By Ambreen Agha
On October 13, 2015, at least four persons, including two terrorists, were killed in separate incidents of violence in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh. In one incident, Karachi Metropolitan Corporation’s (KMC) Additional Director, Arshad Hussain, was shot dead near Askari Park in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Town. Two terrorists, identified as Zohaib and Mahmood, were killed in two separate Police encounters in the Kalari and Chakiwara areas of Lyari Town. Zohaib, affiliated with the Wasi Lakho Gang, was reportedly involved in killing of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA), Waja Kareem Dad, on August 17, 2011 in the Kharadar area of Saddar Town. Mahmood was associated with the Baba Ladla Gang. In another incident, Police recovered an unidentified dead body from Gulshan-e-Ghazi area of Baldia Town.
On October 8, 2015, two Police Officials, identified as Head Constable Abdul Ghafar and Constable Pervaiz Ali, were shot dead while they were on a routine patrol near Char Minar within the limits of the New Town Police Station in the Bahadurabad area of Gulshan Town. In another incident, a traffic Policeman identified as Rehan Sarwar was killed at his residence in the Aram Bagh area of Saddar Town.
On October 7, 2015, a ‘criminal’, identified as Amir Baloch, son of Shah Jehan Baloch, was killed in retaliatory firing by the Police that had come under attack by him and his accomplices while patrolling the Garden West Road area, adjacent to the Lyari Expressway. The Police recovered one TT pistol and five rounds of ammunition from his possession. Amir’s other accomplices, however, managed to escape. Amir was associated with the Lyari Gang.
According to partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM), Karachi has recorded a total of 627 terrorism and gang-related fatalities, including 314 civilians, 45 SF personnel and 268 terrorists/criminals in the current year (all data till October 18, 2015). In the corresponding period of 2014, the number of such fatalities stood at 1,012 fatalities, including, 658 civilians, 117 SFs and 237 terrorists/criminals.
ICM data confirms that gang and terrorism-related fatalities in the city have decreased considerably since the launch of ‘targeted action’ on September 5, 2013. Since then, Karachi has recorded 2,233 terrorism and target killing fatalities, including 1,296 civilians, 722 terrorists/criminals and 215 Security Force (SF) personnel (data till October 18, 2015). During the corresponding period prior to the start of the action, there were 3,259 fatalities, including 2,762 civilians, 240 terrorists/criminals and 257 SF personnel. Though there was a 31.48 per cent decline in the total, the decline in SF deaths was much smaller, at 16.34 per cent.
According to a detailed report released on July 8, 2015, by the Pakistan Rangers in Sindh, 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’, engaging 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.
On September 4, 2013, the Federal Cabinet had empowered the Rangers to lead the ‘targeted action’ with the support of the Police, against criminals involved in the “four heinous crimes of target-killing, kidnapping, extortion and terrorism”. Federal Minister of Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, laying emphasis that this was to be a ‘targeted action’ or ‘exercise’, rather than an operation, had announced that a committee headed by the provincial Chief Minister Syed Qim Ali Shah would “manage, administer and control” the action.
Despite the decline in fatalities, there is much to suggest that the ‘targeted operation’ is yet to create an environment of security in Karachi. On the completion of two years of the ‘exercises’ on September 4, 2015, Karachi Police Chief Mushtaq Mahar admitted that a significant presence of sleeper cells of terrorist groups in the provincial capital. Similarly, on October 12, 2015, Inspector General of Police (IGP), Sindh, Ghulam Hyder Jamali, had warned that “three terrorist organisations” operating in a nexus were planning to carry out attacks in Karachi in the month of Muharram (First month of the Islamic Calendar. It is the period of mourning by the Shia Muslims). Muharram started on October 15, 2015.
