Sindh: Resurfacing Disorders

The security situation in Sindh deteriorated through 2023 and, given the present chaotic social and economic conditions across the country, is unlikely to witness any improvement in the near future.

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Retired Justice Maqbool Baqar [File Photo]

On January 14, 2024, the caretaker Sindh Chief Minister (CM) Justice (Retd) Maqbool Baqar expressed his distress over “the surge in crimes in the major cities and rural areas” which include “targeted killing and extortion among other serious crimes”. He added that “Journalists, lawyers, doctors, businessmen, and other professionals face a bigger threat to their lives and property, but the law enforcement apparatus continues to be complacent.”

Meanwhile, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Sindh recorded 41 terrorism-linked fatalities (17 civilians, 12 Security Force, SF personnel and 12 militants) in 2023, as compared to 21 fatalities (12 civilians, two SF personnel and seven militants) in 2022, an increase of 95.23 per cent. The fatalities in 2022 were the lowest in a year since 2000, when SATP started compiling data on conflicts in Pakistan. Significantly, on year-on-year basis, overall fatalities had declined in Sindh between 2014 and 2022, with the exception of 2020. The highest terrorism-related fatalities in the province were reported in 2013, at 1,656.

Civilian fatalities jumped from 12 in 2022 to 17 in 2023, an increase of 41.66 per cent. Of the 17 civilian victims in 2023, five lost their lives in five incidents of targeted killing. In 2022, four civilians were killed in three incidents of targeted killing.

There was a six-fold increase in the number of SF personnel killed, from two in 2022 to 12 in 2023. A high of 148 SF fatalities was reported in 2013. However, according to the performance report presented to the Sindh Police chief Rifat Mukhtar Raja on January 2, 2024, at least 21 Police personnel from the Sindh Police lost their lives in the line of duty in encounters during coordinated efforts against street crimes and terrorism in 2023. No further details were provided regrading how many those killings were linked to incidents of terrorism.

According to the SATP database, terrorist fatalities also increased from seven in 2022 to 12 in 2023. A maximum of 315 terrorists were killed in 2014.

There were two major incidents (each involving at least three fatalities) in 2023. In the night of February 17, 2023, a group of suicide attackers stormed into the Karachi Police Chief’s building in the Shahrah-e-Faisal area of the city. At least five terrorists and four others, including two rangers and one Policeman, were killed and 18 people were injured in the attack and subsequent operation. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack. The other major incident was on July 26, 2023, when unidentified assailants opened fire on the car of Sindh Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA) Muhammad Aslam Abro in Phase 7 of the Defence Housing Authority in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh, in which three persons, including Abro’s brother and nephew, were killed, while another person sustained injuries. The lawmaker, however, escaped the attack as he was not travelling in the vehicle. The victims were travelling to Jacobabad from their residence located near Khayaban-e-Shamsheer.

There was one major incident in 2022. On April 26, at least five persons, including three Chinese nationals, their Pakistani driver and a security guard, were killed when a women suicide bomber blew herself up near a van transporting Chinese nationals from the Karachi University Hostel to the Confucius Institute in Karachi.

There were eight incidents of explosion in 2023, resulting in 12 fatalities, in addition to 10 such incidents in 2022, which also resulted in 12 fatalities. One suicide attack (February 17, mentioned above) was reported in 2023. 2022 also recorded one suicide attack (April 26, mentioned above).

Karachi remained the epicentre of terrorism in the province, as in previous years. Out of 29 Districts in Sindh, Karachi alone reported 37 of 41 fatalities in the whole year. The remaining four fatalities were reported from Qambar Shahdadkot, Malir, Shaheed Benazirabad and Thatta Districts. In 2022, out of 21 fatalities reported in the Province, Karachi alone had recorded 19. The remaining two fatalities were reported from Jacobabad and Jamshoro Districts.

Apart from Islamist terrorist groups, including TTP, Sindhi separatist groups, such as the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA) and Sindhudesh Liberation Army (SLA), remained violently active. On August 1, 2023, SRA shot dead Mullah Sardar Hussain Arain, a leading figure of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), the front organisation of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), in the Qazi Ahmed town of Shaheed Benazirabad District. Similarly, on February 29, SRA shot dead Syed Khalid Raza, former ‘commander’ of Al Badr, outside his residence at Block-7 of Gulistan-i-Jauhar town in Karachi. Syed Khalid Raza was the deputy director of the Darul Arqam Schools in the Karachi region. SRA claimed responsibility for the killing through its Telegram channel, describing Raza as an operative of the religious extremist terrorist Al-Badr and an instrument of Pakistani state agencies.

