Security forces curb targeted killing of doctors, lawyers in Pakistan

By Javed Mahmood


Armed police official searching a senior lawyer at the Islamabad District Courts on April 15, 2017. Islamabad police have established several gates manned by armed personnel at the district courts for the protection of judges, lawyers and general public. [Javed Mahmood]

ISLAMABAD -- The hard-won progress that Pakistani security forces have made against militancy in recent years has helped make the country's lawyers and doctors safer too.

Frequently targeted for various reasons, such as sectarianism and the desire to eliminate prominent citizens who seldom support militancy, members of the two professions have been living with targets on their backs for years.

Dropping numbers

From 2007 through April 2 of this year, about 50 doctors and 54 lawyers died in targeted killings throughout Pakistan, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal. In 2014, 12 doctors and 13 lawyers were killed.

One doctor was gunned down outside his house in Karachi April 13, the most recent such episode, according to the site. A veterinarian was gunned down in Lahore April 7, Dawn reported.

However, the grim totals plummeted in recent years as security forces killed or arrested militants or forced them to flee. In all of 2016 and in 2017 so far, one lawyer was assassinated (in Charsadda District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in March). The Lahore veterinarian and Karachi physician were the first members of their profession targeted and killed in all of 2016 and in 2017 so far.

The above figures do not include the Quetta hospital suicide bombing that killed more than 50 lawyers last August.

The numbers began to plunge in 2015, as the army continued the counter-insurgency Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan, which began in June 2014, and as authorities nationwide conducted intelligence-based operations (IBOs), particularly in Karachi, said analysts.

Simply put, security forces "killed the militants and criminals who killed doctors and lawyers", Interior Ministry spokesman Sarfraz Hussain told Pakistan Forward.

A variety of measures

Security forces took other measures too, such as placing armed personnel outside courts, hospitals, media houses and other key locations.

In addition, the Interior Ministry has co-operated with provincial governments regularly to foil militant plots, Hussain said.

Meanwhile, Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the long-running offensive in formerly terrorist-dominated North Waziristan, continues to pay dividends.

"The successful operation in North Waziristan ... [destroyed] militant safe havens, networks and infrastructure," Afsheen Zeeshan, a security analyst and visiting instructor at National Defence University in Islamabad, told Pakistan Forward.

The overwhelming force and commitment that the military demonstrates in its offensives have demoralised insurgents, she said, adding that the general public contributed to the insurgents' setbacks by rejecting them completely.

"The people realised that the extremists were distorting the ideology of jihad," she said. "It does not sanction suicide attacks to kill your own people."

Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad , which began in February, and more IBOs nationwide will continue the improvement in security, she said.

Karachi violence down

In Karachi, where various communities exist side by side, "most targeted killings of doctors and lawyers had sectarian motives, with no clue to the killers", Karachi-based security analyst army Col. (ret.) Mukhtar Ahmed Butt told Pakistan Forward.

Since May 2010, almost 30 Karachi doctors were killed, he said, adding that IBOs in Karachi sharply reduced the incidence of doctor and lawyer slayings in recent years.

The para-military Rangers launched a city-wide crackdown on militants and criminal gangs in September 2013, which continues to this day.

After all those years of hard work, authorities have rounded up (or killed) the majority of target killers and their accomplices throughout Pakistan, said Butt.

However, their work is far from finished, he said, pointing to the August suicide bombing in Quetta that decimated Balochistan Province's legal community.

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