Karachi police living in shadow of death, with 44 slain this year

44 officers killed already this year in Karachi, a city where Taliban holds sway and criminal gangs strike fear into a teeming population

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 March, 2014, 9:45pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 March, 2014, 4:17pm

From his home off a dirt road littered with refuse in the teeming city of Karachi, policeman Didar Ahmed's son shows the bloodstained jacket his father was wearing when gunmen cut him and three colleagues down in a hail of bullets last month.

Ahmed's brother Gulzar looks at the bullet-riddled garment with a blank stare. He recalled how, days before his brother's death, they had talked about the rising dangers of police work as officers increasingly come under attack by criminal gangs and militants from the Pakistani Taliban.

If something happens to me, take care of my kids

"He was sitting here and told me: 'The situation in the city is deteriorating so if something happens to me, you take care of my kids and family'," Gulzar said.

Ahmed was one of 44 police officers killed during the first two months of the year in Pakistan's largest city, a particularly violent start to the year for the police. The force was already reeling from the deaths of 166 of its officers last year, a fourfold increase from just five years earlier.

Being a police officer has never been especially easy in the sprawling metropolis on Pakistan's south coast, where the population has surged from 10 million in 1998 to at least 18 million today - so much that an exact count has proven elusive.

But recent figures suggest the profession has become even more perilous, in large part because the Pakistani Taliban and affiliated militant groups have gained a foothold, police and analysts say. Police Chief Shahid Hayat says they are responsible for 60 per cent of the recent killings of police officers.

"It's a big concern," said Hayat of the killings. He was brought in last September to oversee a new campaign to bring down the violence plaguing the city.

Police have been killed on their way to and from work.

In two of the most shocking attacks, the man dubbed the city's "toughest cop", Chaudhry Aslam, was killed in a bombing claimed by the Pakistani Taliban in January, followed by a roadside bomb that killed 13 police officers in February.

To be sure, the Pakistani Taliban are not the only driver of the violence in the city. Karachi has been a cauldron of ethnic and political tension for decades.

Samina Ahmed from the International Crisis Group said it's not necessarily the case that the jihadist threat has grown, but that state control has increasingly withered in Karachi and other cities, allowing criminality and militancy to thrive.