Urban warfare

Published April 26, 2017

THE complexity of the war on terrorism was illustrated by a battle in the heart of Karachi on Monday evening. The seven-hour exchange of gunfire began with a raid by the Sindh Rangers on a multi-storey residential building in the city’s Urdu Bazaar area and continued into the early hours of Tuesday. By the end of it, four suspected militants, including a couple — and an infant, believed to be the couple’s daughter — were dead. The gun battle, described by Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan as a major success for the paramilitary force, was triggered when the suspects — holed up in one of the apartments — hurled hand grenades and started firing on the Rangers while they were taking up positions around the building. Four Rangers personnel and two passers-by were injured in the explosions. A statement by the ISPR listed a number of terrorist acts allegedly carried out by the suspects during the past eight years. If this information is accurate, then the operation in Karachi is indeed extremely significant.

In 2016, when Operation Zarb-i-Azb was in its final stages, the security forces had correctly said that the challenge had shifted from kinetic warfare in Pakistan’s northern badlands to combing operations against militant cells that had burrowed themselves in the urban landscape. There have been a number of such intelligence-based operations since then, most recently under the Raddul Fasaad campaign. For instance, less than two weeks ago in Lahore, law-enforcement personnel killed a suspected militant, and arrested two of his accomplices, among them his wife Naureen Leghari who confessed on-camera that she was to be deployed as a suicide bomber against an Easter gathering in church. Successful elimination of such cells in densely populated areas depends a great deal on actionable and accurate intelligence, not only from informants within the security apparatus but also from ordinary citizens. While ethnic profiling should under no circumstances be condoned, people in the neighbourhood must be vigilant; their own security and that of their compatriots depends on it. Property owners are already required by law to provide details about their tenants to the local police station. In both the incidents cited above, the property owners were taken into custody for neglecting to do so. When extremism has been allowed to seep unchecked into a society’s fabric for so long, rooting out its residual elements requires twice the persistence, and involves both civilians and security personnel.

Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2017

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