Zarb-i-Azb: Karachi operation sees tactical swing

Updated 16 Jul 2014

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File photo
File photo

KARACHI: In an apparent alignment with the military offensive in North Waziristan, the Rangers-led operation launched in the city to alleviate the fears of the business community has shifted its focus from hit men and extortionists to the more demanding threat from militants.

Since the launch of Zarb-i-Azb, Karachi’s law enforcement agencies (LEAs) claim to have killed over 30 men allegedly affiliated with the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan in separate ‘encounters’ in Sohrab Goth, Mauripur, Musharraf Colony, Usmanabad, Steel Town, Sultanabad, Orangi Town and Manghopir.

In a conversation with Dawn, DIG-South Abdul Khaliq Shaikh acknowledged that the Karachi operation had been readjusted to tackle the militant threat.

“Obviously, the focus has shifted in a way — the biggest threat today is from the Taliban, especially in the aftermath of the Karachi airport attack,” he said. “We were targeting the Taliban earlier as well, but now there is an imminent threat. We are aware that there may be retaliatory attacks in Karachi due to the operation in North Waziristan.”

The decision is to be proactive, he added, “to get them before they get us.”

Karachi operation in dire straits

DIG Shaikh said that while LEAs had ‘preventive’ duties to protect sensitive installations and airports, on the ‘operative’ side they were closing in on areas where they perceived that threats from militants were emanating. Gadap, Sultanabad, Gulshan-i-Buner and Manghopir were areas where the militant presence was likely, he said.

He explained the rearrangement of the Karachi operation’s ‘priorities’ as an efficient distribution of security personnel to areas where they were needed most. When it was announced last year in September, the Karachi operation’s primary goal was to curb targeted killing, extortion and kidnapping for ransom as escalating criminal activities plagued the daily lives of many businessmen.

Although Shaikh says LEAs have worked effectively to curb crime and violence in the city, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement has repeatedly accused the authorities of carrying out extra-judicial killings. In recent months, the party has vehemently protested what it says is the illegal detention, torture and murder of its workers. Shaikh rejected any allegation of extra-judicial killings.

‘New security law to boost confidence’

With the passage of the far-reaching Pakistan Protection Act (PPA) 2014, LEAs now have legal cover to enter and search any premises without warrant as well as detain and fire at “enemy aliens/militants” whom they reasonably believe will commit an offence.

“The PPA gives powers of detention and firing, but this is happening anyway,” said Shaikh. However, he said that the legislation now provides legal protection. “If a security official has fired according to the law, he can make a case for himself under this act.”

While the DIG said the PPA will increase the confidence of LEAs, he felt the police needed more operational autonomy. “We need to make the police force a stronger institution and this will only happen when transfers are made on merit.”

Former Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) chief Jameel Yusuf said the legislation was going to help LEAs all over the country, not just in Karachi. Citing the Sindh High Court’s recent observation regarding the “unlawful” detention of a student, Yusuf said such arrests were necessary.

“We are not under normal circumstances,” he said. “We are combating terrorism.”

Drawing a comparison with US national security laws, he said the US changed its laws overnight without reversing them or including a time clause, unlike the PPA which has a two-year implementation period.

“These developed countries have national spirit and patriotism, so if anyone raises a finger against the nation, they are acted against. Here, we are divided.”

He added that the shift in the Karachi operation as a result of the North Waziristan offensive was essential, as it was feared that Karachi might be targeted. However, Yusuf said that an important proposal he had made to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was ignored. “I had proposed a six-people complaint cell called ‘The Public Safety Board’ where parties who have been wrongly picked up can lodge a complaint. It had [Prime Minister] Nawaz Sharif and [Interior Minister] Chaudhry Nisar’s approval but was not included.”

Yusuf said the PPA offered little relief for innocent citizens who were detained by security agencies. “There is no place for them to go. When Nawaz came here [recently], why was he not asked about this investigation cell for the citizens?”

1,685 died in targeted killings since start of Karachi operation

Serving CPLC chief Ahmed Chinoy confirmed that he received several complaints from aggrieved citizens, and said they could also approach the district administration or security agencies themselves.

“We work with the LEAs to find relief for innocent people and we have a legal aid office which provides aid to those who cannot afford it,” he said. He said that with the passing of the PPA, genuine criminals will be acted against but that the law should not be abused. “It will have an impact if it takes the right direction,” he said.

Public prosecutor Abdul Maroof Maher told Dawn the PPA was not very different from the existing Anti-Terrorism Act, but that the unprecedented legal cover to fire weapons without permission will give security personnel encouragement.

However, he said, the PPA had unnecessarily created confusion in the law. “If there is an encounter you don’t need permission before you act in self-defence. If someone is targeting you, you have no option. When you are face to face [with a criminal] you have no option to take permission. This permission is irrelevant.”

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2014