After a brief spell of silence, Karachi once again hit the headlines. The brutal carnage in Orangi Town resulted in the loss of seven policemen deployed for the security of polio vaccination teams, giving birth to a myriad of questions. Since incidents of terrorism are usually analysed in the context of human losses, little or no effort is made to connect the missing dots. The situation warrants that the recent killings are understood in the context of police recruitment standards, training quality, deployment procedures, motivation, quality of equipment and supervisory standards.
From this incident, a few things have become crystal clear: the attackers were well versed regarding the inlets and outlets of the area; they carried out surveys of the area in advance; they were proficient in weapons-handling and had clarity about their mission; if the police were the intended targets, then the attackers were successful in their aims, while polio workers remained unhurt.
Sadly, the policemen failed to return fire and, as always, the public played the silent spectator. No one in the mega city shared information about the planners, handlers, trainers, financiers, facilitators and perpetrators, despite the fact that a reward of Rs5 million was announced by the police for those who did so. The question arises as to why no one was ready to share information.
The event may have been planned to achieve numerous objectives, including halting the polio vaccination campaign and registering the presence of militants to denting the morale of the police and to provide an opportunity to the public to question the effectiveness of the ongoing operation in Karachi.
This was not the first attack on law-enforcement personnel in Karachi. Prior to 9/11, violence in Karachi was that of an ethnic colour. However, the war on terror added new dimensions, such as sectarianism, politically-motivated violence and foreign-sponsored terrorism. In December 2015, in an attack on a vehicle of the military police (MP), two personnel of the MP were killed. Famous personalities as well as important installations have also been prime targets. In 2002, a US journalist was kidnapped and killed. The same year, the brother of a former interior minister was gunned down.
Moving vehicles, particularly buses, have also been ideal targets. In 2002, a bus carrying French engineers was bombed and in 2003 and in 2012, a Suparco van carrying its employees was targeted. In 2007, the motorcade of former premier Benazir Bhutto was attacked. Consequently, 139 persons were killed. In 2010, 13 persons were killed in a minibus explosion. In 2002, a bus transporting students of a sectarian organisation was attacked using a roadside bomb. In 2015, eight gunmen assaulted a bus carrying Ismailis, resulting in the death of 46 persons.
The recent attack was not the first one on law-enforcement or military vehicles. In June 2004, in an ambush on the cavalcade of Karachi’s corps commander, 11 persons were killed. In 2011, an explosives-laden motorcycle attacked a mobile of the Malir police, resulting in the death of three persons.
Buildings of law-enforcement agencies and foreign missions have also been hot favourites. In 2010, an explosives-laden truck assaulted the building of CID police, resulting in the death of 19 persons. In 2011, the residence of a police officer was attacked by a suicide bomber, resulting in the death of eight people. In 2002, the US consulate and Honorary Consulate of Macedonia were targeted. In 2004, a car bomb went off outside a Pakistan-US cultural centre. In 2006, a car bomb was detonated near the US consulate.
Among personalities, police officers, journalists and Ulema, including Chaudhry Aslam, Daniel Pearl, Mufti Shamzai and Allama Hassan Turabi have been the prominent victims.
Investigations have revealed that one of the weapons used in the Orangi Town attack has already been used 17 times before. Not only does this depict the proficiency of the attackers, it warrants that limiting the proliferation of weapons requires emphasis and efforts.
The surge in the killing of policemen in Karachi is a post-2013 phenomenon that requires review of training content, the provision of better equipment, mobility, weapons, improved supervision and the definition of standard operating procedures. The post-Operation Rah-e-Rast scenario has witnessed the rapid growth of slums in Karachi. Slums incubate and facilitate extremism. The denial of physical space to such elements requires joint efforts by the police and civic bodies.
In 2004, religious scholar Mufti Shamzai was assassinated; in 2006, a religious gathering was assaulted at Nishtar Park, resulting in the deaths of 50 persons. In 2006, as mentioned previously, Allama Hassan Turabi was assassinated. In 2004, Imambargah Ali Raza was attacked by a suicide bomber.
The Karachi police have sacrificed a great deal in trying to save the public from the wrath of the savages. In 2011, three suicide bombers were hunted down by a police party prior to carrying out an attack, resulting in the death of four terrorists and two policemen. In the same year, three personnel were killed by the explosion of a remote-controlled device and in 2015, two Rangers personnel were killed outside a mosque. In 2012, outside the Rangers headquarters, a suicide bomber blew himself up, killing two people. Improving the quality of investigation and speedy disposal of cases of terrorism by the courts can have a positive impact upon counterterrorism efforts. The slow pace of disposal and the dismally low conviction rate in cases of terrorism can be glimpsed through the trial of the Nishtar Park bombing case. Ironically, from 2006 to 2014, out of over 200 witnesses, only 20 were examined.
Attacks on polio workers may be a well-known phenomenon, but it has posed a major challenge to the law-enforcement apparatus. In practice, it’s not possible to provide protection to each and every polio vaccinator. Hence, to make polio vaccination a success, it is essential to cultivate the support of parents, the clergy, teachers, the media, elected representative and local bodies. Through legislation, vaccination must be made obligatory.
It’s high time we understood that increase in manpower alone will not yield the desired results. Hence, equipping police personnel with the required gadgets, capacity-building, improved supervision and technological innovation are inevitable. In civilised societies, the death of a single policeman is considered a challenge to the state and a blow to society. Heroes who protected us with their blood should be remembered, otherwise callous attitudes will further erode the already feeble nexus between the police and the public and the people’s right to life will remain a lofty ideal, instead of a reality.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 27th, 2016.
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