KARACHI -- Law enforcement agencies have intensified efforts to crack down on recently banned Sindhi militant groups -- including the Sindhudesh Liberation Army (SLA) -- following attacks on Rangers throughout Sindh Province on June 19.
The SLA claimed responsibility for three attacks on Rangers in Karachi, Ghotki and Larkana that killed four Pakistanis, including two members of the Rangers, and wounded dozens.
In the Liaquatabad locality of Karachi, a man was killed after a hand grenade exploded outside a government centre distributing emergency cash for needy residents impacted by the coronavirus lockdown. Rangers guarding the facility were the main target, said police.
Separately, a remote-controlled bomb blew up near a Rangers vehicle at a railway station in Ghotki District, killing two Rangers and a civilian.
In Larkana, a blast targeted a Rangers vehicle parked outside a medical college with no casualties.
Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the June 19 terror acts and requested a report from local authorities about the incidents.
The primary target in every case was Rangers personnel, said Raja Umar Khatab, a senior official at the Sindh Police's Counter Terrorism Department (CTD).
A bomb disposal squad and forensic specialists at the June 19 crime scenes have collected evidence, including the remains of the explosives, he said.
Exploiting the virus lockdown
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah June 19 presided over an urgent meeting on the regional security situation with officers of several law enforcement agencies, including the Sindh Rangers and the CTD.
Shah directed the provincial police chief to conduct a thorough inquiry into the recent blasts.
"The meeting's participants agreed that militant outfits have been seeking to exploit the coronavirus crisis and distract law enforcement agencies, which have been preoccupied with lockdown-related duties," said a law enforcement official who attended the meeting and requested anonymity.
Shah asked all law enforcement agencies to strengthen their co-ordinated efforts to crack down on terrorist groups and intensify patrolling across the province, said the official.
Law enforcement agencies have picked up dozens of suspects belonging to recently banned Sindhi outfits across the province in a bid to find the culprits, he said.
In May, Pakistan's Interior Ministry banned Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz-Arisar (JSQM-A), the SLA and the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA) for their involvement in terror activities in Sindh Province.
The SLA is a terror front of Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSMM), which itself was banned in 2013. Shafi Burfat, who heads the SLA, lives in Europe in self-exile.
Meanwhile, the SRA emerged in 2015 after splintering from the SLA over financing and leadership disputes. Both groups have been involved in province-wide violence and targeted killings and have attacked or sabotaged security forces, railway tracks, natural gas pipelines and electricity pylons.
SLA and SRA militants have used the banner of JSQM-A, a Sindhi ethnic political group, to dodge crackdowns by law enforcement.
The recent terrorist acts "could be retaliation for imposing the ban on three Sindhi militant outfits and the crackdown on them", said Khatab of the Sindh CTD.
The Rangers have been especially prominent in pursuing militants.
In September 2013, when the federal government at the time announced a major crackdown on various criminal and proscribed militant groups -- including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) -- the Rangers were asked to spearhead the operation.
"Since its start, law enforcement agencies, particularly the Rangers, successfully shattered the networks of Taliban militants, criminal gangs, sectarian outfits and militant wings of ethno-political parties," said Saqib Sagheer, a journalist covering security issues in Karachi.
Because of successful security operations, the incidence of targeted killings, kidnapping for ransom, extortion and other crimes has declined significantly in Karachi, he said.