Archive for the ‘New York Times’ Category


By Zia ur-Rehman

NOV. 7, 2015

KARACHI, Pakistan — Paramilitary troops have become ubiquitous around this sprawling Pakistani port city. They watch over police officers at traffic circles, their convoys patrol thoroughfares, their raids drive daily headlines.

After years of crime and militancy that had made Karachi a byword for violence, an extended operation by the paramilitary force — the Sindh Rangers, who are ultimately answerable to the powerful Pakistani military command — has been working. Officials and residents report that crime is notably down across the city.

But in the name of security, the force in recent months has also begun upending the city’s political order. The crackdown has expanded to target two powerful political parties that have long been at odds with the military establishment. And it has left a broad trail of human rights violations — including accusations of extrajudicial killings, in which officers shoot suspects after taking them into unlawful detention, according to rights advocates and members of those parties.

Security forces, above last month in Karachi, Pakistan, have been accused of rights violations.

Security forces, above last month in Karachi, Pakistan, have been accused of rights violations.

The crackdown, which began two years ago, was initially limited to the slums and outskirts of the city, where Taliban militants and gangsters wielded influence. But this year, the military ordered that the dragnet be thrown wider, especially targeting the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, or M.Q.M. The political party has controlled the city for decades through the powerful combination of a large ethnic support base, political acumen and armed gangs.

And in August, the Sindh Rangers arrested and brought charges of financing terrorism against Dr. Asim Hussain, a close aide to former President Asif Ali Zardari, who heads the Pakistan Peoples Party, or P.P.P. Several top leaders of the party, which in addition to its national profile controls the government of surrounding Sindh Province, have left the country, fearing arrest.

“We have dismantled the network of Taliban and criminal gangs of Lyari,” said one senior paramilitary security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the news media. (Lyari is the name of a poor Karachi neighborhood infamous for gang wars.) “Now, it is the turn of militant wings of political parties and those who provided finances to armed groups.”

The leaders of both the parties say they are being targeted for political reasons and accuse the Rangers, and their military masters, of overstepping their mandate and meddling in civilian politics. Interviews with the police and paramilitary officials and political leaders reveal that even among those who support the military, there is a growing sense that the country’s generals have made a concerted decision to wrest Karachi from the M.Q.M.’s control.

The intervention comes as the Pakistani military — and particularly its popular top commander, Gen. Raheel Sharif — has been ascendant in the nation’s affairs over the past year, sidelining the elected government on the most critical points of foreign policy and security questions.

In Karachi, the military’s main publicity tack in justifying its crackdown on the M.Q.M. has been to challenge the conventional wisdom about the party’s methods. Rather than treating it as a political party that employs gang violence, as most analysts describe it, the military is in effect categorizing it as a militant group with a political wing.

“The party has a strong and well-organized militant group who has been involved in every sort of terrorism,” said one intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a continuing operation. “Our main target is the M.Q.M.’s militant wing, not its political wing.”

The Rangers have staged raid after raid against the party’s interests over the past few months, including arresting senior party officials at Nine Zero, the nickname of the party’s headquarters in Karachi, long seen as above any police intervention.

Other kinds of pressure have been brought to bear as well.

Some in the local media sector say that Karachi news channels have been warned by the authorities not to cover the live speeches of Altaf Hussain, the leader of M.Q.M., who lives in London. He and his inner circle have also been the focus of a corruption and murder investigation by Scotland Yard; he is free on bail after being arrested in June.

Beyond that, there has been a rash of news reports linking the party to interests within India, adding the suggestion of treason to the other accusations against the party. The drumbeat has grown so intense that in late September, some M.Q.M. party leaders publicly urged clemency from the military and sought to dissociate the party from allegations of Indian ties.

“The M.Q.M. is a patriotic political party, and it will continue to be loyal to Pakistan without any condition,” the party said in a statement.

One result of the campaign has been a visible decline in the party’s ability to command loyalty on the street. It has long held the trump card of being able to shut down the city with protests. But on Sept. 12, a call to stage huge protests over the alleged extrajudicial killings of its workers by the Rangers failed to have much effect.

