SSP Larkana Masood Bangash sits in a plush chair at the far corner of his lavish office—the building situated smack in the very heart of Larkana. He seems oddly out of place in the large leather seat.
In his black kurta shalwar, with a slightly messy side parting and a twitchy lip, he comes off as a pampered prince who would be gobbled up and spat back out in a place like this.
His phone rings and, almost on reflex, his left hand reaches out and grabs it. Then he speaks and all doubts surrounding him are gone. This man is not out of place here, he is in his element.
“Forun FIR kato aur action lo is per,” he says. Register an FIR immediately and take action. He hangs up the phone without waiting for an answer, as if an affirmative was the only possible option for the person on the other side.
He quickly punches in some numbers. “DSP ko lay ker jao is per forun action hona chahye,” he says into the phone, hanging up almost immediately once again. Take the DSP with you. There needs to be immediate action on this.
And then, as if he knew he was being observed, he proffers an explanation, delivered with a shy apologetic smile: “No one has more command over their department than I do over mine.”
The number of HIV cases in Larkana has now reached over 600 and the police are scrambling to come up with answers. Careless barbers, quacks, transgender sex workers and injected drugs have all played their part and Bangash’s team has sprung into action against the lot.
“We have taken 70 quacks into custody,” he says. When did the drive start? “After the HIV news broke out,” he admits, but insists that this isn’t an admission of failure on his or his department’s part.
“It is the health department’s duty to report quacks to us,” he said. “Of course we will help them eradicate this but we can’t conduct all these investigations ourselves. They have to identify quacks for us before we take action.”
Bangash knows, however, that dealing with prostitutes and addicts—simultaneously criminal and victim both—is not as black and white as dealing with the quacks.
“We pick up the drug addicts but we have to release them again,” he said.
He admits that is not a solution and the district doesn’t have a rehabilitation center yet where they can be provided with the support they need. “We are working with the health department to open a drug rehabilitation center in Larkana,” he says. “Just picking them up and waiting for someone to bail them out or releasing them again is not a solution since they can’t get over their addiction that way. We have to help them since they need help, they can’t help themselves.”
Larkana’s transgender community has historically been forced to turn to sex work to earn a livelihood but Bangash hopes to address that soon. “We have closed down several brothels and we have told members of the transgender community that we don’t want to see them working the streets or dancing at weddings anymore. Instead, we will be providing them with technical education such as stitching so that they can earn without having to sell their bodies for a living. Since this is a community that is particularly vulnerable to harassment, we have set up a hotline for them that they can call to register harassment complaints.”
Are there any more brothels remaining? “I am certain we have shut them all down,” he says, before a moment of doubt seeps in. “Or at least 99% of them. If someone has opened a brothel in a private home then of course we can’t know about it, but the main ones are gone.”
Bangash is also a member of the Joint Investigation Team formed by Larkana DIG Irfan Baloch that was supposed to file its findings on the HIV outbreak within a week but has still not done so nearly 20 days later. He chuckles sheepishly before addressing the issue. “People have started to think we have some issues within us but the truth is that all of us have had to leave the city for one reason or the other so we haven’t been able to finalise it but we will hopefully do so in a day or two.”
Last year, just one month into his job here, Bangash suspended an entire police station in Ratodero, the village from where the outbreak started, for protecting criminals. Confrontation might as well be mama’s boy’s middle name and he is now bent on confronting this virus head on. The uncomfortable question though which lingers in the cool air of that large air-conditioned office, one that only time can answer, is how much damage has already been done.