Meanwhile, the Sindhi nationalist groups continued with their protest against state atrocities against people and groups associated with the Sindhi Nationalist Movement. On the occasion of the 120th birth anniversary of Sindhi nationalist leader Ghulam Murtaza Syed, the Jeay Sindh Freedom Movement (JSFM) held a grand rally in the Sann Town of Jamshoro District. During the rally, the workers carried banners and placards against the forced conversion of Sindhi Hindu girls and the enforced disappearance in Sindh, of political activists from Sindh and Balochistan. Participants in the rally shouted slogans against the ‘occupation’ by the army. Messages on banners held by people in the rally included, “Stop Enforced Disappearances of Sindhi Baloch and Pashtoons”, “Stop Forcible Conversion of Sindhi Hindu Girls”, “Stop Transfer of 52,000 acres land of Sindh to Paki Army,” “Long Live Sindhudesh” and “Long Live Sain GM Syed” [Ghulam Murtaza Syed was the founding fathers of modern Sindh nationalism].

In order to supress their movement, the Government persists with its policy of enforced disappearances. On November 19, a Sindh High Court (SHC) bench expressed disappointment over Police performance while hearing petitions for the recovery of missing persons. The bench reprimanded Investigation Officers (IOs) over lack of progress in the cases and warned of punitive action against the IOs over failure in tracing the missing citizens. According to Pakistan’s Commission of Enquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED), Sindh accounted for a total of 1,759 cases of missing persons between March 1, 2011, (the date of inception of the Commission), and January 31, 2023. According to the Commission, of these 1,759 persons, 1,129 were traced – 61 dead bodies, 265 in prisons, 41 in internment centre and 762 returned home. The Commission ‘deleted’ cases of another 464 missing persons, claiming that these were “closed due to not being cases of enforced disappearances, incomplete address, withdrawal by complainants, non-prosecution, etc.” Thus, according to the commission, a total of 1,593 cases were ‘disposed of’, leaving 166 cases ‘under investigation’.

Meanwhile, radical Islamist groups continue to target religious minorities, including the Ahmadis. Some of the attacks during 2023 targeting Ahmadis included:

September 21: A group of people vandalised an Ahmadi place of worship in the Martin Road area of Jamshed Town in Karachi. Around 20 to 25 persons broke into the building and damaged minarets and window before fleeing the scene.

July 24: An Ahmadi place of worship was vandalised in the Drigh Road area within the limits of Shah Faisal Colony in the Korangi Town of Karachi. Around four persons damaged the minarets

February 3: Activists of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) vandalised and demolished the minarets of an Ahmadi Mosque in the presence of the Police, near the mobile market in the Hashoo Market area of Saddar Town in Karachi.

January 18: TLP activists demolished the domes and minarets of an Ahmadi Mosque in the Martin Quarters area of Jamshed Town in Karachi.

January 18: A historical place of worship of the Ahmadi community, located in Moti Bazar, Wazirabad, which was established back in 1905, was desecrated by the District Administration on a complaint lodged by Irfan Iliyas Butt, a local TLP leader

Hindu and Christian minorities have been confronted with a sustained campaign of abduction and rape of women for forced conversion at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. On January 16, 2023, United Nation (UN) experts expressed alarm at the reported rise in abductions, forced marriages and conversions of underage girls and young women from religious minorities in Pakistan and called for immediate efforts to curtail the practices and ensure justice for victims. The experts observed,

We urge the Government to take immediate steps to prevent and thoroughly investigate these acts objectively and in line with domestic legislation and international human rights commitments. Perpetrators must be held fully accountable. We are deeply troubled to hear that girls as young as 13 are being kidnapped from their families, trafficked to locations far from their homes, made to marry men sometimes twice their age, and coerced to convert to Islam, all in violation of international human rights law.

The Pakistan-based Aurat Foundation and the Movement for Solidarity and Peace estimate that “every year, 1,000 women and girls are abducted, forcibly converted and then married off to their abductors.” These women are from the minority Christian and Hindu communities. The latest documented victim of abduction and forced conversion was a minor Hindu girl Nazia, daughter of Baadal Bheel, who was abducted and converted to Islam by Babar Ali in the Larkana District of Sindh on January 14, 2024.

The security situation in Sindh deteriorated through 2023 and, given the present chaotic social and economic conditions across the country, is unlikely to witness any improvement in the near future.

Tushar Ranjan Mohanty

Tushar Ranjan Mohanty is a Counter-terrorism Expert on Pakistan at Institute for Conflict Management (ICM) in New Delhi

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