By Ambreen Agha*
On April 20, 2016, seven Policemen guarding polio workers were shot dead in two separate target killing incidents in Orangi Town of Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh. Ehsanullah Ehsan, the ‘spokesman’ of the Jama’at-ul-Ahrar (JuA, Group of the Free), a breakaway faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), while claiming responsibility for the attack in an email statement sent to Agence France-Presse (AFP) asserted, “We have carried out both attacks on the polio teams in Karachi, this was a part of ongoing attacks on Police and law enforcement agencies.”
Earlier, on March 29, 2016, a Special Security Unit (SSU) commando, identified as Zahid Jaffri (31), who had been doing security duty at the State Guest House, was shot dead in the Kareemabad area of Gulberg Town. According to Deputy Inspector General (DIG-West) Feroz Shah, Jaffri was killed in a target attack.
In another targeted attack, a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) officer, identified as Muhammed Ali Khanzada, was killed and his body was found near a car parked on Lyari Expressway on February 7, 2016. Dr. Fahad Ahmed, Superintendent of Police, Jamshed, disclosed that it appeared Khanzada was killed somewhere else and later the car and his body were abandoned on the expressway.
According to partial data compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 531 Security Force (SF) personnel have been killed by terrorists/ criminal gangs in Karachi since 2011. Of these, 10 have been killed in the current year so far (data till May 8, 2016).
Significantly, the extremists have been increasingly targeting SFs since the start of the Rangers-led ‘targeted action’ on September 5, 2013, against criminals involved in the “four heinous crimes of target-killing, kidnapping, extortion and terrorism.” A total of 241 SF personnel have been killed since the launch of the ‘targeted action’ (data till May 8, 2016).
More worryingly, on April 1, 2016, a report by Karachi’s law enforcers identified as many as six wings of TTP that were in the process of being activated by establishing ‘Special Task Forces’ to target SFs. On the basis of the revelations made by arrested terrorists, Security officers alerted all Departments of the threat and revealed that the terrorist outfit had started assigning ‘missions’ to their cadres.
The relentless attack on SFs is taking place despite frequent tall claims by SFs and the Government, of huge successes in the fight against terrorists/’criminals’. Indeed, the last report released by the Pakistan Rangers in Sindh on December 29, 2015, claimed that at least 4,074 suspected ‘criminals’/terrorists had been arrested during 2,410 raids and operations through 2015. Of these, 2,198 were formally handed over to the Police for prosecution, including 887 terrorists, 268 target killers, 97 extortionists and 49 kidnappers.
A detailed report released on July 8, 2015, by the Pakistan Rangers in Sindh stated that, since the launch of the ‘targeted action’ on September 5, 2013, the Rangers had carried out 5,795 operations during which they had apprehended 10,353 suspects and recovered 7,312 weapons and 348,978 rounds of ammunition. The Rangers also traded fire with suspected ‘criminals’ in a total of 224 ‘encounters’ in which 364 suspected criminals were killed and another 213 were arrested. The Rangers also arrested 82 abductors and, in the process, secured the release of 49 abducted persons from captivity. In addition, a total of 826 terrorists, 334 ‘target killers’, and 296 extortionists were arrested during this period
Meanwhile, on April 13, 2016, the Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) General Raheel Sharif lauded the Rangers, Intelligence Agencies and other law enforcement agencies for their “phenomenal achievements” and also expressed his satisfaction at the success and pace of the Operation.
Despite these operational successes, however, the security situation in Karachi remains worrisome and has raised widespread concerns over the selective targeting of the terrorist/criminals by the law enforcers. According to partial data compiled by the SATP, Karachi has accounted for at least 123 killings, thus far, in 2016, including 23 civilians, 10 SFs and 90 militants.
While questioning the Rangers-led operation, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) chairperson Zohra Yusuf on March 13, 2014, noted,
There should be no double standards. There have been some operations against extremist elements in Karachi by law enforcement agencies, but in no way can it be said that it’s being done to rid the city of them [militants]. I think the policy needs clarity… I think there should be a comprehensive strategy with clarity. The attitude is not clear. Such incidents point to failure of the entire National Action Plan.
The selectivity of the operation is not surprising as it has been the case in other operations launched across Pakistan in the past and some of which continue till today. While the army targets TTP and a few other domestic formations in these operations in the tribal areas of the country, their feigning ignorance at the presence of terrorist groups operating against other states continues to create spaces for domestic groups to regroup and revive as well.
Among the groups that continue to enjoy impunity are sectarian militant outfits that include the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Sunni Tehreek (ST), Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jama’at (ASWJ), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and element within TTP, along with a range of politically protected target killers, extortionists, land grabbers and kidnappers. No prominent leader involved in sectarian violence and terrorism has been arrested, thus far. In Lyari, for instance, Gulabo, a local gang leader of the Ghaffar Zikri-led Lyari gang, has been operating against political leaders without visible action from SFs. Gulabo has been responsible for a range of political killings, including the murder of Mir Ishtiaq Baloch, a local leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on January 17, 2016. Baloch’s brother, the central leader of the PML-N, Mir Ashfaq Baloch claimed, on March 9, 2016, that the Government was not interested in arresting the culprits involved in the killing and lamented, “Over two months have passed since the murder of my brother but nobody has been arrested so far. And the failure of law enforcement agencies’ to arrest the killers has whipped up fear among the local political and social activists of the area.”