“Now, the M.Q.M. cannot close the city,” said one gas station manager. “It seems the armed workers have gone underground due to the ongoing operation.”

The M.Q.M. said that since the start of the Rangers crackdown, at least 54 of its workers have been killed in extrajudicial killings and the whereabouts of 231 activists are not known. The police and officials with the Rangers have denied those accusations.

In one case, a 40-year-old M.Q.M. activist and city employee named Sanaullah was arrested by law enforcement agencies on March 31 last year. His body was found the next day in a nearby town, and his widow, Nida Fatima, is convinced that he was summarily killed by the authorities. “If my husband was involved in any crime, he should’ve been presented in front of the court,” she said in an interview.

Although overall killings have gone down significantly in Karachi, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent rights monitoring group, says there has been a large increase in the number of killings by the police and paramilitary force — and that not all can be explained away as shootouts with determined militants. The group says that at least 430 people were killed in shootouts with the law enforcement agencies in the first nine months of 2015.

Asad Iqbal Butt, an official with the human rights group, said that given the vast increase in detention and investigation powers given to the security agencies by recent legal changes, the killings are even more inexplicable. “After being empowered to keep a suspect in custody for 90 days for interrogation, there is no excuse for such killings,” Mr. Butt said.

Several law enforcement officials, however, insist that the majority of such so-called encounter killings have been with the Taliban and other militant or criminal syndicates that have no compunction against shooting at the police or the Rangers.

“We are fighting with well-organized militant groups that have killed more than 65 law enforcers only this year in ongoing operations,” one senior police official said.

Even as the party has come under immense pressure, political analysts say any talk of the M.Q.M.’s total disintegration is premature. That is in part because the party still maintains a vast support base among Karachi’s large ethnic Mohajir minority, which has not shown any signs of mass defection to any other party despite the recent upheaval.

Some analysts believe the politician Imran Khan and his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, have the most potential of any group to cut into the M.Q.M.’s influence in Karachi, especially given the widespread image of the party as being acceptable to the military.

But Talat Aslam, a senior editor at The News International in Karachi, said that Mr. Khan’s party, known as P.T.I., had not yet had much electoral success in the city and that at times it had misplayed its hand here.

“Very often, the P.T.I. gives the impression of being a force of outsiders that could arrive out of the blue to ‘liberate’ the captive and enslaved Mohajirs from the M.Q.M., which rules over them by force alone — a description that does not always go down well with the electorate,” Mr. Aslam said.

Political observers say the most likely consequence of the continuing paramilitary crackdown will be that no single political party will now be able to control the city. But for some here, particularly within the business sector, the improvement in overall violence has been worth the political upheaval.

“We do not care about the politicians,” said Atiq Mir, a leader of the local merchants’ community. “Peace is returning to Karachi because of the steps taken by the Rangers.”



by Zia ur-Rehman and Salman Masood

January 16, 2015

KARACHI, Pakistan — Clashes between the police and protesters outside the French Consulate in Karachi on Friday left four people, including two journalists, with gunshot wounds as demonstrations erupted across Pakistan against the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and its publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

The Karachi protest was led by the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest religious party. The demonstrators threw stones at riot police officers, who responded with tear gas, water cannons and gunfire.

A photographer for Agence France-Presse, Asif Hassan, was shot in the chest and was “out of danger” after emergency surgery, said Dr. Seemi Jamali, head of the emergency ward at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center in Karachi. The news agency said it was trying to determine whether Mr. Hassan had been specifically targeted.


A protest on Friday in Peshawar, Pakistan, against the French satirical newspaper. In Karachi, four people had gunshot wounds. CreditArshad Arbab/European Pressphoto Agency 

On Thursday, the Pakistani Parliament passed a resolution condemning the cartoon as hate speech and calling on the international community to “take a decisive step to stop such practice.”

“Freedom of expression should not be misused as a means to attack or hurt public sentiments and religious beliefs,” said the resolution, which was passed with cross-party support.

In Islam, visual depictions of the Prophet Muhammad are widely considered to be forbidden and deeply offensive. Irreverent Western depictions of Muhammad have set off violent protests several times in recent years, and that was the case again in several countries on Friday. In Niger, at least four were reported dead when a protest march turned violent, and many were reported injured when riot policemen clashed with protesters in Algeria, Reuters reported.

