Karachi: Danger zone DHA
KARACHI: The affluent Defence Housing Authority (DHA) and Clifton neighbourhoods, long considered among the safest in Karachi, have witnessed an alarming surge in daylight robberies, burglaries and vehicle and mobile phone snatching in recent months. The crime wave has affected both the commercial and residential areas, residents and police officials said. There has been at least a 20 percent increase in crime in the jurisdiction of the Boat Basin police station in the first seven months of 2012 compared to the same period last year, said a police official requesting anonymity. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. These figures reflect the surge in crime in the remit of only one police station out of a total of six in the wider Clifton and DHA area. SP Clifton Farrauk Ali told The News that around 50 houses were robbed in the limits of the Darakhshan, Gizri, Clifton, Boat Basin, Frere and Defence police stations during the last seven months. “The police in these areas arrested 24 criminals and recovered looted valuables as well as weapons from their possession,” he added. “The Defence police also arrested six female robbers.”
Police say a large number of victims do not lodge official complaints, which are far higher in number than the cases reported.
Cell phone snatching
Citizens–Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) figures indicate that 353 cases of mobile snatching and theft were reported in the jurisdiction of Darakhshan police station alone. The Clifton and Boat Basin areas followed with 366 and 279 cases each.
However, the Clifton area as a whole is one of the most affected when it comes to cell phone snatching, with 543 incidents during the last six months, CPLC figures say.
“I don’t know why people don’t go to the police but come to us. These statistics show that there has been a 20 to 30 percent increase in mobile snatching and theft (in these localities),” said CPLC data-collector Kashif, who identified himself by only one name.
Salman Asif, a cell phone dealer in Boat Basin, whose shop has been looted twice in recent months, said the police were of no help. “Why bother reporting a robbery when we know that the police won’t do anything?”
He said the police usually arrived at the crime scene late, but is often sent back by the shopkeepers. “We take care of it among ourselves.”
Similarly, car theft cases have surged by 30 percent in the Boat Basin area alone during the past eight months, he said.
However, the Boat Basin police confirmed only 12 car thefts in its area. ASI Israr Hussain said most of these cars were stolen opposite the area’s electronics and CD market. “We have only received 12 cases. As for the question of why we have such few complaints, you’ll have to ask the people that.”
Although police teams remain visible on most important roads and streets of DHA and Clifton, they are always found wanting when criminals strike, background interviews conducted with a number of residents revealed.
According to the police, DHA’s Phase II and its extension, Phase IV and VIII were some of the most affected areas, where crime had risen drastically this year. The types of crimes residents relate are also quite diverse. One can get robbed, for example, at gunpoint in DHA while entering a home or visiting a shop. Sabeen Hasan, who works for a bank, was recently deprived of her cash and jewellery by two gunmen outside her house off Khayaban–e-Bokhari in Phase VI, DHA. “They followed my car and when I got out of it outside my house, they snatched my bag,” she said. “The boys were hardly in their early 20s…it was a traumatic experience,” she said. “A police complaint was lodged but nothing came out of it.”
Similarly, two women were deprived of their jewellery and cash in a shop at South Park Avenue in DHA Phase II Extension. The bandits had been following them and snatched their valuables once they were inside the shop, witnesses said. The women never went to police.
Maheen Yousufzai, who lives in DHA Phase VIII, said she was deprived of her purse and jewellery by robbers, who put a gun to her husband’s head. “Our car slowed down near a speed breaker at the road opposite Carlton Hotel. Suddenly two skinny boys came out of nowhere and put a gun to my husband’s head and asked me to hand over my purse and jewellery,” she said.
Though her husband turned the car towards a police station after the incident, Maheen said she asked him not to go to police. “They make you feel as if it was our fault. So we decided not to report.”
And it is not just the armed robbers, who are striking at will, but petty thieves have also made the lives of residents of these neighbourhoods miserable.
Aijaz Mustafa, a resident of Jami Commercial Area in Phase VII, said thieves took away the side-mirrors of his car when it was parked outside his home. “This is the third time that I’ll be looking for cheaper side-mirrors for my car.” A week earlier, the windshield of his car was broken and a stereo system worth Rs15,000 stolen outside his home.
“I doubt that I will get my things back, though I have lodged a police complaint.”
Police say among the reported criminal activities during the past seven months, robberies, cell phone snatching and possession of illegal weapons remain on the top of the list.
