsApp emergency initiative can improve the situation for ordinary Pakistanis.
WhatsApp number of Rangers 0316-2369996 and email [email protected]