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Crackdown brings apparent lull in Karachi violence

Published Oct 05, 2013 11:36am


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Paramilitary soldiers arrest suspects in a residential area during a targeted operation in Karachi. — Photo by AFP
Paramilitary soldiers arrest suspects in a residential area during a targeted operation in Karachi. — Photo by AFP

Rampant violence has terrorised Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city and economic heartbeat, in recent years, but a recent security crackdown seems to have brought a lull in the bloodshed.

Kidnappings for ransom, sectarian attacks and gang warfare have spiralled since 2008, terrifying the city's 18 million inhabitants and prompting tens of thousands of businessmen to flee to the safety of Punjab province.

The city claimed a grisly record last year as 2,124 people were murdered on its streets, according to the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC), the highest number since records began nearly 20 years ago.

“The merciless killings have turned this 'bride of cities' into a city of ghosts and darkness,” said Tauseef Ahmed Khan, a political analyst, referring to Karachi's Persian nickname.

But an operation by police and paramilitary government Rangers in the city's tangled maze of teeming streets, launched early September on the orders of the central government, seems to be having some positive effect.

The CPLC said that in September 155 killings were reported — down from 280 in August. With a total of 2,058 murders up to the end of September 2013 it is on course to beat last year's record, but the crackdown appears to have at least slowed the killings.

Aftab Chunar, the head of the autopsy department of the city's largest state-run Civil Hospital, told AFP that before the operation he was receiving 16 to 18 bodies a day. Now the figure has fallen to three or four.

On the streets, there is relief.

A 45-year-old bank worker, Aziz Rana said,

After a long time there is a feel of normalcy in the city. Now it seems that criminals are on the run and I pray that the good old times return to the city.

Under the military rule of general Pervez Musharraf, the murder rate hit a low of just 76 killings in 2003 before rising to 777 in 2008, when he was ousted.

The figure shot up from 2010 onwards as criminal gangs backed by rival political parties grew in power and sectarian and ethnic violence swelled.

Amir Ahmed Shaikh, until recently the police chief of southern Karachi, the worst affected part of the city, said gangsters backed by political clout had held Karachi to ransom.

Trader flight

Extorion became a hugely lucrative source of earnings for the gangs, with one intelligence official telling AFP around $14 million a month was extorted in Karachi.

Traders and businessmen are the ideal prey for the extortionists, and many have fled the city, which accounts for more than 40 per cent of Pakistan's GDP.

“Some 40,000 to 45,000 traders and shopkeepers have migrated from Karachi to the Punjab province as their properties and lives both are not safe and secured here,” said Atiq Mir, chairman of Karachi Traders Alliance, a representative body of the city's small to medium traders.

The crackdown has seen Rangers use powerful motorbikes to chase suspects down the narrow, twisting streets which remained off-limits in previous missions using heavy vehicles.

Hundreds of alleged target killers, extortionists and gangsters have been arrested since the start of the operation, Rangers and police say.

Fateh Mohammad Burfat, professor of sociology and criminology at the state-run Karachi University, said the crackdown seemed to be working.

"Peace seems to have returned to the city and the common man, after a long time, has breathed a sigh of relief ever since the operation began,” he told AFP.

It is the neutrality of the operation which is key to its success and so far the police and rangers are executing the operation indiscriminately and with objectivity.

Others are not convinced the lull will last. Making arrests is one thing, but getting convictions in Pakistan's sclerotic legal system is another.

Police say more needs to be done to protect witnesses, currently too scared of reprisals to give evidence.

Tauseef Ahmed Khan, a professor at Federal Urdu University in Karachi and a prominent newspaper columnist, said the real proof of the operation's effectiveness would come with the Islamic holy month of Muharram, due to start in early November.

“It seems artificial to me though there are some vital signs as they have arrested criminals even-handed,” professor Tauseef Ahmed Khan said.

But one would like to see how the month of Muharram passes and it would be a good litmus test of the ongoing operation.

Muharram, which culminates with Ashura, the holiest day in the Shia Muslim calendar when the faithful march to mourn the seventh-century killing of Imam Hussein, is frequently a flashpoint for sectarian violence.


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Comments (43) Closed

Najma Oct 05, 2013 12:00pm

Too soon to declare victory. If the conviction rate is low then make a Pakistani Guantanmo and keep the hardened criminals there until a permanent solution is found.

sabeeh omer Oct 05, 2013 12:00pm

Whilst the present security operation appears to have brought about a decline in targeted killings, extortion and gang warfare the security forces should also ensure that the streets of Karachi are safe for the common man. Mobile snatching, thefts, looting at gunpoint seem to continue unabated. It is time that a severe and brutal crack down is started against this group of criminals. I wouldn't be surprised if these elements too are under the protection of certain political parties.

Najma Oct 05, 2013 12:10pm

Good professor has pointed out one aspect of violence in the city and that is sectarian. According to him the proof of the success of recent crack down is when people express tolerance towards religious freedom of expression. Until, we reach to that level of civility, we can agree to not hold processions and also ban the use of any hate speech on all sides combined with temporary moratorium on the use of loud speaker.