ASI Israr Hussain said many criminals were being arrested for minor crimes, but the problem was that they got back to business after getting bail.
A shopkeeper, who runs a grocery store in Phase VII, said extortionists claiming that they were operating from Lyari had been threatening him to pay them Rs50,000.
“I came here [the police station] to report so that the police will at least know about it,” he said. Running a grocery store in Phase VII for almost a decade, he said it was for the first time that he had received such threats.
“If others were also getting calls [from extortionists), they won’t discuss it with me, as everyone is worried about his safety… it is scary to get constant reminders of having to pay an unknown caller.”
Police say extortionists often make calls using the Internet so that they cannot be caught. “Not any one ethnicity can be blamed for committing these crimes. All are equally involved,” said Akhtar, duty officer at the Gizri police station.
Who are the criminals?
Mohammad Rasheed, an inspector at the Darakhshan police station, said controlling street crimes was difficult as the criminals usually came from the poor neighbourhoods nearby.
“Cases in which they [criminals] hide their faces with a cloth clearly indicate that they are from the same area,” he said.
He said most criminals operating in Sea View and Shahbaz Commercial Area were residents of the poor neighbourhoods of Shirin Jinnah Colony and Qayyumabad, while in DHA Phase II and IV, criminals came from nearby Mehmoodabad.
“They are easily identifiable by their looks and attire and mostly carry a 9mm pistol or a dagger.”
Speaking about Sea View, he said usually those walking on footpaths became easy targets. “Armed men on motorcycles, aged between 24 and 28 years, are the ones who snatch purses and cell phones. The bikes used by robbers are better than our police vehicles,” he said.
“The problem is they are not working in a group. These are people who get together to commit a crime and go their separate ways. Most of their targets are randomly selected unless it is a servant or someone in the know carrying out the crime,” he said.
Duty officer Akhtar said people usually got attacked in Gizri and at Sunset Boulevard while slowing down their vehicles near a turn or a speed breaker.
Gizri SHO Syed Khalid Ali said most snatching and theft occurred when victims were close to their homes. “It is because we are less guarded near our homes that criminals get an advantage. They might be already waiting for the person to come home.”
Many victims blame the inefficiency of the police and the rampant corruption in their ranks for the surge in crimes.
Police are often the last to show up after the crime and when they do, it is for the simple reason of marking their presence, said residents of Shahbaz Commercial Area in DHA Phase V, where a string of robberies has taken place in recent days.
Mohammad Riaz, a shopkeeper in the area, said his shop had been robbed twice in one month “Whether the police guard the area or not, it doesn’t matter to criminals. They continue doing what they want to.”
A month ago, two men in a car fired gunshots at his shop after Riaz’s brother, Anjum Riaz, refused to pay the remaining extortion money to them. Though his brother survived the incident with a head injury, Riaz said this had become a routine in their part of the city at least.
“Most criminals are backed by political parties and the police. But would you, or anyone of us, be able to put them in the dock?” he asked.
Straight down the lane from Riaz’s shop is a cell phone shop that was recently looted of goods worth a million rupees in broad daylight by masked men within minutes.
“The shopkeeper didn’t file a report with the police. But the police arrived, asked a few questions and left.”
The Darakhshan police said many criminal gangs now had women as members. Darakhshan police station official Rasheed Sheikh said in many robberies in the past six months, women had been in the forefront.
Meanwhile, responding to the surging crime rate, Karachi police chief Iqbal Mehmood said the police and the DHA administration have been trying to evolve a system where police patrols are available in sensitive areas.
Women robbers at the forefront
The Darakhshan police said many criminal gangs now had women as their members.
Darakhshan police station official Rasheed Sheikh said in most robberies within the past six months, women had been in the forefront.
Sharing a number of cases, he said recently in DHA Phase VIII, a woman led a number of men towards a house behind Carlton Hotel.
“She rang the bell and asked the gatekeeper for water. As soon as the guard went in, the men climbed through the wall and got into the house,” he explained.
Rafiq Ahmad Mughal, an investigation officer at the Frere police station, Clifton, said robbers knew that it was easy to get inside the house if they were accompanied by a woman.
“Many robberies are usually carried out by a housemaid,” he said
“Female criminals often manage to get bail easily. We feel stupid in front of the magistrate with a file of statements we collect and the people nabbed in a robbery case, when all he has to do is not charge the woman at all.”