By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
On August 17, 2017, one Police Qaumi Razakar (PQR), Jamshed Ahmed (42), was killed and another PQR, Gulzar (30), was injured in a firing incident at the Northern Bypass within the jurisdiction of the SITE Superhighway Industrial Police Station in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh. Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Malir Town, Rao Anwar disclosed that the two Razakars were standing at a Police chowki (Post) near the bypass, when motorcycle borne terrorists opened fire on them. This was the third attack on the Police in Karachi by the newly-emerging terrorist formation, Ansar-al-Shariah Pakistan (ASP). The group claimed responsibility for the attack in pamphlets thrown at the crime scene immediately after the attack.
ASP had claimed the August 11 killing of Traffic Police Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Muhammad Hanif and his driver, Fida Alam, in the Hussainabad area of Azizabad Town in Karachi. DSP Hanif was on his way home from office when motorcycle borne terrorists opened fire on his vehicle according to Senior Superintendent of Police, Central, Muqadas Haider.
On July 24, Traffic Police Head Constable (HC) Mohammad Khan, was killed and HC Mohammad Kamran injured when four unidentified assailants riding pillion on two motorcycles opened indiscriminate fire near Paradise Bakery on the Abul Hasan Ispahani Road in the Gulzar-e-Hijri locality of Sohrab Goth in Karachi. Counter Terrorism Department SSP Omar Shahid Hamid stated, “Apparently, today’s incident appeared to be part of a recent wave of attacks on law enforcers in the city.” Contrary to the security agencies’ assumption that ASP had committed this crime, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack. Ahmed Mansoor, a TTP spokesperson, sent out an email to the media declaring that no ‘new outfit’ was involved in the attack.
On June 23, unidentified terrorists shot dead four Policemen, who were sitting at a roadside eatery for Iftar in the SITE Town area of Karachi. SITE town SP Asif Ahmed Bughio stated that the four Policemen were about to break their fast at a restaurant located between the Siemens and Habib Bank traffic intersections, when motorcycle-borne terrorists opened indiscriminate fire, killing ASI Mohammed Yusuf and constables Shabbir, Khalid and Israr. ASP claimed responsibility for the attack. Counter Terrorism Department SSP Raja Umar Khattab disclosed that the Police found a pamphlet from the scene of the crime which the assailants threw there before fleeing. The pamphlet warned of the launch of Operation Rad-ul-Artedad (End of Apostasy) against Security Forces (SFs). According to the message, the attack was carried out in agony over the release of bloggers accused of blasphemy, Government ‘indifference’ towards Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, ‘fake’ arrests and encounters involving terrorists, and continued diplomatic and military ties with Iran and Russia. According to varying media reports, five bloggers – Professor Salman Haider, Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed, Ahmad Raza Naseer, and Samar Abbas – were ‘picked up’ from capital Islamabad and parts of Punjab Province between January 5 and 7, 2017. Though reports claimed that all five of them were released by their ‘abductors’ and they returned home on January 28, 2017, recent reports indicate that one of them, Samar Abbas, is still missing. While the three others did not disclose about their ‘abductors’ out of fear, one of them, Waqass Goraya, told the BBC that a “government institution” with links to the military held him and tortured him “beyond limits”. All five men were vocal critics of militant Islamist groups and Pakistan’s military establishment, and expressed their views on the internet. Dr. Aafia Siddiqui , is a Pakistani neuroscientist convicted by the United States on February, 3, 2010, for attacking American soldiers in Afghanistan on July 17, 2008. She is serving her 86-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center of Carswell in Fort Worth of Texas.
On July 21 an incident claimed the lives of three Policemen and a 12-year-old boy, when six unidentified assailants opened fire on a Police van parked near Darul Uloom in the Korangi Town area of Karachi. Arif Aslam, Superintendent of Police (SP), Landhi Town, confirmed that an Awami Colony Police mobile unit was the target of the attack. The dead were identified as Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) Qamar Din, Constable Babar Ali and Constable Amjad.
