He’s been watching from the sidelines, until now.
Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani directed Sindh Rangers to remain neutral and take non-discriminatory action against individuals and groups responsible for the ongoing bloodshed in Karachi.
The orders came at a briefing given by Corps Commander Karachi Lieutenant-General Zaheerul Islam and Director-General Sindh Rangers Major General Ijaz Chaudhry to the army chief late Monday night on the law and order situation of the port city at the General Headquarters.
A military official familiar with the development told The Express Tribune that DG Rangers briefed Gen Kayani about the ongoing violence and steps the paramilitary force was taking to normalise the situation in Karachi.
“The army chief said the Rangers must not be seen siding with any group or political party during the operation,” said the official, who asked to remain anonymous.
General Kayani issued the explicit direction to the province’s paramilitary force which has been, by and large, drawn from the military, in the wake of growing politicisation of police in Karachi.
In a related development, the army chief also met President Asif Ali Zardari in Islamabad on Tuesday to discuss the security situation in the country.
The presidency would not share details but sources said discussions between the two focused on the deteriorating law and order situation in Karachi.
Meanwhile, top military commanders are expected to meet later this week in Rawalpindi to discuss the issue of target killings in Karachi.
The meeting, to be chaired by Army Chief General Kayani, is seen as significant since it is likely to discuss the allegations levelled by Sindh’s former home minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza against the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik.
Last month, the military publicly voiced concern over the worsening security situation in Karachi in a rare statement.
(Read: Army weighs in on Karachi violence)
The top military brass expressed concern ‘over the law and order situation in Karachi and its implications on the national economy.’
However, the military has so far resisted calls for direct intervention in Karachi to end the protracted bout of bloodshed in the city. “The army wants to stay away from the Karachi mess because any such move will have serious implications,” said a military official.
The army, however, would provide the necessary support, including input from the intelligence agencies, to the police and Rangers in order to help them contain the violence.
The Rangers’ top priority is to nab target killers, irrespective of their political or ethnic affiliations, said DG Rangers (Sindh) Ejaz Chaudhry at a press conference in Karachi hours after his meeting with the army chief in Rawalpindi.
(Read: Decrease in Karachi target killings is temporary: DG Rangers)
The responsibility to control street crime lies with the police, not the Rangers, Chaudhry said.
While he declined to give a timeline for the ongoing operation, he hinted that it would go on for months.
He expressed his reservations, however, over the notification of powers issued to the paramilitary force every three months by the interior ministry.
The Rangers have been doing their job since the notification was issued, but if it is withdrawn, the law and order situation may deteriorate, he said.
When asked about the origin of arms and training of target killers, Chaudhry gave the example of the notorious target killer Ajmal Pahari.
According to DG Rangers, Pahari himself had confessed during his interrogation that he received his training from abroad. He added that his force was increasingly gathering evidence that arms and ammunition were being smuggled into the city and said the involvement of a third country in Karachi’s violence cannot be ruled out.
This was Chaudhry’s first press conference since his reinstatement after being removed from his post, by the chief justice of Pakistan, in the aftermath of the Sarfaraz Shah case.
With additional input by our correspondent in Karachi.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 7th, 2011.