By Zia Ur Rehman

April 13, 2020

KARACHI — A female police officer in Karachi is winning praise for standing up to a crowd to enforce the government ban aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

The Sindh government on March 26 banned mosques from holding large congregations as part of an effort to contain the disease.

Under an agreement with top Islamic scholars, weekly religious gatherings cannot exceed five people.

Police have been enforcing the ban by arresting and registering cases against law-breaking clerics and sealing the mosques.

In an incident on April 10, Sharafat Khan, a female station house officer (SHO), worked to prevent a large gathering for Friday prayers at the mosque in Karachi’s Frontier Colony neighbourhood.

In a video circulated on social media, members of the mob can be seen attacking Khan and her team.

PF Photo 2
Policewomen in Karachi January 10 attend a training event. [Zia Ur Rehman] 

A large contingent of police later arrived and brought the situation under control under Khan’s supervision.

Police later registered a case against the attackers under the Anti-Terrorism Act and have been conducting raids to arrest those involved.

Women on the police force

Khan, who was posted as SHO to head the Pirabad police station in Karachi on April 1, was commended for her bravery and valour in coping with the mob and enforcing the government’s ban.

Khan’s appointment was part of the government’s efforts to improve women’s visibility, with more heading all-male police stations throughout the country.

Women make up less than 2% of the country’s police force, according to a 2017 report of the National Police Bureau.

Cultural norms and traditions deter women from joining the police force and contribute to their under-representation on the force, said Nuzhat Shirin, chairperson of the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women.

“Apart from the promotion of key positions such as posts of SHOs, policewomen should be appointed at every police station,” she said.

Such a move “will not only encourage women to join the police force but also help in resolving women-related issues”, Shirin said.

Pakistani officials in the past have launched several initiatives to recruit women to the police force.

Last year, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Police included women as trainers in its Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS), a key force that defused thousands of bombs in past decades.

A former TTP stronghold

Khan’s appointment to the Pirabad police station has shown that policewomen are capable of dealing with turbulent neighbourhoods of the city.

Areas within the station’s jurisdiction were a stronghold of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) until the launch of a security operation in September 2013 against violent groups operating in Karachi.

The Pirabad police station itself was bombed twice in 2014.

“The TTP militants attacked schools and workers of various liberal political parties, particularly the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), in the area,” said Muhammad Rasool, a local social activist.

A school situated within the jurisdiction of the Pirabad police station was attacked three times by Taliban militants, Rasool noted. It reopened after a six-year-long closure to provide quality education to students, especially girls.

“After the killings and arrests of TTP militants, peace has returned to the area,” said Rasool.

He appreciates the government’s move to appoint a woman officer in the area.

“Khan’s appointment is a message to the dark forces [of the TTP], who have no qualms about murdering women and children,” he said.