KARACHI -- The Sindh Rangers made remarkable achievements last year in the on-going Karachi operation to root out crime and terrorism from the city, according to the paramilitary force's annual operations report.
Since the launch of the operation in September 2013, incidents of crime, violence and terrorism in Karachi are at an all-time low, according to the report, which came out on December 29.
The statistics are remarkable because previously Karachi was consistently the most violent city in Pakistan, claiming thousands of lives each year.
According to the report, 2016 saw a 93% decrease in extortion cases, 91% decrease in targeted killings, 86% decrease in kidnapping for ransom and 72% decrease in incidents of terrorism.
The Rangers conducted 1,992 operations that led to the arrests of 2,847 suspects and the seizure of 1,845 weapons, the report said. Among the detainees, 350 were terrorists from banned outfits.
Throughout the course of the operation, the report said, the number of targeted killings decreased from 965 in 2013 to 86 in 2016.
In 2016, the Rangers arrested 446 suspects accused of involvement in targeted killings. Among them, 348 were from militant wings of political parties, 11 were associated with sectarian outfits and 87 with criminal gangs operating in the Lyari neighbourhood of the city.
The number of incidents of forced extortion also fell from 1,524 cases in 2013 to 99 in 2016, according to the report.
The Rangers arrested 72 suspects involved in forcibly extorting money, of whom 26 were also involved in kidnapping for ransom. Moreover, the Rangers claimed to have rescued 13 hostages in 2016.
The number of terrorist acts fell from 57 in 2013 to 16 in 2016.
Traders satisfied, businesses re-open
Until the launch of the city-wide Rangers-led crackdown in September 2013, a years-long wave of targeted killing and violence from political parties and Taliban groups had crippled businesses and inflicted economic hardship on the city's residents.
Between January 2012 and September 2013, the city recorded 43 "forced strikes" (in which a militant or other group intimidates merchants to shut down their businesses), according to another Rangers report.
Since then, the city has not seen another forced strike.
Business owners are delighted with the ability to function normally again.
"We are totally satisfied with the on-going crackdown led by the Rangers," said Atiq Mir, head of All Karachi Tajir Ittehad, an alliance of trade associations in the city.
"Violence forced several established businesses to close permanently, but now they have re-opened and new investment is coming from other parts of the country as well from abroad," he told Pakistan Forward.
Similarly, torching of dozens of buses, public transportation vehicles and trucks was routine before the operation.
"Transporters lost billions of rupees because of violence," said Syed Irshad Bukhari, head of the Karachi Transport Ittehad, a city-wide transporters' body.
Now, though, they operate without security concerns, he said.
Taliban militants weakened
The success of the long-running Rangers crackdown, now more than three years old, lies in the damage inflicted on various Taliban networks in Karachi, security analysts and civil society activists say.
When the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) controlled the Pashtun-populated areas of Karachi in June 2012, it turned these neighbourhoods into "no-go areas" for law enforcement agencies and liberal political parties, said Muhammad Nafees, a Karachi-based security analyst, referring to a period of particular disorder in Karachi.
The TTP terrorised residents through extortion and kidnapping to generate funds for militants fighting in the tribal areas, he said.
Now, as a result of the Rangers operation, the security situation has vastly improved, he said.
"The command and control of TTP factions operating in the city have been shattered and their hideouts destroyed," he told Pakistan Forward. "This resulted in a significant decrease in militant activities."
Ashraf Mehsud, who migrated to Karachi from South Waziristan Agency in 1970, peacefully ran a transporter business in Sohrab Goth nieghbourhood until the Taliban overran the area in 2012.
The Taliban forced him to "donate" 20% of his income to the TTP's Karachi chapter leadership, he said.
Mehsud said he breathed a sigh of relief in September 2013 when law enforcement agencies killed several Taliban in Karachi.
"The launch of the [Rangers] operation proved to be a good omen for Pashtuns and political activists, as the law enforcement agencies started taking actual measures against the Taliban in Karachi," he told Pakistan Forward.