The public reaction in Pakistan to the Charlie Hebdo shootings was initially muted, but it started to heat up on Tuesday when a cleric in the northern city of Peshawar led a small crowd that praised the killers, Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, for having “defended the honor of the prophet of Islam.”

On Friday, lawyers boycotted the courts in Peshawar and Multan, instead taking to the streets to protest. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, founder of the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, addressed a large rally in Lahore.

“It is time for us Muslims to unite,” he said. “Otherwise, the West will continue with such acts.”

The most serious violence occurred in Karachi, the country’s commercial capital, where protesters yelled slogans calling for the expulsion of the French ambassador and the severing of diplomatic ties with France.

In an apparent bid to enter the consulate, protesters pelted police officers with stones. The police responded with baton charges and water cannons, and tried to disperse the crowd by firing gunshots in the air. The police said some protesters wore motorcycle helmets and had guns. “They want to harm the consulate building,” one officer said at the scene of the protest.

Salman Khan, a protest leader, said 15 people had been arrested. “Protesting insults against the prophet is our Islamic and democratic right,” he said.

A few streets from the French Consulate, a group of civil society activists and members of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party held a separate demonstration against terrorism and Islamist militancy to commemorate the one-month anniversary of a Pakistani Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar that killed 150 people, most of them children.

Demonstrators brandished placards that read, “Silence is criminal,” and, “Hey Taliban leave our kids alone.” Similar protests took place in Islamabad and Lahore.

“The people gathered here could be bombed, shot or stoned,” said Sharmila Farooqi, a minister in the Sindh provincial government. “But their courage shows that they are frustrated with militancy and want the elimination of the Taliban.”


BY Zia ur-Rehman

January 11, 2015

KARACHI, Pakistan — At least 62 people were killed on Sunday when a passenger bus crashed into an oil tanker on the outskirts of Karachi.

The bus was carrying 62 passengers inside and 10 on the roof, according to rescue workers at the scene. It hit the oil tanker early Sunday morning, while en route to the city of Shikarpur, in Sindh Province, said Rao Anwaar, a senior police official from Malir Town in the Karachi area.

Dr. Seemi Jamali, who is in charge of the emergency department at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center in Karachi, said that 62 bodies had been brought to the hospital.

“Most of the bodies are not recognizable as they were burned severely,” she said, adding that the bodies would be identified through their DNA.

The chief minister of Sindh, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, ordered an investigation into the crash and directed local officials to make arrangements to transfer the victims’ bodies to their hometowns.

Rescue workers and officials said that it was one of the worst traffic accidents in the country in recent years.

“The majority of the passengers were sleeping in the bus at the time of the accident, and only a few passengers could jump out of the bus windows, escaping unhurt,” Mr. Anwaar said.

The crash was the third major traffic accident in Sindh Province in the past year, said Zahid Farooq, an official at the Urban Resource Center, a nongovernmental organization based in Karachi. “It is mainly because of the terrible conditions of road infrastructure,” he said.

In November, a bus bound for Karachi carrying passengers from the Swat Valley collided with a truck in the Khairpur District, killing 58 people, including 18 children. In another accident in April, 42 people were killed after a bus slammed into a tractor-trailer.

A version of this article appears in print on January 12, 2015, on page A5 of the New York edition with the headline: Pakistan: Dozens Die as Bus Collides With Truck.


By Zia Ur Rehman

September 18, 2014

KARACHI, Pakistan:  A liberal Muslim scholar who had been accused of blasphemy for a speech he gave during a visit to the United States was shot and killed in Karachi on Thursday, the city police said.

The scholar, Muhammad Shakil Auj, was the dean of Islamic Studies at the state-run University of Karachi.

Unidentified gunmen on a motorbike attacked the vehicle he was riding in on his way to a reception at his honour at the Iranian Consulate.

Dr. Auj was shot in the head and neck and died immediately, officials said. A female student in the back of the car was shot in the arm and was treated at a hospital.

