Between the extremists and the city

January 19, 2014

Between the extremists and the city

In the last many days, much has been written, aired and tweeted about the 52-year-old Karachi ‘Super Cop’, Mohammad Aslam Khan who was assassinated on January 9, 2014, when his enemies finally caught up with him. He met a violent end after a bomb targeted his convoy on the Lyari Expressway, near Essa Nagri.

Most have waxed lyrical of his heroism, with some terming him a martyr. Others ask why he cannot be conferred with Nishan-e-Haider, since he gave his life defending the motherland. Still, others insist his assassination as a good enough reason not to negotiate with the Taliban. Even the Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, has lauded his services in eliminating terrorism.

"His killing has demonstrated the strength of the Taliban and other militant elements who engage in sophisticated planning to target the adversary," said defence analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi. "…and maybe they received some information from inside," he added.

The Mohmand agency chapter of the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack. Sajjad Mohmand, a spokesman for the militant group said Aslam was on their hit-list and was attacked because he was involved in killing Taliban prisoners in the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) where he headed the anti-extremist cell.

Better known as Chaudhry Aslam, this burly, gun-toting Karachi cop, dressed in his signature bedraggled white shalwar kameez, never wore a flak jacket. He was also quite well known for the ruthless and unorthodox means of cleansing city of criminal elements -- through what many believed, torture and killing suspects.

He claimed these were in self defence during encounters.

Like so many who knew the super cop, Jameel Yusuf, the former head of the Citizen Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) is saddened by the death of a man who had "guts and true grit". He said, he foiled a number of terrorist attacks by the Taliban before religious events like Chehlums and Ashuras, and in his own way "made Karachi a safer place".

"He was consistent and bold in his fight against the Taliban. He hit and hurt them and didn’t bargain a deal with them," said Yusuf.

According to him, the Taliban were well ensconced in criminal activities including extortion, cargo thefts, kidnappings, hijacking, etc. "Sadly, the state is not looking at the money trail," he said, in their bid to fight terrorism.

Further, said Yusuf, Aslam made himself easily recognisable by his regular appearances on the television. "His biggest mistake was challenging them on television; that really annoyed them."

After the attempt on his life, in 2011, when a Taliban suicide bomber drove a van through Aslam’s front gate, killing eight people, he had brazenly said he would bury his attackers in the crater they had left in his yard. "I will give my life, but I wonbow to terrorists," he had said.

The vacuum left by Aslam may seem hard to fill. Thus Yusuf emphasises that unless the state devises a system of "incentive-based promotions" and sets up an independent and "credible board" that oversees such promotions, they will not be motivated.

In 2013, the Supreme Court directed the Sindh government to withdraw promotions given over the past decade to a dozen police officers from the anti-terror units of the law enforcement agency. Aslam was among them. Yusuf said: "The fabricated and real promotions need to be looked into but what is important to note is why would any cop want to take on the Taliban if the outcome is demotion or being killed?"

However, he added, the rewards and promotions must be linked to convictions of the criminals.

 Chaudhry Aslam and the MQM

For many who have been a witness to Karachi’s brutal history, Aslam’s assassination has brought to mind the interesting transfer of this name from one hit-list to the other -- from MQM’s to that of the Taliban’s. According to reports, he had survived nine assassination attempts and been shot five times.

Hailing him as a hero, it is interesting to note the change of heart of the MQM with its Chief Altaf Hussain declaring him a martyr, when he was behind the capture of MQM’s Saulat Mirza (convicted for murdering managing director of KESC, Shahid Hamid) and Ajmal Pahari.

Speaking to TNS, MQM’s spokesperson Haider Abbas Rizvi said Aslam acted as a "firewall between the extremists and the city".

While not denying the valour of the CID chief, a Karachi-based journalist, requesting anonymity, told TNS that after he made peace with the MQM, he became their ally.

He remained among the last three cops (over 150 have so far been eliminated in the last 20 years), who played an active role in the Operation Clean-up of the 1990s.

Carried out between 1992-1994, this armed military intelligence programme was led by the Rangers and launched in 1992 by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif; it continued during Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s term.

Explaining the tempering of feelings, MQM’s Rizvi said: "There were many officers who were not involved in persecution of the MQM, but the state had projected them as such", and Aslam was one of them.

"Our relationship with Aslam not only normalised, it even got better and dare I say got stronger, once we realised that he was pursuing the same agenda as ours -- fighting extremism and banned outfits," he added.

Another Karachi-based journalist, speaking on condition that his name be withheld, said: "During operations in Lyari, he killed an important member of the Lyari gang warfare, allowed the MQM to enter the area, and in the process, created the impression that the place was one of the most lawless areas of Karachi. At the same time, I concede there are certain areas under the influence of the Taliban, but how much and how many, we don’t know for certain… but if members of Pathan families are regularly picked up and arrested for being members of the TTP, it strengthens the perception that the TTP is getting strong in Karachi… I am not saying there is no TTP… I am saying there is no conclusive evidence about the size of its influence in Karachi."

But with the "firewall" having collapsed with the assassination of the "Taliban hunter", does it mean Karachi will be in the grip of Taliban-style mayhem?

Between the extremists and the city