Director General (DG) Rangers Sindh General Rizwan Akhtar confirmed the political patronage enjoyed by some gangsters, during a high-level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to review law and order situation in Karachi on March 14, 2014. Akhtar disclosed that some leaders of the ruling party were backing gangsters in Lyari and claimed that the major reason for the deteriorating situation in the area was such political backing: “Gangsters could not be tackled till removal of political umbrella.”
Moreover, the ‘targeted action’ in Karachi is turning out to be more of a clampdown on political rivals than a focused Operation against criminals and terrorists. Thus, in one of the most controversial raids, on March 13, 2015, a heavy contingent of Rangers raided Nine Zero, the headquarters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), in the Azizabad neighbourhood of Gulberg Town. A number of party workers, including Rabita Committee member Amir Khan, were detained. The operation was exclusively managed and executed by the Rangers, with no Police presence. Rangers’ spokesperson Colonel Tahir revealed that ammunition stolen from NATO containers was among materials seized during the search operation at the MQM headquarters. During the raid, the Rangers killed MQM Central Information Committee office bearer Waqas Ali Shah.
In another development, MQM leader Farooq Sattar’s coordinator Aftab Ahmed Hussain (42), who was under Rangers’ 90–day preventive detention “for no reason”, died in the Rangers’ custody on May 3, 2016. A special Anti-Terrorism Court had sent Hussain to 90 days preventive detention on May 2, 2016. Speaking at Ahmed’s funeral, Sattar disclosed that Ahmed had been picked by Rangers from his home in Karachi’s Federal B Area on May 1, 2016, while he was with his family, even though there was no case registered against him at any Police Station. The pictures and video clips of the dead body revealed wounds that suggest he was brutally tortured to death.
Though, the paramilitary force denied the charges and maintained that Ahmed died due to heart attack, Ahmed’s post-mortem report after a 90 minute long autopsy stated that he was “subject to torture before his death with around 35 to 40 per cent of his body bearing bruises”. Sattar, while commenting on Ahmed’s autopsy report, claimed that “around 3,000 of “our workers bear torture marks on their bodies. It is the responsibility of the law enforcement agencies to expose such black sheep amongst them and get rid of them.” He urged the Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) General Raheel Sharif to “take notice of the 65 other ‘missing’ party workers who are in the custody of law enforcement agencies but have not been produced in courts.”
In another series of developments, Sindh Rangers reportedly arrested Uzair Baloch, leader of the Lyari gang and chief of the proscribed People’s Amn Committee (PAC), in a ‘targeted action’ purportedly on the outskirts of Karachi, on January 30, 2016. Rangers claimed they arrested Baloch while he was attempting to enter the city, according to a Press Release issued by the paramilitary force. His family members, however, asserted that Baloch was arrested by Interpol at the boarding lounge of Dubai Airport on December 27, 2014, and the SFs, after keeping him in illegal detention since, declared his arrest on January 30, 2016. Baloch reportedly fled Karachi soon after the launch of the ‘targeted action’ in September 2013. It has been alleged that Baloch worked under the patronage of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The Sindh Government had banned PAC in April 2012 and announced a bounty of PKR two million on Baloch.
Significantly, the HRCP Annual Report for 2015 observed that, despite a marked decrease in overall violence in the metropolis, “a few steps taken to restore law and order have instead left a broad trail of human rights violations”. Expressing concerns over rising cases of extrajudicial killings in the metropolis, HRCP Sindh Vice Chairperson Asad Iqbal Butt argued that the accused must be presented before the courts of law if there were any charges against them, as ‘murdering’ them extra judicially would only pave way for anarchy. Quoting the Provincial Police Chief, he said that 1,800 accused were killed in Police encounters; however, only 500 of them were reported in media: “It indicates that the data was tampered by some invisible hands.”
Meanwhile, on May 3, 2016, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah called for the extension of “unconditional” Special Powers of the paramilitary Rangers from May 4, 2016 till July 19, 2016. The Force has been exercising Special Powers since September 2013. According to the granted powers, Rangers have the right to investigate, question and prosecute the suspects involved in extortion, terrorism, kidnappings and target killings. They are also allowed to seal exit/entry points and conduct searches in all Districts of Karachi.
Nevertheless, there has been a sharp decline in terrorism-related fatalities in Karachi. Way back in 2011, Karachi recorded a total of 1,211 fatalities which increased to 1,530 in 2012 and further to 1,625 in 2013. Terrorism-related killings began to decline in 2014, with a total of 1,135 fatalities, and sharply through 2015, when they fell to 640. In the current year, 117 fatalities have been recorded thus far as against 287 in the corresponding period of 2015.
While Karachi has recorded a significant reduction in violence a transparent mechanism to ensure accountability at all levels, remains absent, and law enforcement agencies appear significantly politicized. The controversial targeted operation has further complicated the law and order situation in this city of crimes, which has long been infested by politically-motivated and backed turf wars, target killings, criminal gangsters, land grabbers, organized gangs of extortionists, ethnic strife, and religiously motivated Islamist terrorist violence. With the law enforcement agencies acting in a selective and partisan manner, sustainable peace and security remain elusive.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management