By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
On August 10, 2015, Pakistan Rangers in Sindh stated that the first stage of the ongoing ‘targeted action’ in Karachi, the provincial capital, had been completed. 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”. The 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.
The August 10, 2015, statement by the Rangers did not provide any data related to the ‘targeted action’. An earlier July 8, 2015, release, however, claimed 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, engaging in a total of 224 ‘encounters’, in which 364 suspected criminals were killed and another 213 were arrested. The Rangers had also arrested 82 abductors and in the process secured the release of 49 abducted persons from their captivity. In addition, a total of 826 terrorists, 334 ‘target killers’, and 296 extortionists were arrested during this period.
These actions, according to the Rangers’ release, led to an improvement in the security environment in the city. Incidents of bank robberies, which had become a menace in the city, had fallen from 29 cases in 2013 to 19 in 2014, and seven in 2015. Similarly, regarding extortion, the report claimed that 1,524 cases were reported in 2013 as compared to 899 cases in 2014 and 249, thus far, in 2015.
Further, according to a report compiled by the Sindh Police and submitted to the Provincial Home Department on July 21, 2015, 971 people were murdered in the first half of 2015, as compared to 2,075 people in the corresponding period of 2014, a decline of 53.2 per cent. The report also claimed that, since January 2015, some 479 suspects, including 133 allegedly associated with al Qaeda and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), were killed in ‘police actions’. Of these, 98 belonged to TTP, 11 to al Qaeda, six to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and one to Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP).
Partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM) confirmed that terrorism-related fatalities in the city had decreased considerably. In the period since the start of the ‘targeted action’ on September 5, 2013, Karachi recorded 2,143 terrorism and target killing related fatalities, including 1,260 civilians, 675 terrorists/criminals and 208 Security Force (SF) personnel (data till August 23, 2015). During the corresponding period prior to the start of the action, there were 3,099 fatalities including 614 civilians, 234 terrorists/criminals and 251 SF personnel. However, major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) which are also an indicator of the security environment, more than doubled. As compared to 140 major incidents recorded in the period of ‘targeted action’, there were 66 such incidents during the corresponding period prior to the launch of ‘exercise’. However, the majority of such major incidents in the ‘targeted action’ period involved the killing of terrorists/criminals by SFs.
Nevertheless, the situation in Karachi remains grave, with more than one civilian fatality per day. According to partial ICM data, a total of 282 civilians were killed in the first 235 days of the current year. If total fatalities, including civilians, SFs and terrorist/criminals are taken into consideration, daily fatalities stand at 2.38 (541 fatalities in 235 days). Indeed, Sindh Police data reflects a more alarming situation, indicating that analysis of the first six months “shows that average murders reported in 2015 are 2.7 per day as compared to 5.7 murders per day in 2014 [for the same period]”.
Recent incidents reflect how insecure the city remains. On August 12, 2015, armed assailants shot dead four Police personnel in an ambush within the precincts of Korangi Zaman Town Police Station in Karachi. One passerby also sustained injuries in indiscriminate fire by the militants. On July 8, 2015, three unidentified bullet riddled bodies of men aged between 25 years and 30 years were found from Al-Noor Society in Surjani Town area of Gadap Town.
Serious concerns are being voiced regarding the ‘targeted action’, including widespread allegations of indiscriminate and extrajudicial executions, sweeping human rights’ violations, and political executions. Zohra Yusuf, the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), on November 20, 2014, observed, “We consider every suspect’s killing in police shootout as extrajudicial as one always remains doubtful about the authenticity of that action. It’s so unfortunate that our system is battling against the criminals or suspects on the same conventional methodology.” She also referred to a “number of complaints” received by HRCP from families of people who went missing; many of them were later found shot dead in different parts of the city or declared killed in encounters.
