If it were up to the Karachi Police, they would have honoured Raymond Davis with a cash prize.

Last week, Inspector General of Sindh Police AD Khawaja awarded Rs 50,000 to a citizen, who shot and killed two suspected robbers.

Instead of being alarmed at the state of lawlessness in his precinct, where citizens are discharging weapons and killing suspected criminals, he presented a cash award to the citizen, even before a judicial inquiry established the facts and the guilt of those gunned down for alleged robbery.

It was only in 2011 when Raymond Davis, an American defence contractor employed by the US government in Lahore, while driving his car, killed two Pakistani men riding a motorbike.

He also alleged that the two men attempted to rob him, and that he shot at them in self-defence.

Instead of presenting Davis with a cash reward, Pakistanis were up in arms against the American, whom they suspected of being an intelligence operative.

Hilary Clinton – the then Secretary of State – misleadingly declared that Davis was a diplomat and hence enjoyed diplomatic immunity.

In the end, the Qisas and Diyyat provisions prevailed, and the parents of the deceased men received vast sums of money and a trip to Makkah for pardoning Davis who returned to the United States and soon landed in trouble again when he assaulted another person whom he accused of stealing his parking spot.

Vigilante justice is no justice

Such violent acts are frequently prevalent in societies where fairness and law and order cease to exist.

Instead of realising that Karachi is a city in crisis, the police chief has rewarded a violent act by a citizen, which also undermines the judicial system that is supposed to guarantee due process to the accused.

Without due process, we will never know if the two suspects were indeed robbers attempting to rob the citizen in question. And if they were, how would we know that they would have resorted to violence and murder?

The punishment for theft is not death in Pakistan.

Petty and violent crimes are rampant in Karachi. A few years ago, while I was visiting Karachi, a friend’s brother riding a motorbike was shot dead on a bridge. His murder to date remains unsolved.

In the '90s, a neighbour from Rawalpindi – who joined the Karachi police – was killed by unknown assailants.

Whereas I have never been a resident of Karachi, I know of at least two people murdered in cold blood. I can only imagine the sense of insecurity that Karachiites experience every day.

They might think that the suspected robbers deserved what they got. After all, the law and order situation has remained perilous in the city for too long – it’s a city where even the son of the province’s chief justice was abducted in broad daylight.

And really, if the chief justice’s family is not safe, whose is?

It is, therefore, no surprise that the police’s failure in Karachi mandated the Rangers to be deployed to address the law and order crisis.

While ordinary citizens in Karachi – given their sustained exposure to unrelenting street violence – can be excused for confusing vigilantism with justice, one cannot excuse the police for doing the same.

By rewarding vigilantes, the police chief is abdicating his role and responsibility to protect life and property. He should be reprimanded for jumping the gun.

Even if the citizen who shot the suspected robbers did so in self-defence, it is a fact to be established first by the judicial system and not by the police chief.

The lack of law and order in Karachi has its roots in failed governance. It’s not just the police. The civil and political leadership in Sindh and Islamabad are equally culpable of leaving citizens vulnerable to random and planned acts of violence and crime, thus creating the ideal breeding grounds for the likes of Daesh or ISIS.

The safety of the country takes priority over any other matter; the state must make restoring law and order its urgent priority – or brace for the day when one will not be able to differentiate between criminals and victims.

This article first appeared on Dawn.