A week earlier, a visiting religious scholar at the same Islamic studies department, Maulana Masood Baig, was also shot dead by unknown attackers.

Dr. Auj, 54, had earlier complained to the police about death threats he began receiving after delivering a speech in the United States in 2012, his colleagues and the police said.

Nasir Lodhi, a senior police official, said that Dr. Auj told the police that four professors at the University of Karachi had accused him of blasphemy for comments he made during that speech. Mr. Lodhi said he could not say where the speech was made, or the nature of the offending comments.

Dr. Auj lodged a criminal complaint against the four professors, who were later arrested by the police. One of them, Dr. Abdul Rasheed, had previously held Dr. Auj’s position as dean of Islamic studies at the university. The four men face trial but are currently free on bail, the police said.

Around the same time, a religious seminary in Karachi issued a fatwa against Dr. Auj, accusing him of blasphemy and calling for his death.

Pir Muhammad Shah, a senior police official, said the four professors were being questioned again after Dr. Auj’s killing. “At this stage, it is premature to say anything about the killing of Auj.”

Blasphemy is punishable by death under Pakistani law, and accusations of blasphemy have inspired a rising tide of vigilante killings in recent years that are seen as a sign of growing intolerance in the country.

Human rights groups say the laws are frequently abused in pursuit of personal or professional grudges.

Dr. Auj, who was considered a progressive liberal in his field, had written 15 books about Islam and was a regular participant in television debates about religious issues, according to a profile on the University of Karachi website.

Last month, the government awarded him a presidential medal of distinction for his contribution in the fields of education and research.

The Karachi police chief, Ghulam Qadir Thebo, announced a reward of two million rupees, the equivalent of about $20,000, for information leading to the arrest of Dr. Auj’s killers.

His students mounted a protest outside Karachi University. On campus, some teachers said they would indefinitely boycott their classes.

“The government has failed to protect our teachers,” said Ahmad Ali Shah, a student at the Islamic studies department, during the protest.


By Salman Masood and Zia ur-Rehman

September 12, 2014

ISLAMABAD — If there were just one image to evoke the chaos of the protests that have paralyzed this city and brought Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government to the brink of collapse over the last month, it would surely be that of a shipping container.

The authorities initially stacked the huge metal containers at crucial travel points around Islamabad, the country’s capital, to serve as roadblocks and barricades to control the protesters. But the rectangular metal boxes were soon commandeered by the demonstrators, who began using them as speaking platforms and temporary housing. Many of the containers became billboards, too, spray-painted with antigovernment slogans like “Go Nawaz Go” and “Revolution.”

Before long, the hulking steel boxes of red, blue or burgundy seemed to be everywhere, cluttering roadsides and sidewalks and snarling traffic — a lingering nuisance that residents here wish would go away.

On Tuesday, Justice Athar Minallah of the Islamabad High Court ordered the city administration to  remove the ‘unnecessary containers’ within a week. Justice Minallah also ordered the police to vacate public schools buildings, where at least 20,000 officers were billeted since they were marshalled in mid-August to maintain order.

Islamabad is not used to having life disrupted by vast traffic jams, barricaded streets and teeming political rallies. It tends to be a relatively quiet and diciplined city compared with others in the country, and the government usually keeps it tidy. But the protests have derailed ordinary life here for weeks, residents say, and things are only just beginning to inch back to normal.

“People are getting tired of the protests because things are at a standstill,” said Mariam Chaudhry, a talk-show host on state-run television. “Movement across town is restricted. One has to think before going anywhere. Other parts of the city also seem empty-ish. There are fewer people in the markets.”

Public schools were supposed to reopen Aug. 25, but officials postponed the start to Sept. 3 because of the protests. Some schools have yet to reopen because the police still occupy their buildings, annoying parents and teachers. “It’s been 20 days of continuous holidays,” said one parent, Shams Abbasi.

Businesses have also been disrupted and merchants in the capital say they have suffered huge financial losses. Some placed the blame on the organizers of the protests, the opposition leaders Imran Khan, a former cricketer, and the Muslim preacher Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri.