Significantly, questions have also been raised about the abuse of the ‘targeted action’ against political rivals. Thus, lawmakers from Pakistan’s fourth-largest party, the opposition Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), on August 12, 2015, resigned from Parliament and the Sindh Assembly in protest over the crackdown allegedly targeting party supporters in Karachi. The decision applied to 24 Members of the National Assembly (Lower House of Parliament), eight senators in the Senate (Upper House of Parliament), as well as 51 members in the Sindh Provincial Assembly, drawn from MQM. MQM was in alliance with Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in the Sindh Government. While PPP, with 92 seats, retains a majority in the 168 seat Assembly, the withdrawal of 51 MQM legislators will make it much less representative.
However, Jahangir Mirza, former Inspector General of Police (IGP), Sindh, who held the office from January 2, 2006, to April 14, 2007, argued, “Nobody can defend extrajudicial killings… [But] in a condition where the criminal justice system is not delivering and criminals have the protection of (political) parties, what does one expect from the police?” He asserted that extrajudicial killings can never be addressed until the criminal justice system is reformed and policemen associated with action against criminals are not threatened or victimized in case of a change of guard in the corridors of power.
Moreover, the continued presence of multiple terrorist groups, in addition to a substantial TTP presence, is worrisome. Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), al Qaeda’s South Asia chapter, has emerged as a new threat. Indeed, on September 14, 2014, AQIS claimed responsibility for the September 6, 2014, attack on the West Wharf Naval dockyard in Karachi that left a sailor and three attackers dead. More worryingly AQIS disclosed that the attack was carried out entirely by serving Navy personnel. On September 14, 2014, authorities arrested three Navy officials involved in an attack from the Lak Pass area of Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. Recently, five AQIS militants, including its Karachi ‘chief’ Noor-ul-Hasan alias Hashim alias Bhai Jan alias Babu Bhai and his ‘deputy, Usman alias Irfan alias Abdullah, and another cadre, Ibrahim alias Rafiq alias Awais, were killed in an encounter in the Khairabad area of Orangi Town on April 14, 2015.
The abrupt emergence of Islamic State (IS, formerly Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham, ISIS) in Karachi has set off alarm in the city. The Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) of the Sindh Police had found the involvement of the group in the murder of prominent Pakistani women’s rights activist Sabeen Mahmud on April 24, 2015, in Karachi. Further, IS had claimed responsibility for the May 13, 2015, Safoora Goth carnage in the Gulshan Town area of Karachi, that killed 45 Ismaili Shias travelling in a chartered bus. The attackers left an IS pamphlet at the incident site before fleeing on motorcycles. Earlier, a woman, identified as Debra Lobo, a US national and the Vice-Principal of the Jinnah Medical and Dental College’s student affairs wing, was shot at and injured on Shaheed-e-Millat Road in Jamshed Town on April 16, 2015. According to Police sources, leaflets of IS claiming responsibility for the attack were found at the incident site.
While claiming on August 10, 2015, that the first stage of the ongoing ‘targeted action’ in Karachi, had been completed, the Pakistan Rangers added,
[We] are well prepared to start Stage 2 from Aug 14th 2015 till the time it is successfully completed. Stage 2 will be more severe than Stage 1 as the main task is to hunt down Land Grabbers, Target Killers, Extortionists, Kidnappers, Terrorists to Justice. Pak Rangers Sindh is committed not to spare any criminal. If you have information or if you are a victim yourself than please do not hesitate to contact Pakistan Rangers Sindh through email or telephone numbers. Do not worry even if the criminals are very powerful because Pakistan Rangers Sindh are more powerful by the will of Allah. Credentials of the complainant will be kept highly confidential.
The first stage of the ‘targeted action’ has clearly impacted on the will and capacity of the terrorist-criminal nexus in Karachi, which had flourished for years under political protection. It has, however, also raised serious questions, not only of legitimacy and justice, but also of sustainability, as new actors with wider networks and a deeper agenda of state destabilization enter the beleaguered city to fill up the vacuum. With state legitimacy at an extraordinary low across Pakistan, the eventual outcome of brutal and often extralegal and indiscriminate state action remains entirely unpredictable.
Tushar Ranjan Mohanty is a Research Associate at Institute for Conflict Management