Rao Anwar: Super cop, encounter specialist or political pawn?

Published: January 1, 2019
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Rao Anwar. PHOTO: FILE

Rao Anwar. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: SSP Rao Anwar, perhaps Karachi’s most controversial cop, officially retired from service with the year’s end. Although his retirement came about much more quietly than his legacy warranted, the 37 years he spent with the police service tell the remarkable tale of the changing fortunes of a man willing to take the risks and go the length for his patrons.

Two things that have been a consistent feature of Anwar’s tumultuous career are the encounters and accusations of corrupt practices that have dogged him over the years. Despite having faced a number of disciplinary actions and suspensions, the most infamous being in the aftermath of Waziristan native Naqeebullah Mehsud’s murder, Anwar has surreptitiously managed to dodge legal action till now, possibly due to the interventions of his backers.

Humble beginnings

Anwar started his career as an assistant sub-inspector in the Sindh Police in 1982. He first came into the spotlight when he was posted to the Jackson Police Station as the Station House Officer (SHO). A case of kidnapping for ransom had emerged and Anwar and his team managed to rescue the victim, while killing all the alleged kidnappers in a raid.

Some time later, he was posted to the Airport Police Station. This was the early 1990s, when the operation against the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) was in full swing. It was here that Anwar proved his mettle and penchant for ‘encounters’. In fact, he is one of the few police officers of the time to have survived the revenge killings.

Rao Anwar retires from police service

In 1994, Anwar’s team shot and killed a notorious MQM activist from Baldia Town, Farooq Dada, along with four of his accomplices in an alleged encounter. While the killing made him a marked man in Karachi, then prime minister Benazir Bhutto invited him to a special ceremony at the Prime Minister House and awarded him a cash prize as well as complimentary certificates. The Sindh government, too, rewarded him with a cash prize.

Transfers and postings

In 1999, as General Musharraf came to power and with him, the MQM, Anwar got himself transferred to Quetta, where he remained till the PPP came to power once again in 2008. It was at this point that Anwar’s fortunes saw a drastic shift.

When Dr Shoaib Suddle was given charge of the Sindh Police chief in 2008, he transferred Anwar to Karachi and posted him to the Jackson Police Station again as its SHO. He was also given the additional charge of Jackson DSP.

Within a month, a special Departmental Promotion Committee was convened to officially promote Anwar to the rank of DSP. Anwar was henceforth given the additional charge of Keamari Town Police Officer (TPO).

In 2011, Anwar was promoted to the rank of Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP). The next year, he was demoted to the rank of sub-inspector on the Supreme Court’s orders. Pakistan Peoples Party co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari, who was president at the time, reinstated Anwar as Malir SSP using his executive authority.

Charge of Malir

The same year, another meeting of the Departmental Promotional Committee was convened on the directives of the then chief minister. This time, Anwar was promoted to the rank of Superintendent of Police (SP). Besides, Anwar was handed over charge of Gadap TPO and the additional charge of Malir SP.

When the Sindh government terminated the designations of TPO, the Malir sub-division was established and Anwar was posted as Malir SP.

In the decade since, Anwar built on his notoriety for suspected encounters and extrajudicial killings, where the ‘unwanted’ were shot dead execution style by police personnel. According to one official estimate, as many as 444 extrajudicial killings were reported between 2014 and 2018 in Malir. Many victims were never identified, with the media simply reporting them as members of banned terrorist outfits.

Time and again, questions were raised over the ‘extrajudicial’ killings but Anwar somehow always managed to steer clear of judicial inquisition.

Controversial statements

Anwar’s luck finally seemed to have run out in April 2015, when he took into custody two suspects who he declared were affiliated with the MQM and had received training from the Indian intelligence agency – RAW. Anwar, who by this time had been promoted to the rank of Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), claimed that the MQM maintained links with Indian spy agency.

The statements created uproar within the political ranks and Anwar was quickly suspended by the then Sindh Police chief. He was, however, reinstated soon after.

In September 2016, Anwar made headlines again when he arrested the MQM’s Khawaja Izharul Hasan, who was leader of the opposition in the Sindh Assembly at the time. Anwar was suspended again, only to be reinstated soon after.

Attacks on life

During the decade he was posted to Malir, Anwar managed to irk not just members of political parties, but also those affiliated with banned terrorist outfits.

In April 2015, days after he leveled the allegations against the MQM, Anwar’s convoy was attacked with hand grenades. At the time, Anwar had claimed that his convoy was attacked on the link road near Pakistan Steel Town and he suspected the involvement of Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) militants in the attack.

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Three years later in January 2018, Anwar’s convoy again reportedly came under attack as he was heading towards his house in the Malir Cantonment area.

According to SSP Anwar, a suicide bomber first hit his armoured personnel carrier, however, he and his squad members remained unhurt in the attack. Then, the bomber’s two accomplices opened fire on the police who were killed in the retaliatory fire. The TTP immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

A day later, however, Counter-Terrorism Department officials had cast doubt over the fact that the attack had even taken place. “This has been observed for the first time that the suicide bomber, despite having himself blown up with explosives, was only burnt,” a senior CTD officer had told The Express Tribune at the time. “While examining the site of the attack, no traces of any explosive material were found. Even there was no smell of explosives,” he had added.

The last straw

In all this time, Anwar continued to allegedly carry out the dirty work of his patrons. He has time and again been accused of strong-arming locals to evacuate from their lands in Malir to make way for housing schemes. Many have even gone to court, accusing him of demanding bribes for the release of loved ones who had been picked up by his team.

But the nail in the coffin was the alleged extrajudicial killing of Waziristan native Naqeebullah Mehsud. The case is still lingering on in court, while Anwar and several of the accused have managed to secure bail.

Post-retirement plans

So what does a police officer, with such a colourful career, do when he retires? Well, Anwar has no plans to retire anytime soon. “I have asked the Sindh government for an extension in my service,” he told The Express Tribune.

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