Karachi authorities to bolster security amid spate of sectarian, political violence

By Zia Ur Rehman

MQM-P leaders February 12 attend the funeral of an activist who was killed in an attack on a party office in the New Karachi area. [Zia Ur Rehman]

MQM-P leaders February 12 attend the funeral of an activist who was killed in an attack on a party office in the New Karachi area. [Zia Ur Rehman]

KARACHI -- Law enforcement agencies in Karachi are launching a widespread crackdown on groups that have been involved in political and sectarian violence in recent months.

While police operations in Karachi have succeeded in breaking up networks of various violent groups, security officials are concerned over a recent resurgence of attacks that have left several Pakistanis dead -- including a former lawmaker.

Security officials, including the police chiefs for Sindh, Karachi and the Sindh Counter Terrorism Department, met at the Sindh Rangers headquarters in Karachi on February 13 to discuss how to better prevent violent incidents.

Maj. Gen. Muhammad Saeed, the director general of the Sindh Rangers, presided over the meeting.

The officials agreed on the need to "ensure extraordinary security by making protective arrangements to effectively curb the targeted-killing incidents", a statement from the Rangers said.

Karachi police also convened a meeting on February 24 to discuss the security situation in the city. Dr. Ameer Ahmed Shaikh, Karachi's police chief, asked police officers to tighten security in the city in a bid to eliminate targeted killings and street crimes.

Attacks on the rise

Incidents of political violence have surged recently in Karachi, especially attacks on several Mohajir ethnic groups.

In the most recent incident on February 11, six assailants riding motorbikes opened fire on a local office of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) in the New Karachi area, killing two activists.

That incident followed other attacks in December, including one on December 25 in the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) area that left former MQM-P-affiliated National Assembly member Ali Raza Abidi dead.

Unidentified assailants on December 23 also attacked the Pak Sarzameen Party's local office in the Rizvia Society area, killing two party activists.

Meanwhile, on December 6, a hand grenade attack on an MQM-P gathering in the Gulistan-e-Johar area wounded at least six people.

Sectarian attacks have been rising too.

On January 22, gunmen riding on a motorcycle killed Mohammad Ali Shah, a local government officer and a Shia Ulema Council leader, near the Shahrah-e-Quaideen area.

Earlier on January 3, unknown attackers killed Fida Hussain, a shopkeeper whose son was an office holder in the Imamia Students Organisation, a Shia student group, in Zaman Town, Korangi.

Sectarian killings in Karachi began rising in the middle of 2018 after a period of relative calm that resulted from a law enforcement operation launched in September 2013 to curb the activities of various violent groups, Raja Umar Khatab, a senior police officer based in Karachi, told Pakistan Forward.

"Since 2007, Karachi had been an epicentre of sectarian violence with militants targeting religious scholars, leaders, doctors and traders on sectarian grounds," he said, referring to the 2007-2013 nadir of security in Karachi.

Sectarian groups overall have been weakened in the city by the five-year-long crackdown, Khatab added.

Arrests underway

Security personnel have arrested eight militants of the MQM-London faction, which has previously been involved in the targeted killings of rival political activists, Col. Faisal Awan, a senior Sindh Rangers official, said at a news conference in Karachi February 25.

The paramilitary group formed an intelligence arm to help track the attackers following a spate of targeted killings, he said.

One suspected attacker named Saleem, also known as Belgium, is at large. He had been tasked with killing members of rival groups, Awan said.

Saleem was arrested by the Rangers in 2011 for his involvement in attacks against police, but he escaped during court hearings and probably fled abroad, he added.

Police arrested another suspected militant named Sajid, also known as Bona, on February 11 for his alleged involvement in killing 41 people since 1995.

"He is involved in killing members of various political parties, including the MQM-Haqiqi, Sunni Tehreek and the Pakistan People's Party," Azfar Mahesar, a Karachi-based senior police officer, told Pakistan Forward.

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