Though the IGP did not reveal the identities of the “three terrorist organisations”, the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) anti-sectarian intelligence chief Khurram Waris stated on October 13, 2015,
…al-Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and LeJ [Lashkar-Jhangvi (LeJ)] which is now linked with the Middle Eastern terrorist group Daesh [known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/Islamic State, IS)] and working together, are involved in many terrorist activities in Sindh in the recent past, including murdering Police Officials in Karachi. AQIS was now leading the other two groups. All three groups in the Province are headed by commanders known only by their code names, Umer, Mistry and Bengali. They have been accused of being involved in killings and other terrorist activities in Hyderabad and Karachi Districts. They were responsible for the recent killing of traffic Policemen in Karachi…The interrogation of the arrested militants further revealed that the groups were also generating funds for their organisations by committing robberies and kidnappings-for-ransom, extorting traders, and collecting donations using fake madrassa receipts.
Five traffic Policemen have been killed in Karachi in the current year. The first such incident was recorded on August 30, 2015, when two traffic Policemen, identified as Nizam Hussain and Shair Muhammad, were killed by unidentified militants near the Sunday Bazaar in the Metro Shopping area in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Town. On September 2, 2015, a traffic Police Constable was shot dead and two others sustained injuries when unidentified militants opened fire at them in the Site-B area of SITE Town. A traffic Police Official, identified as Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) Zulfiqar, was shot dead near Malir Kala Board in the Malir Town on September 30, 2015. A traffic Policeman, identified as Rehan Sarwar, was killed at his residence in the Aram Bagh area of Saddar Town on October 8, 2015.
Policemen from other divisions are also being targeted. On September 30, 2015, Lyari Superintendent of Police (SP), Aftab Nizamani, survived an attempt on his life while two attackers were killed by the Police in retaliatory firing in the Chakiwara area of Lyari Town. Karachi-West Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Azfar Mahesar, noted, on September 2, 2015, that “a new wave of targeted killing of Policemen” has begun.
The active presence of IS in the city has also been confirmed, with IGP Jamali confirming, on October 12, 2015, that the group was operating in Sindh and had established links with LeJ, and that IS and LeJ were involved in the May 13, 2015, Safoora Goth carnage in Gulshan Town, where 45 Ismaili Shias travelling in a chartered bus were killed. This incident manifested the first and sudden emergence of IS activity in Karachi.
On October 13, 2015, a list prepared by the Karachi East SSP’s office reportedly mentioned 53 suspected terrorists who were operating in a manner bearing the hallmark of Daesh. According to the report these terrorists belonged to different parts of the country and were based in Karachi.
Much earlier, confirming the presence of IS, in a ‘secret information report’ submitted by the Balochistan Government to the Federal Government, dated October 31, 2014, the Provincial Government had warned of increased IS footprints. The report from the Home and Tribal Affairs Department of Balochistan stated,
It has been reliably learnt that Daesh has offered some elements of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ) to join hands in Pakistan. Daesh has also formed a ten-member Strategic Planning Wing.
IS is, consequently, no more a perceived threat, and has matured into a real danger. It has augmented its strength by aligning itself with splinter groups of mainstream terrorist organizations operating in Pakistan, making the situation all the more precarious.
Indeed, accepting the danger, Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) General Raheel Sharif in a meeting with the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on September 1, 2015, reaffirmed the resolve that the ‘targeted operation’ in Karachi would continue, irrespective of its political fallouts. Similarly, President Mamnoon Hussain stated on September 30, 2015, that the ‘targeted action’ in Karachi would continue till the ‘complete restoration of peace and elimination of terrorism’.
Curiously, IGP Jamali claimed, on October 4, 2015, that “peace and order has been restored in the metropolis by eliminating terrorism, target killing and extortion.”
Karachi has long been known as “the most dangerous mega-city in the world”, but the ‘targeted action’ has clearly impacted on the will, capacity and activity of the terrorist-criminal nexus in the city. There has, moreover, been no serious terrorist attack in the metropolis since the May 13, 2015, Safoora carnage. Dangers, nevertheless, persist, and the presence of terrorist organizations and particularly the emergence of Daesh (IS), are grounds for some alarm, as is the nexus between Daesh, AQIS, TTP and LeJ. These actors, with their wider national and global networks and agendas, retain enormous potential for state destabilization.
Ambreen Agha is a Research Assistant at Institute for Conflict Management