KARACHI, Pakistan – Syeda Aiman has learned to shoot while shooting. She is not a hockey player, but an officer of a terrorist unit in Pakistan.
The 20-member unit oversees terrorism and community policing on in-line skates. It also has an equal number of male and female officers. Both facts are few in the city of at least 15 million, where the roads are crumbling and almost every institution is male-dominated.
Police officers say the unit, which first appeared in public in December, is a success. Critics call it a gimmick. But most Karachiites can at least agree that it was strange to see armed officers skating through their malls.
“This is a new concept for the public,” said Aiman, 25. “When we started skating, we were excited but also nervous about falling. But the fear disappears when you are in the field. ‘
The unit is to some extent a response to a public relations crisis. Pakistan’s police departments are one of the country’s “most feared, complained and least trusted government institutions”, the human rights group Human Rights Watch said in 2016. report. The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, came to power in part in 2018 through promising police reform.
This month, nine police officers in the eastern city of Lahore were suspended after they sent employees of a restaurant that did not want to give them free citizens to jail. Many people saw the incident as a sign that corruption in the police was still rampant.
Fear and mistrust of the police run high in Karachi, where several officers are charged with the murder of civilians in advanced shootings. In one high-profile case, a police investigation found two years ago that Karachi officers killed an aspiring model and three other people, and then falsely claimed that the victims were militant. The commander of the operation, Rao Anwar, is now on trial for murder.
Maqsood Ahmed, a deputy inspector general at local Sindh police, said the new in-line skating unit was designed in part to criticize Karachi police officers for not knowing how to deal with civilians. The view of officers on skates, he added, helped ease the “moods” in shopping malls and other family-friendly places where they patrol.
“People need to feel that they are our friends and that they are there to protect us,” he said.
But the skating unit does not just want to make friends.
Ahmed said his primary responsibility is to monitor terrorism in public areas, including parks and cricket stadiums. He said the commandos had been arrested, had already been arrested, had improved the response rate of the force to crime scenes and had protected several high-profile officials, including Mr. Khan and President Arif Alvi.
Me. Aiman, who joined Sindh police two years ago, said she has a deep connection to the terror wing to which her inline skating unit belongs. As a girl, she paid close attention to the Pakistani army’s actions against insurgents in mountainous tribal areas, and she had previously volunteered at an arms exchange in Karachi.
“I believe terrorists deserve to die,” she said during breakfast in her apartment. ‘You have to kill them. They do not deserve to live. ”
Cities in Britain, France, the Netherlands and elsewhere have over the years started skating police units, with mixed results. Mudassir Ali, a police commander of the Sindh Special Security Unit who trained officers for the skating unit, said he modeled it on examples from abroad.
Mr. Ali said those who skate usually work with officers in patrol cars and that they are trained to jump stairs in “areas that do not have the best roads or infrastructure.”
Although the commandos mostly help maintain public order in places like shopping malls and popular street food areas, he is armed and ready to shoot criminals if necessary.
“We can even hold a car at 120 kilometers per hour,” or 75 miles per hour, he said.
Not everyone is impressed.
Jasim Rizvi, a resident of the middle-class Gulshan-e-Iqbal area in Karachi, said he saw the unit as a publicity stunt.
“Maybe the police had nothing to do, and decided to go skating,” he said. Rizvi said, who was recently killed outside his home. ‘I only see the police in action when they accompany so-called VVIPs’
Skating officers to improve the police’s relationship with the community may make sense in Karachi, but not if they are armed, said Zoha Waseem, a research fellow at the Institute for Global City Policing at University College in London, said.
There is little evidence from other cities that inline skating units help police forces fight crime, she added. Karachi is also full of pitfalls.
“That’s why it’s difficult to view this initiative as something more than police propaganda,” she said. “We do not know how sustainable it will be, and I wonder if this budget could have been better spent elsewhere.”
Ahmed said the unit has a different purpose than community involvement and crime fighting: empowerment of women. Many of the ten female officers come from impoverished rural areas of Sindh province, he added, and the unit is a “merit-based” outfit created in part to combat entrenched sexism.
“We say that there should be equality between men and women in the workplace, but this is not always possible due to cultural issues,” he said.
Women walking alone in Pakistan are staring, or worse; sexual harassment is common in and out of the workplace; and the country has one of the largest sex money in the world. Mr. Khan, the prime minister, took a step back in April because he said rape cases had increased due to the attraction of women.
Me. Aiman, who grew up in Karachi, said that while training for the inline skating unit, she learned strategies to project authority and avoid situations in which people could exploit her because of her gender.
“The way people look at men and women is different, especially female police officers, and especially female officers on line skates,” she said.
In-line skating is trendy in some middle-class neighborhoods of Karachi, but me. Aiman did not know what it was until a police colleague explained the activity to her last year.
Her family members were skeptical about it, she said, and she sustained minor injuries during workouts. But after about two weeks, she braided through crowds at cricket stadiums and other public places, with a watchful eye on the crowd and a holster pistol on her belt.
“Our training is pretty good,” she said. “When we skate, we are in control and we keep our weapons strong.”
Now her friends also want to take skating lessons, and her parents and siblings come up with the idea of having an inline skating officer in the family. The other day they were surprised – and impressed – to see her climb a staircase with her skaters.
“They made me do it again, just to make sure,” she said. Aiman said.
Saiyna Bashir and Zia ur-Rehman reported from Karachi, Pakistan, and Mike Ives from Hong Kong.