“After 26 days of protest with no fruitful results, it shows that the two leaders have failed in achieving any of their objectives and instead they disturbed the lives of the people,” Muhammad Ashraf, a restaurant owner, said. At Depilex, a well-known salon in the capital, the first week of protests kept many customers away. “Business is only picking up now,” said Shahbaz Masih, 32, a hairstylist.

A representative of the city’s business community, Ajmal Baloch, who filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court against Mr. Khan and Mr. Qadri over the disruptions, estimates that merchants in Islamabad have suffered losses of at least 10 billion rupees, around $100 million, a figure that could not be verified independently.

The containers are also a drain on public finances — the government is paying $35 to $40 a day to rent each one, officials said. Many were commandeered on little or no notice by the police, who were hurrying to use them to block the path of the protesters.

“Around 1,000 shipping containers, some of them loaded with different goods, have been placed for blocking roads in Islamabad,” said Fazal Manan Jadoon, a leader of a trade association of Pakistani truckers based in Karachi. “It has caused severe loss to the traders,” he said.

Day laborers have also suffered. Akbar Ali, who came to Islamabad in search of work at the beginning of August, said that he had been unable to find any day work because of the protests.

The police have deployed large numbers of officers around major government buildings to keep protesters out at the expense of regular police work elsewhere in the capital. Officials say that has left the city more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

“There are 56 checkpoints across the capital which remained unmanned for 16 days,” said a senior police official at the Aabpara Police Station, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he had not been authorized to speak to reporters. He said there was concern that crowds of protesters would overwhelm officers at checkpoints and torture them in retaliation for previous clashes.

At the sit-in protests outside the Parliament building, Mr. Khan and Mr. Qadri spend their time in two heavy steel containers that are thought to be bulletproof. Around them, thousands of supporters brave the intermittent rain showers, living on the streets in an increasingly unhygienic environment with little access to food or toilets.

Constitution Avenue, where protesters have set up a tent city, reeks and is strewed with litter. A doctor at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences said that a number of protesters had come to the hospital recently suffering from diarrhea. Health officials say the danger of an outbreak of infectious disease among protesters at the sit-in is high.

The protesters seem undaunted.

Naeema Naseer, 35, one of hundreds of women who joined Mr. Qadri’s protest march from Lahore, said that she had not expected to stay in Islamabad so long. “It is true that we are now missing our families back home,” Ms. Naseer said. “But we are determined to stay here until the demands are met.”

For now, the containers remain. On Thursday, at a major traffic square leading to the government district, several had finally been pushed out of the way, but still loomed over the traffic from the side. One sat diagonally on the street, providing just enough room for cars to get by in a narrow single file.


By Zia Ur Rehman and Declan Walsh

August 11, 2014

KARACHI, Pakistan — Karachi’s embattled police force recently passed a grim milestone — the killing of its 100th police officer this year, putting the force on track to exceed the 2013 toll of 166 police deaths, which was itself a record.

Some killings stemmed from the factors that have roiled Karachi, a restless megalopolis of 20 million people, for decades: ethnic politics, sectarian militancy and old-fashioned criminal gangs. But much of the toll came from the city’s newest force for violent chaos, the Pakistani Taliban.

The Taliban have been steadily expanding in Karachi for two years, running extortion rackets, killing political rivals and carrying out audacious attacks on prominent targets, including the city airport in June.

Now they have trained their sights on the city police. In the sprawling Pashtun slums on the city’s eastern and northern flanks, Taliban militants have gunned down police officers, assaulted poorly defended police stations and sent suicide bombers to assassinate top police commanders.

The killings offer new proof, officials say, that the guerrilla war that was once confined to the tribal belt in northwestern Pakistan, the Taliban’s stamping ground, has spread to its biggest city.

“It’s a very serious threat,” said Ghulam Qadir Thebo, the Karachi police chief. “The Taliban are well trained and well organized, with a network that is linked to global jihad.”

The Taliban threat has spurred the police, previously known for ineptitude and corruption, to take aggressive action. Security has been tightened at police stations and around police officers’ homes. More than 1,000 former soldiers have been inducted into the force. And officers have mounted a series of hard-hitting operations, in conjunction with the paramilitary Rangers and intelligence services, that have hit the Taliban hard but have also drawn accusations of police brutality and extrajudicial executions.

