How militants were able to resurface after the 2013 operation
Crime reporters in Karachi used to be the kings of the newsroom. Their beat was the hottest in a city that had acquired the dubious distinction of one of the world’s most dangerous. But for the last few years many of these big guys had started to fret. Maamlat thanday par gae hain, as they would say to each other at the press club. Work had cooled down. The most you could report now was a mobile phone snatching caught on CCTV or the odd jilted lover’s murder. While the newbies would still get excited if they got their hands on street crime data, the boys who had picked through bomb blast sites for suicide bomber heads had started to get antsy. Had it all gravitated to white collar cybercrime now?
Then, on Monday, Sindh’s Counter-Terrorism Department big shot, DIG Omar Shahid, the top cop-slash-novelist, held a press conference. In a raid at Jamshoro just outside Karachi, CTD guys and Rangers had managed to round up five major suspects, including two men who wanted to blow themselves up. The men were Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. One assumes, five confessions later or pre-raid snitch intel prior, it had become evident that they had not only been involved in six major terrorist acts elsewhere in Pakistan but were now planning to attack the Police Training Centre in Baldia Town’s Saeedabad where hundreds of cadets would have been targets.
On the very same day, Malir Senior Superintendent of Police Irfan Bahadur, also a top cop with many press conferences to his name, made an announcement of his own. He had also arrested a suspected TTP militant from his district.
And so, these disclosures of so many TTP arrests in one day and that too in different areas, gave crime reporters of the city a sense that perhaps their beat was coming out of cold storage.
There had been a time in Karachi when the declaration of the arrests of terrorists happened so frequently that newsrooms didn’t have enough crime reporters to cover every press conference and newspaper subeditors dropped the single column stories for more interesting news. The TV crime reporters would dutifully file the tickers scraped from text messages or WhatsApp groups but they would slide by the bottom of your screen to disappear.
Then former prime minister Nawaz Sharif unleashed the Rangers to clean up the city in 2013. The police, intelligence agencies and Rangers went to work.
At that time, the Taliban had factions (creatively) named after the place they came from. So Karachi had Tehreek-e-Taliban Swat, Tehreek-e-Taliban Mohmand and Tehreek-e-Taliban Bajaur. TTS, TTM, TTB. Their men were either arrested or killed or they fled. Eventually, after the peak of the operation, the number of press conferences went down.
On Monday, though, it became clear that two different groups had resurfaced in and around Karachi. The Jamshoro raid yielded TTP Swat men and the TTP Bajaur man was holed up in Malir. If crime reporters had their radar up, so had law enforcement. How had these militants returned?
Before the new Karachi district of Keamari was formed, District West was the more fertile for black money as it shares a border with Balochistan at several points. There are 90 routes through which smuggled goods enter whether it is drugs, chhalia or betel nuts, petroleum or Iranian chocolate sponge cakes. In 2018, a District West SSP, Muhammad Rizwan Ahmed Khan, prepared a report on the smuggling for the Additional Inspector General of Police.
It is against this backdrop of smuggling that DIG Omar Shahid believes the militants returned. “Not only this, TTP militants also generated revenue via smuggling to finance their terrorist activities,” he added.
DIG Omar Shahid is candid. “Poor policing allows militants to make a comeback,” he told Samaa Digital. Karachi’s District West is now being considered a stronghold. “At the start of the Karachi operation, whoever assumed charge of District West SSP, showed zero tolerance for militants, but things have turned around in the last one and a half years.” Shahid is familiar with the terrain as he himself served as SSP in District West.
“I don’t say the then District West SSP allowed militants to regroup but I will say that coping with militants and militancy was not a priority,” he maintained.
There are no prizes for guessing what was a priority then for the person in charge of policing this district.
“The coveted slot of SSP West is worth Rs 5,000,000 per day,” according to one former District West SSP, who did not want to be name for obvious reasons. “In my time, if I allowed smugglers, land grabbers and water operators to operate freely, then I had an offer of Rs5,000,000.”
If he allowed them to operate at night only then he could make Rs2,200,000 to Rs3,000,000 easily. “But I knew the cost,” he added.
Despite the arrests, DIG Omar Shahid did not feel that this represented evidence that the TTP had an organized presence in Karachi. There was a time when the banned group had named an ‘ameer’ for many areas of the city but that is not the case right now.
“However, the TTP is trying to make a comeback,” he said. There have been reports of some TTS elements in Metroville, SITE. “Like this, there were some reports of the presence of Tehreek-e-Taliban Mehsud group militants in Sultanabad and Kunwari Colony.”
Last year, a policeman, posted at 15 Madadgar, was shot dead by two armed men near Mehran Town on September 18, 2020 and there was enough evidence to suggest that it was carried out by the TTP, Hamid said.
More recently, last month, on March 15, a Rangers vehicle came under attack in Orangi Town No. 5. A jawan was martyred and 14 others, including four Rangers personnel, were injured when explosive material planted in a motorcycle went off. The Baloch Liberation Army claimed responsibility but DIG Omar Shahid said they suspected the TTP Swati group as this area was a stronghold. “The modus operandi of the attack also suggests that it was not freedom fighters, but a jihadi group,” he explained.