Zaki ur rehman lakwa Oct 05, 2013 12:50pm

All the fun and games have ended.

Ahmad Bilal Oct 05, 2013 02:20pm

Bringing killing rate down from 280 to 155 per month is no success. You will still end up with close to 2,000 innocent lives lost in a year. Much and more needs to be done.

ranganath Oct 05, 2013 02:27pm

Encounter specialists are needed as Mumbai did once.

Asad Oct 05, 2013 03:05pm

'Murder rate hit a low of 76 under Musharraf' Good we've put him under house arrest! We needed the likes of feudal lords and industrialists back to reinstate "democracy"

sherie Oct 05, 2013 03:02pm

my memories of Karachi are of the most open minded city of Pakistan, where you could be anybody and be accepted just as you were. Wishing the return of those seasons to Karachi, and this time for good. ameen.

mjk Oct 05, 2013 03:09pm

So Muharram is here, Shia community will put so many lives to unnecessary risk by taking out tazias, thousands will go through annual rituals but terrorists don't care.They are looking for easy targets.

aa Oct 05, 2013 03:16pm

An excellent job done by federal/provisional Govt+the city police n Rangers. Its quite clear dat when state has the will n determination nothing iz imposible. To bear d real fruits, judiciary has to play its role in d same way as being played by other organs of state n shudnt let any criminal go away. There may b a need to amend some laws to provide more leverage to LEAs/Judiciary for which d Parliment has to play its role n it shud b done on war footings.

Ali S Oct 05, 2013 04:23pm


Or better yet, dump them all in Buddal Island and forget about them. And hey it's close in proximity to Karachi too.

Najma Qadir Oct 05, 2013 04:50pm

How about showing some religious tolerance and practice live and let live- Folks

Ishrat salim Oct 05, 2013 05:57pm

This is a temporary lull, although I hope it will l

danial tariq Oct 05, 2013 08:00pm

I feel targeted opperations should continue not only in karachi but in other voilence hit areas aswell and as long as they fail to produce good statistics!

ali ahmed Oct 05, 2013 08:02pm

Under the military rule of general Pervez Musharraf, the murder rate hit a low of just 76 killings in 2003 before rising to 777 in 2008, when he was ousted.

Richard Oct 05, 2013 08:36pm

Only 76 murders in 2003. Bring back Pervez Musharraf.

omer khan shaheen Oct 05, 2013 09:06pm

It's not over yet!All those responsible i.e. (Top - down) should be tried under the court of law and punished quickly and justly. Only then the task will be complete. My cousin a father of 2 was murdered by these animals just because he opted to live in Karachi for a better life !

ashraf Oct 05, 2013 09:08pm

accept it or not but Musharaf's time was the best time in the history of Pakistan where economy was booming and crime was the lowest.

Zain Oct 05, 2013 09:36pm

Karachi will only be at peace when it is run with full autonomy by its genuine representatives who have the mandate from it's real stake holders, it's residents.

A third world city of close to 20 million residents will always have law and order problems and the challenge is to contain them to manageable levels. Cities like Mumbai, Sao Paolo and Mexico City are examples of this. The only city which compares to Karachi is Lagos which share a lot of similar traits, like being in a multi ethnic, multi religious artificial edifice where competing powers are jostling for their share in the economic engine and have no firm roots in the city which they are tearing apart. Mumbai has been through it and now seems to have found a way to contain it.

Aftab Oct 05, 2013 09:42pm

All the thugs have either gone underground or left for Dubai during crackdown. Not unless you target the senior leadership of these political parties that operate these terror cells... Not unless we hang one or two of them in public.. The government is just wasting resources and time.

Amjad Wyne Oct 05, 2013 10:21pm

The report says, "Making arrests is one thing, but getting convictions in Pakistan's sclerotic legal system is another."

My question is, why take these cases to our corrupt judiciary - They should be tried in the anti-terrorist courts. They may not offer the best justice but it is bound to be better than what I have seen and heard about the civilian courts.

Syed Ahmed Oct 05, 2013 10:48pm

I won't say, very well done. This solace is just a temporary phase and not a permanent solution. The court will acquit almost all the detainees sooner or later. The permanent solution is broadening education base, country's economy and its legal system.

Fowzul Aleem Farook Oct 05, 2013 11:18pm

Hope this year Muharram will be peaceful one and should not allow any untowards things happening on that blessful month . Some evil forces as in the past will try to create more rift between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Like bringing karachi city back to normalcy this year try to prevent recurrent of such incidents.

AJ Oct 05, 2013 11:38pm

Lull? What Lull? Shias are still being chased and killed by gun shots in Karachi. I am referring to last three days. But I guess in the bigger picture Shias don't count so yes it's a lull.

aisha Oct 05, 2013 11:44pm

Bravo to the PMLN government and especially Nawaz sharif for atleast sitting down and discussing the situation in the city. The previous governments did nothing but give lip service and blame each other on television. The actions of the current government are well appreciated by the majority of people in Karachi, and if good progress is made, rest assured you will win major seats in the next general elections from this city.

