UNKNOWN MARTYRS OF DARK ALLEYS
By Brig Samson S Sharaf
Dar ki kushkh tehni pe ware gai
Tere haaton ki shamon ki hasrat mein hum
Neem tareekh rahom mein mare gai” Faiz Ahmad Faiz
Karachi over years has become the Rest Area of militants groups of Pakistan. Whenever TTP groups operating upcountry are under threat, they melt away into this mega city providing ample hideouts. Steadily, the presence of these groups has strengthened in areas like Sohrab Goth, MangoPir and Gadap. In addition to the monetary aid that supports these groups through illegal channels, Karachi has also become the financial life line. Kidnappings for ransom, extortion, looting of banks, cash transfer armoured cars and armed robberies are the common methods used to shore funds. These groups also hijack expensive containers and sell off the proceeds in the illicit trade markets.
Recently, Karachi was the turf where TTP under Sanjana fought fiercely against TTS to deny them space. With election of Maulvi Fazal Ullah as the new TTP chief, the two may once again be moving closer to collaboration and hence higher levels of violence. Others have also found common grounds with these groups and travel to Waziristan and Kunar for training and re-equipment. Various groups of Baloch separatist are the paramount amongst them.
But the growth of TTP militants in Karachi is a recent phenomenon that gathered impetus during the Swat and SWS operations. This is the time when the federal and provincial governments looked the other way and bolstered their own armed groups.
Armed gangs, sectarian and ethnic outfits with killer squads operated in the city for decades. Years ago, the ethnic violence of Karachi merged into the Shia and Sunni militant rivalry complicating law enforcement. This militancy later conflagrated to turf wars between sub sectarian groups, armed wings of political parties, criminals bred out of poverty and unplanned urbanisation, armed thugs, extortionists and Baloch separatists. Speculations are rife that TTP now offers its services for kidnappings, suicide bombings and IEDs across the counter at an agreeable price.
Once the government began to make effective use of switching off cell phone services during critical periods, the terrorists and criminals were bound to come up with alternative methods of remote control demolitions. They initially used infra-red remote control handsets with a limited range but have since progressed to more advanced methods. In an op-ed in 2013, I had raised the question that, ‘The use of remote control detonations in Karachi and Balochistan is a reminder that either the militants are changing their tactics or new ones have entered the melee’ (Nation: Pakistan’s uncertain portals January 10, 2013). The fact is that both have happened. Use of sophisticated demolitions is a challenge that LEAS will have to face in their fight against militancy. These devices have been frequently used against the army with telling accuracy. The police are a target of this menace in KPK, Balochistan and Karachi. They say in LEAs, ‘Never stop if you find a straggler on a roadside’ something easily said than done in an overcrowded city.
The list of high profile officers of the armed forces and police killed by terrorists is long. It includes Lieutenant General Mushtaq Beg, four Major Generals, many brigadiers and colonels, IG Safwat Ghafoor, DIG Fayyaz Sumbal, SSP Malik Saad, SSP Khurseed Khan and SSP Hilal Ahmad. SP Chaudhary Muhammad Aslam Khan is the latest in the list of police officers who laid their lives beyond the call of duty. I fear that a few days from now as the media hype diverts to another issue, the heroics of Chaudhary Aslam will be a forgotten story and the case filed in the stack of unresolved mysteries. Perhaps, we would never know the method of his death and how he became a timely target during an unscheduled movement?
Unlike the militaries that continuously upgrade tactics and doctrines and thrive on regimental and corporate sense; the Pakistan Police Force is a victim of limbo and opportunism. Karachi Police has almost lost its entire leadership cadre of 1992 to targeted killings. KPK in the past ten years has also lost most of its die hard police cadre to terrorist attacks.
Pakistan Police faces crises that curtail organisational potential and leadership due to outside interference. It has been tinkered by political parties, bureaucracy and judiciary. Despite such massive interference, low morale, lack of training and poor logistics, many officers and men of the Pakistan Police Service have performed their duties par excellence. Frequent tinkering, transfers, OSD culture and uncertainty have inhibited the growth of regimentation and corporatism crucial to a top grade law enforcement unit. Pakistan Police has neither been equipped nor had time to train for fighting urban terrorism. Despite such prohibiting limitations, a small cadre of go getters living on the edge and flirting with death continue to bring laurels to a service that is least recognised and cared for.
It is not uncommon for policemen to get blown away while carrying out manual body searches or get trapped in inextricable encounters in tactical ambush sites or be overwhelmed with superior firepower. These men have taken major hits in KPK, Balochistan and during a confused counter terrorism policy and war disowned in Pakistan.
The scene of the site where SP Chaudhary Aslam embraced shahadat with two colleagues suggests diverse opinions. Remote Controlled Demolition placed on the roadside and a suicide vehicle ramming into the police vehicle are the two common theories being propagated regarding the method. But the absence of a crater or parts of a suicide vehicle suggests differently.
What if a suicide bomber and an accomplice carrying a bag of explosives were hiding behind the road divider who lunged at the last moment; or if the vehicle was already fitted with a device on it’s under carriage? The absence of a crater and the propulsion of the ill-fated vehicle to over fifty feet suggest that an explosion did take place below the under carriage. This could have either been a pre fitted undercarriage bomb that lifted the vehicle and threw it over 50 feet away, or a bag thrown below the vehicle that exploded. The fact that the SP was on an impromptu mission and not a pre-planned operation rules out meticulous planning for a road side ambush. Yet these target killers are known to hound their targets for weeks and wait for their moment. If these be the case, then the entire investigation of the incident will take a new direction. Or will it?
Pakistan’s chequered history of such unresolved murders with an obvious motive is precedence. Till today, no one with conviction can conclude why Qaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had to die the way he did on a roadside. Prime Minister Liaqat Ali’s Death remains a mystery. The explanations of two assassination attempts on President Pervez Musharraf lack detail. I am still convinced that Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a fail-safe, deliberate and meticulously planned operation and that the Handle Theory is a fraud. Will this latest incident also become part of these unresolved mysteries and gather dust? But one thing is sure. In every case there was inside complicity.
We admire Chaudhary Aslam and hope that all announced compensations find their true destination.