At least 201 bodies turned up in Karachi in the first six months of this year, many with signs of having been tortured or shot at close range, according to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. The group linked many of the killings to the security forces.

One case that stirred outrage involved Noman Khan, a 15-year-old who disappeared on June 28. In interviews, about two dozen witnesses said uniformed men had picked up the teenager as he ate watermelon with his friends after a game of cricket.

Nine days later, his body was returned to his family. The family and human rights activists said it showed signs of torture.

Police officials initially described the boy as an extortionist and said he had died in an exchange of gunfire. Then they said he was a member of the Taliban.

“This was my son,” his father, Bakht Zada, said in a recent interview, with tears in his eyes. He held an old photograph of the boy standing beside Shahid Afridi, a former captain of the Pakistani cricket team, whom Mr. Zada described as his son’s hero.

A police spokesman did not respond to the family’s accusations that officers had killed Noman, and said the matter was still under investigation. A friend of Noman’s, Ismail Khan, was later charged with the murder of a police officer.

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Exactly who bears responsibility for the spate of extrajudicial killings is unclear. Senior police officials privately accuse the military’s intelligence services of committing the worst abuses, and complain that their men bear the brunt of Taliban reprisals. One retired officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, offered a still-murkier explanation: that in some cases, intelligence operatives tortured suspected militants, then handed them to allied police officers for execution.

Whatever the truth, experts say, the growing spate of killings on both sides amounts to a shadow war that, for now, is limited to Karachi’s Pashtun neighborhoods.

“It’s about territorial control,” Laurent Gayer, a French academic and author of a recent book, “Karachi: Ordered Disorder and the Struggle for the City,” said in an interview.

“The Taliban have taken over areas, brought in their people and established strongholds,” Mr. Gayer said. “The question is how far they can go.”

In many ways, Karachi has become an adjunct of the conflict in the tribal belt. The city’s militant factions are organized according to conflict-hit northwestern districts like Waziristan, the Swat Valley and Mohmand. Their extortion rackets target ethnic Pashtun traders, and their guns have been trained on members of the Awami National Party, a secular Pashtun party that opposes the Taliban ideology.

The Taliban’s internecine disputes, often over the proceeds of crime, also spill onto the streets of Karachi, although in the past year, the Swat Taliban have become the dominant faction since their leader, Maulana Fazlullah, assumed overall control of the movement.

All of that has made the Taliban powerful players in the city’s already complicated mosaic of violent gangs linked to crime, politics and ethnic groups. Taliban attacks have killed 80 members of the Awami National Party, the party says, and largely driven it from the city. Polio transmission rates have shot up after militant attacks on vaccination teams. And the police have come under unprecedented attack.

In January, a militant suicide bomber killed Muhammad Aslam Khan, widely known as Chaudry Aslam, perhaps the city’s most famous police officer, who used to boast of his prowess in capturing and killing Taliban fighters. In the section of the city where the Taliban are most active, only five of 15 police stations are now considered safe, said Irfan Ali Baloch, a senior police commander.

The police station in one neighborhood, Mominabad, offers an example of the threat. Militants have bombed it three times in recent months, officers said. One policeman was killed and two others were wounded in an attack in June, as they waited to have their vehicle repaired. In July, a police inspector was shot dead as he traveled to work.

The authorities have responded by raising the station walls and installing surveillance cameras. Yet several officers said they had applied for a transfer. Some are considering quitting the force.

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The officers, like several other people interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to speak to the news media, or feared reprisals.

Even the traffic police have come under fire. After June 30, when two traffic officers were shot dead in the neighborhood of Orangi, the traffic police were issued firearms. “We’re a soft target,” said one officer directing traffic at a busy junction.

A police-led crackdown on the Taliban, which started in September 2013, has had some success. A Taliban militant, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the police had killed several leaders of the Mohmand Taliban, which were believed to have killed Mr. Khan, and seriously disrupted the group’s activities in Karachi. In other areas, the police have wrested territory from militant control.

