Nearly 80 Police Killed in 5-Week-Old Assault By Militants
KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) _ For 35 years, policeman Tahir Shah walked a beat on some of this sprawling city’s most dangerous streets and dreamed of his plans to retire to the peaceful mountains of the north this year.
But Shah’s Taimuria district became far more threatening last month when a militant ethnic group made security forces their primary target.
A week ago, Shah died when gunmen riddled him with dozens of bullets as he returned to his stationhouse. He was the 65th police officer to die in the line of duty in Karachi in the past five weeks. Since he died, 11 others have been killed.
Karachi, a city of 12 million and Pakistan’s commercial center, has been trapped for months in a fierce cycle of violence sparked by militants of the Mohajir Qaumi Movement making war against other Muslims and the government.
Terror attacks on Sunday killed 28 people in Karachi, including several people who were torutured before being killed execution-style.
So far this year nearly 200 members of the security force have been slaughtered. Dozens have been kidnapped, their bullet-riddled bodies found days later. Often their hands and feet were tied.
Most attacks are brazen, carried out during the day. Often by young men who don’t bother to cover their faces.
``Each time I leave the house my family prays that I will return safely,″ said Mohammed Kalim, a police constable living in one of the hardest hit areas in central Karachi.
Police stations have been attacked by militants brandishing rocket propelled grenade launchers. Police officers often patrol the more dangerous central and eastern districts in armored personnel carriers or in two-vehicle convoys.
In the rougher neighborhoods MQM activists have dug trenches and taken up positions in the maze of lanes and alley ways that weave through this city.
``They ambush the security forces and then disappear in the narrow maze of lanes where the security forces cannot enter,″ said Shakaib Qureshi, senior police official.
About two weeks ago six police officers were gunned down as they sat and drank tea in a roadside teahouse. A car rolled slowly past the teahouse and gunmen leaned out of the window and pumped the six with bullets.
Four died on the spot and two died later in hospital.
No one has been arrested.
Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto blames much of the violence on the largest faction of the MQM, led by Altaf Hussein. She accuses the group of harboring terrorists. She has offered to sit and talk to them but only if they lay down their weapons.
The MQM, who represent Indian muslims who settled in Pakistan after the subcontinent gained its independence in 1947, accuse Ms. Bhutto of discrimination in employment and education.
Hussein, who lives in England has been charged with a variety of crimes ranging from murder to extortion to kidnapping. He has also been convicted in absentia of ordering the kidnapping of an army major.
Many people _ including Cabinet members _ say the Karachi police are incapable of stopping the violence because they are poorly trained, underpaid and easily corrupted.
``Many of them can be bought,″ said Interior Minister Nasrullah Babaar. He said previous governments have used the police force to do its bidding, inducting their own people into the force and using it as a personal security force.
Senior police officials, who didn’t want to be quoted by name, say their forces are demoralized. They feel used by politicians, hated by most residents and targets of militants.
Nonetheless, there is little sympathy for the security force.
``The hatred against the police is natural,″ said Mohammed Wasim, a Karachi businessman.
``They arrest people without charges and release them after extorting money from their family,″ he said.
The average police officer earns about dlrs 70 a week. There are 22,000 deployed in Karachi, along with another 20,000 paramilitary rangers.
``My feeling is that of a commander who has lost more than 150 soldiers in battle,″ said Javed Iqbal, former police chief of Karachi.