Four attacks on the Police personnel within a span of one month and ten such incidents in the current year bring the total number of law enforcers killed to 17. Among all the cities of Pakistan, Karachi remained the most troubled. According to official statistics published on February 9, 2017, almost 1,538 Policemen had been killed in the Karachi Range between 1995 and 2016. The maximum number of killings (261) were registered in 1995. Thereafter, the killings crossed three digit only in 2012, 2013 and 2014, across a span of 22 years, making these the three worst years for the Karachi Police in recent times, with 123 dead in 2012; 165 in 2013 and 136 in 2014.
The Pakistan Rangers’ (Sindh) Operation has been a blessing for the Karachi Police, as the killing of Policemen in the city has dramatically declined. The Rangers were called in on September 4, 2013, when violence in the city was at a peak, with 1,668 fatalities, including 165 Policemen. By 2016, only 29 Policemen were killed, as against 136 in 2014 and 67 in 2015. However, 2017 appears to be seeing a reversal of this trend, with 17 Policemen already killed, as against 13 in the corresponding period of 2016.
Although terrorist groups such as TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) have long targeted SF personnel all over Pakistan, the emergence of ASP in Karachi, specifically targeting security personnel, has created a new headache for the enforcement agencies. Since the name of this outfit first emerged in April 5, 2017, when it claimed responsibility for the targeted killing of Army Colonel (Retd.) Tahir Zia Nagi at the Baloch Colony, Karachi, ASP has claimed involvement in four attacks on SFs. According to Counter Terrorism Department SSP Raja Umar Khattab, the newly-formed group has its roots in Libya, and was also operating in other countries of the Middle East. The US and UK have already banned ASP, which Khattab added, “has been formed the way the al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) was formed, by merging different splinter terrorists groups.”
The chief of the Sindh Counter Terrorism Department, Additional Inspector General of Police (AIGP) Sanaullah Abbasi, stated on July 27 that ASP was behind all recent killings of Police personnel: “Ansarul Shariah Pakistan is a reality and we believe that it is involved in the recent wave of terror in the metropolis.” This assessment suggests that ASP is a professional, combat-trained and media savvy, formation, suggesting a higher level of education in its leadership. The group is likely to target only officials and state institutions, and has regretted the deaths of “civilians” in collateral damage, vowing to “pay compensation to the families of such victims”. ADGP Sanaullah Abbasi observed, “This is a different and dangerous narrative of the new terrorist [groups] and needs to be countered aggressively.” The increase in frequency of attacks in the past month indicated that this group might have ‘additional resources’, allowing it to step up attacks, he added.
However, the Red Book of the Sindh Counter Terrorism Department, released on August 3, 2017, did not mention ASP. The Red Book was issued with profiles of suspects wanted by the Government in connection with terrorist activities, suicide attacks and sectarian violence, and included profiles, with photographs, criminal records and rewards offered for both Sunni and Shia terrorists, and lists their association with various terrorist organisations.
Contrary to their previous assumption that a single outfit, ASP, had been targeting Policemen and retired law enforcement personnel, Counter Terrorism Department chief Sanaullah Abbasi stated, on August 6, that his organization had concluded that there were numerous splinter groups — of either TTP or LeJ – responsible for the spate of attacks in recent months: “There are multiple groups involved in targeted killings of policemen in the city”, he claimed, and their modus operandi were different in each case. TTP has formed a special cell to target law enforcement personnel, particularly those operating in the East and West zones of the Police’s organisational structure.
While the state and security apparatus claimed that it had eliminated the strongholds and infrastructure of the TTP in Karachi, there are apprehensions that the banned outfit was attempting to re-establish its financial network in the city in a bid to increase its capability to launch terrorist attacks. Officials claim that, although LeJ’s capacities had ‘almost’ been wiped out in Karachi, its activities were increasing, particularly in upper Sindh, with the help of ‘Afghans’ and financial support from the Islamic State.
The recent wave of terrorist attacks against enforcement personnel in Karachi puts a question mark against the claims of the state’s enforcement agencies regarding their counter-terrorism operations in this national commercial and financial hub, and their assertions that the ‘lifeline’ of the terrorist groups had been cut off.
* Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management