A senior police investigator known for hunting down Pakistani Taliban militants was killed on Thursday in a car bombing, a sharp blow to efforts to crack down on militant groups seeking to gain a foothold in the sprawling southern city of Karachi that is vital to the country’s economy.
Chaudhry Aslam was travelling through a commercial area in the port city when a powerful explosion ripped his vehicle apart, police officer Amir Farooqi said. The blast killed two other officers with him, Farooqi said. Another police official, Munir Sheikh, said a remote-controlled bomb planted on the road destroyed the armoured SUV Aslam was in.
Aslam was known for being one of Karachi’s toughest police officers and had escaped previous attempts on his life. In September 2011, a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle packed with explosives outside his home. That blast killed eight people, though Aslam escaped unharmed.
“This is a cowardly act,” Aslam told local television at the time. “I’m not scared. I will not spare them.”
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the assassination attempt against Aslam in 2011, as well as for the one Thursday that killed him. In a telephone call to reporters, a spokesman for the group, Sajjad Mohmand, said that they killed Aslam for torturing their associates.
Aslam had been criticised for allegedly using too much force on suspects. Human rights activists accuse Pakistani police of routinely using excessive force, as well as torturing and killing suspects.
However, Aslam was known for working all night and often appeared on Pakistani television shows brandishing weapons confiscated during anti-terrorist operations.
His death adds to the sharp rise in police killings in Karachi. Last year, 162 officers were killed on the job, the most deadly year on record for the city’s police force, Sindh province police spokesman Moeed Pirzada said.
Part of the reason for the increase in police deaths has been the rise in Taliban activity, said the head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Zohra Yusuf.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the killing, saying that it would not dampen the morale of law enforcement agencies battling militancy. But some of Aslam’s colleagues disagreed.
“I am sure after his killing nobody from the police force will dare to go after the terrorism and militants,” senior police official Dost Ali Baloch said.
In recent years, Karachi has seen a sharp growth in violence, which many worry has given militant groups such as the Taliban an opportunity to expand their presence in the massive city.
Aslam played a leading role in arresting scores of militants and other criminals there in recent years.
“He was a very brave man, that’s for sure. He had a lot of courage in him,” said Sharfuddin Memon, an adviser to the chief minister of the province in which Karachi is located. “Whenever there was some blast he was there on the scene right away without being scared.”
Memon said Aslam’s death could have been in response to a recent crackdown on crime by authorities in the city. After Karachi went through its most violent year on record in 2012, authorities launched an operation last September to crack down on criminal and militant networks there.
Meanwhile, a Pakistani court trying former army chief and President Pervez Musharraf for treason on Thursday ordered him to appear at a hearing January 16, despite his lawyers saying he was too sick to attend.
The ruling was announced in Islamabad by court registrar Abdul Ghani Soomro, who also said that a medical report on Musharraf’s health submitted earlier this week to the court indicated he had not suffered a heart attack as was rumoured.
Musharraf has been staying at the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology since last week when authorities rushed him there instead of taking him to court.
The prosecution claimed the dramatic hospital detour was a ploy to avoid appearing in court. Musharraf’s defence lawyers have been pushing for him to be exempt from proceedings or even to be allowed to leave the country for treatment abroad.