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Policemen standing alert at a street in Karachi.—Online/File
Policemen standing alert at a street in Karachi.—Online/File

KARACHI: The last days of the outgoing year saw a sudden increase in killings in ‘encounters’ with over 30 suspected militants gunned down by law enforcers while a total of 925 suspects were killed in such shootouts and 160 personnel of police and Rangers fell in the line of duty during the year, it emerged on Wednesday.

The sudden spike was seen by many as ‘vengeance’ for the massacre of schoolchildren in the Peshawar school attack.

According to official figures, 701 suspects were killed in ‘encounters’ with police and 224 were gunned down in shootouts with the paramilitary Rangers while 143 personnel of police and 17 of Rangers were killed in targeted attacks in the metropolis, said spokespersons for police and Rangers.

Also read: Analysis: ‘Encounter policy’ unsustainable

The fallen policemen included CID SSP Chaudhry Aslam Khan, who died in a suicide attack on his vehicle and five inspectors, sub-inspectors and constables, said police spokesman Atiq Ahmed Shaikh.

In addition, 111 suspected terrorists and gangsters were arrested and 50 Rangers’ men suffered injuries during the ongoing targeted operation, said the Rangers spokesman.

The encounters, considered by some officials to be an ‘effective tool’ in curbing crimes were marred by allegations of human rights abuses by the rights groups, relatives and religious and political organisations.

A social worker of Sohrab Goth, who gave only his tribe’s name, Mehsud, and did not wish to be identified, said that at least 60 people had been killed in such encounters for merely being members of the Mehsud tribe.

He claimed that Abdullah Mehsud, recently killed in an encounter along with 12 other suspected militants in Sohrab Goth, was in fact a dumper truck driver. He was detained when he was having his children administered polio drops outside his home in Gabol Goth and area people were witness to his arrest.

His brother was an army soldier, serving in the UN peacekeeping mission in an African country, he said.

But for many police officers, the controversial encounters have proved to be an ‘effective strategy’ for crime control while they also admit that targeted killings of policemen have a serious demoralising effect on the personnel.

“During last one year, over 100 suspects, mostly militants, have been killed in encounters in district west alone which have benefited in four ways,” said outgoing Karachi West SSP Irfan Baloch.

First, the encounters had brought a significant reduction in the targeted killings of policemen, he said. As many as 34 policemen had been killed within the jurisdiction of the SITE police station alone in 2013 but after the encounters not a single policeman was killed in the area in 2014, he said.

Secondly, the owners of over 350 marble factories in the Manghopir area had virtually been made ‘hostage’ by militants who extorted millions of rupees out of them. But after the killing of seven militants including local chief of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan Fakhro in a joint operation by police and Rangers, the extortion came to an end in the area, claimed the officer.

Thirdly, it was not possible for polio teams to work in certain localities of the district. But during the last one year, polio teams entered the so called no-go areas under protection of police and administered polio drops to children. As a result, not a single polio case was reported from there in 2014.

Fourthly, it was almost unthinkable for policemen to enter certain localities such as Manghopir, Sultanabad and Frontier Colony, which were considered no-go areas, but now police pickets had been set up there, said SSP Baloch.

His views were also shared by CID chief Saqib Ismail Memon who said: “During last five-six months of 2014, there was one major terror attack, which was a bomb attack on the vehicle of SIU SSP Farooq Awan.”

It demonstrated the reduction in terror acts might be an outcome of ‘something’ and that something may be detention of militants in raids and killings in encounters.

The police in Karachi faced multidimensional threats and they were being targeted by merely wearing uniform. “Definitely, it has a demoralising effect on the force’s morale but they have not abandoned their fight and they continue to fight against criminals with a brave face,” said the SSP Memon.

SSP Baloch admitted that killings of policemen had had a demoralising effect on their morale. They avoided ‘fighting’ with criminals and preferred to remain indoors instead of mixing with people even in their neighbourhoods as they were ‘soft targets’.

To rid them of the stress, police authorities have decided to shift high-profile policemen from certain localities of the district west to a housing complex with 21 flats in Naval Headquarters, which will be completed soon.

Twelve flats have been completed and policemen’s families will soon be shifted there to rid them of the stress of living in constant fear amid militancy-dominated localities.

Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2015