Recognizing that some officers are vulnerable in their homes, senior officers say they plan to move about 225 officers into secure accommodations. Western donors are helping, too. Since 2011, the State Department has donated $29 million to the police in Sindh Province, whose capital is Karachi, for training, equipment and vehicles.

The police are further hamstrung by intense politicization in their ranks — senior officers are often chosen for their allegiance to a political party — while the force is dismally understaffed. Karachi has just one active-duty police officer for every 1,524 inhabitants, said Mr. Gayer, the academic.

The rich and powerful contribute to that weakness. Of the city’s 27,000 officers, including clerical staff members, about 8,500 are permanently engaged in “V.I.P. duty” — guarding businessmen, politicians and government officials.

Experts have long called for an overhaul of the police force as an urgently needed step to bolster Pakistan’s stability. “The people of Pakistan are resilient, but state institutions are failing them,” Hassan Abbas, author of “The Taliban Revival,” a new book on the militant threat, said in an interview.

The Taliban, meanwhile, claimed their 102nd police victim on Thursday, the police said.

Gunmen ambushed the victim, Muhammad Sajjad Abbasi, a 35-year-old constable, as he pulled into a gas station on his motorcycle. He had been dressed in civilian clothing, the police said.

It was the fifth police death at the Pirabad police station this year, and Haq Nawaz, the officer in charge, said the matter was under investigation. But the most likely culprits, he added, are the Taliban.

Zia ur-Rehman reported from Karachi, and Declan Walsh from London. Hasan Abdullah contributed reporting from Karachi.



By Zia Ur Rehman and Declan Walsh 

JULY 26, 2014

SWAT VALLEY, Pakistan — As battle rages in North Waziristan, where the Pakistani military says it has killed more than 500 militants, unfinished business from the army’s first major assault on the Taliban lingers painfully in the Swat Valley, at the other end of Pakistan’s Pashtun belt.

Five years ago, Pakistani soldiers flooded into Swat as part of an operation to banish the Taliban from the valley. The offensive became a cherished victory for Pakistani generals, who presented it as evidence of their counterinsurgency prowess.

But a steady drumbeat of killings, by both militants and soldiers, has whipped up fear in Swat in recent years and blighted hopes for a return to normality in a place known for its beauty and tourist industry. Taliban fighters have slowly crept back to attack and kill pro-government community leaders. The army faces accusations of gross human rights abuses, including the execution of at least dozens of detainees whose bodies have recently been returned to their families.

These child refugees seek to escape the fighting between the military and Islamist militants, but the violence is spreading.

And Maulana Fazlullah, the ruthless cleric and militant commander who led the original Swat uprising in 2007, has evaded capture and risen to greater heights as the supreme leader of the Pakistani Taliban.

“For a long time there was a narrative of the Swat operation as a total success,” said Rahimullah Yousafzai, a veteran journalist based in Peshawar. “Now that success is being questioned.”

Few doubt that conditions in Swat have improved dramatically. Bloodied bodies no longer hang from traffic lights in the town square where the Taliban once executed their enemies. Markets are bustling, and more girls are attending school.

But the campaign of Taliban violence, though sporadic, has rattled public confidence. “This is a controlled peace,” said Akbar Khan, a 38-year-old bookseller. And it offers a sobering check on the limits of military engagement at a time when the army is engaged in a fresh anti-Taliban drive in the tribal district of North Waziristan.

There, more than one million people have fled their homes since the operation started on June 15. The military, which tightly controls media access, has portrayed it as an unalloyed success, drip-feeding reports of battlefield victories to the Pakistani media. On Saturday, a spokesman said its forces had killed 531 militants and lost just 34 men.

Similarly triumphant claims followed the 2009 Swat offensive, but some successes proved to be temporary. Although hundreds of Taliban fighters were captured, many more slipped across the porous border into the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan, where they have successfully regrouped.

In the last two years, small pockets of fighters have infiltrated back into Swat, moving along remote mountain trails on horseback and on foot, according to villagers.

One of their most infamous attacks was on Malala Yousafzai, the teenage schoolgirl who was shot in the head in October 2012 but survived her injuries and became a global icon.