Ahmed Oct 06, 2013 12:16am

If they nab and KILL all the criminals we should be happy. Maybe we will have 2500 encounter style killings but the future will be far better.

gangadin Oct 06, 2013 12:16am

Muharram, which culminates with Ashura, the holiest day in the Shia Muslim calendar when the faithful march to mourn the seventh-century killing of Imam Hussein, is frequently a flashpoint for sectarian violence.

Mourning what? These people have been dead for almost 1000 years and Yazid was no outsider. Look at their family tree. Why must you disrupt day to day life by all these meaningless processions and I mean others too besides the Shias.

Merch Merchant Oct 06, 2013 01:45am

*It is a good start and the authorities and law abiding citizens should stay diligent. Put the thugs and criminals in a jail and punish them an eye for an eye! *

Adnan Rana Oct 06, 2013 03:46am

@Richard: I think this is 72 per hour.

Seedoo Oct 06, 2013 04:22am

Before the government starts congratulating itself, it is worthwhile noting that such one off measures result only in temporary relief. I am sure no more than 30% who were caught were actual criminals, the rest were just innocent bystanders. The real criminals have gone into hiding, and will soon be hitting the streets once rangers are gone.

The only sustainable solution is the 4-pronged strategy of 1) Constant vigilance by domestic intelligence agencies, 2) Constant law enforcement by the police with no one to challenge their writ, 3) Efficient legal system that allows for due process, and 4) a vigilance by citizen's task force and human rights group to ensure that law enforcement agencies do not abuse their powers.

If the above is not implemented, I am afraid the peace will be short-lived.

Fareed N Oct 06, 2013 04:56am

It is a temporary relief, Sindh & Federal government should train special units equiped with modern gadgets to track down these criminals who enjoy the support of local politicians. 2124 people killed last year, 177/month, what type of society we are living in ? No wonder businessmen leaving Karachi.

Ghalib Khan Oct 06, 2013 10:03am

Bring back Gen. Musharraf even Dawn admits now that his term was much better,

Ossy Oct 06, 2013 02:10pm

If we want a lasting solution, then we need the following 2 steps across all Pakistan:

1- Consistent school syllabus (same for private or pubic schools) and put "all children" in schools. We need to invest in our futrue.

2- De-militarize Pakistan. Our nation should not have the right to bear arms. Cancel all arms licenses and remove all kind of fire arms from the ppl (including from all private security agencies) and eventually even from the police.

AN Oct 06, 2013 08:05pm

@gangadin: It is a traditions which has been followed for hundreds of years in other countries as well, and it will keep on going whether you like it or not!

Raees Javeri Oct 07, 2013 12:56am

This operation should continue till all the criminals are behind bars .After this crackdown there should be strict law enforcement in every part of the city and Poilce should have their own intelligence network as they know karachi areas better.Instead of police taking Bhatta themselves from people they should be protecting the people of Karachi.Police salary should be increased to Rs 50000.00 for a Hawaldar and so on.They should get better benefits and bonuses to meet their needs.If the police is under paid then naturally they will shake hands with criminals to have their ends meet.

Raees Javeri Oct 07, 2013 01:02am

If the police is honest,hard working and efficient then there will be less crime in the city.Poilce should be put under the Local government or Mayor of Karachi like any other big city in the world.We must have a rapid deployment force to handle terrorist activites.There should be separate force for Vip security duties and should be limited to only ministrial level.Local police should only have the task to keep an eye on criminals and criminal activities.Politicians and religious scholars should have their own personal security guards and tax payers money should not be spend on an individuals security.All the changes require will and determination of the Government in office

Alam Oct 07, 2013 01:17am


Why would u want to decrease the education standard of private schools ? Bhutto has tried it, and he screwed up everything for everyone

FJ Siddiqui Oct 07, 2013 01:21pm

Every surgical procedure for malignant diseases needs to be followed up with long term maintenance treatment. If this maintenance phase is not carved out meticulously and implemented diligently we can expect, very soon, a similar relapse that we have experience before. Patient may not survive another one! Only possible through team work!

Ossy Oct 07, 2013 02:44pm

@Alam: Point taken... my point was meant to be read as: let's pull up the standard of our public schools and invest in them, but not at the expense of pulling down someone else.

Fareed Oct 07, 2013 04:23pm

@Alam: Bhutto was an emotional Bill - nationalized the best education institutions, screwed up the whole education system.

Syed Ali Oct 07, 2013 06:36pm

But the sectarian killings are still in full swing.

US CENTCOM Oct 07, 2013 08:09pm

We stand by the government of Pakistan in its effort to negate the threat of violence. We wish to see peace prevail throughout the country.

Ali Khan

Just Someone Oct 08, 2013 02:36am

"Under the military rule of general Pervez Musharraf, the murder rate hit a low of just 76 killings in 2003 before rising to 777 in 2008, when he was ousted."

And still we malign Musharraf !!!