But for the most part, the Taliban gunmen have targeted the Village Defense Committees — local militias, mounted by the army to keep the Taliban at bay — which lost nine leaders to Taliban attacks in 2013, and eight so far this year. In the most recent shooting, on Tuesday, gunmen opened fire on Umar Hayat Khan, the committee leader in Takhta Band village, as he said his prayers in a local mosque.

Two weeks earlier, gunmen killed Khan Saib, a landowner who had just returned from self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia. A relative said that Mr. Saib had fled Swat after the Taliban demolished his house in 2009, and had been attacked twice before his death.

The shootings have scared Swat residents because their targets are prominent community leaders — often landowners or members of the Awami National Party, a secular party that has borne the brunt of Taliban violence across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province.

The army itself has been another cause of concern in Swat as it has cast a wide net for militants.

Human-rights groups say that hundreds of suspected militants have died in military custody since 2009. In 2010, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, then the army chief, announced an investigation into a video that appeared to show soldiers executing six detainees. The result of the investigation was never made public; some activists questioned whether it ever took place.

Since April 2013, some Swat detainees have turned up dead, their bodies quietly returned to their families for burial. Many have reportedly been held in an army-run internment center in Kohat, 30 miles south of Peshawar. Relatives say the army often attributes the deaths to heart attacks — an explanation that human-rights activists say is consistent with similar violations elsewhere in northwestern Pakistan.

“Most of these detainees are in their 20s or early 30s. It’s unusual for men of that age to die from a heart attack,” said Mustafa Qadri of Amnesty International. In Swat, the wives and children of detained men hold regular protests against the military. The most recent took place on July 20 in the village of Kanju, where women waved photos and held placards calling for judicial intervention. “Let the courts decide if they are guilty,” read one.

While mistreatment of detainees offends rights groups, many Swat residents have a more ambivalent attitude, said Mr. Yousafzai, the journalist. “The community is very polarized,” he said. “Many people don’t want to hear about the suffering of militants or their families.”

Public opinion had been further divided by plans for three permanent military bases in Swat. Some citizens want the army to leave; others fear a return to civilian rule would lead to a Taliban resurgence. “People remember that the last time, the civilians ran away,” Mr. Yousafzai said.

The tensions and violence have stymied efforts to revive the local economy, despite some progress. The valley’s ski resort at Malam Jabba, which had been destroyed by the Taliban, hosted a five-day “snow festival” in March; a summer festival is scheduled for early August. The valley’s musicians and dancers have returned from the cities where they fled in 2009.

But caution is widespread. Kiran, a dancer who would give only her first name, said she refused to work outside the main town, Mingora. Some business owners have left the valley over security fears. And tourism numbers are way down, said Zahid Khan, head of the Swat hotel owners’ association.

Meanwhile, Mr. Fazlullah, the Taliban leader, is using his Afghan sanctuary to step up the pressure. His fighters killed a two-star general, Maj. Gen. Sanaullah Khan Niazi, in a roadside bombing in neighboring Dir district in September 2013. His fighters have infiltrated Karachi, the port city where they run a campaign of extortion and assassination targeting Pashtun political and business leaders.

More recently, Mr. Fazlullah has increased violence inside Swat in a bid to shore up his authority inside the Taliban, following a split in the militant ranks last May. In a rare video message released on May 19, he directed suicide bombers to attack “the forces of evil.” The military, for its part, is focused on the campaign in North Waziristan. But that has also touched Swat, in the form of refugees who have made an arduous journey across northwestern Pakistan to the verdant valley in search of shelter.

The authorities in Swat have registered almost 600 refugees from Waziristan, many of whom are living in cramped rented accommodations.

Speaking at a religious charity’s food distribution event, Hajji Nooruddin, a 50-year-old truck driver from Miram Shah, said he was sharing a house with 25 other people.

Asif Nawaz, 21, said he was stuck in a traffic jam for two days as he fled North Waziristan. During that time, he saw two mothers take the bodies of their dead infants to the soldiers, shouting that they had died from hunger, he said with tears in his eyes.

However, many of the refugees said they were glad to have reached Swat — a place of relative safety, compared with North Waziristan.

An employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from the Swat District in Pakistan.