New army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, while setting his priorities on external and internal security, needs to give a fresh look to success and shortcomings of the Karachi Targeted Action which, if not reviewed in a right perspective, could be counterproductive.
While the ground situation by and large remains under control, incidents of target killings often resurface while street crime is constantly rising. Law enforcement agencies or the government have not been able to come out with any strategy to cope with the situation.
The operation is still far from addressing basic problems without which neither government nor the army would be able to get the desired results. Some top officials admitted the presence of sleeper cells of outlawed groups in thousands of katchi abadis.
The most neglected area is either poor investigation, bad prosecution or political bias, which not only caused embarrassment to the government, police and rangers, but also the apex committee.
What happened to the biggest arms seizure case? Acquittal of two alleged MQM militants suspected for their links with RAW for want of evidence despite authorities’ confidence? Dr Asim Hussain's JIT, over 15,000 files taken by the FIA from Sindh Building Control Authority for probe into 'china-cutting’ only reflect operational failures.
It was also claimed that in the last three years that over 16,000 suspects had been detained but many of them had been released except for those involved in heinous crimes. Majority of them belongs to the MQM, Lyari gang war and outlawed groups. What is the progress in their cases?
Some of these failures brought bad name to the operation as nothing came out despite a massive media hype created against the PPP and the MQM links. Unlike 'Zarb-e-Azb’, Karachi operation also has political dynamics particularly when the police and law enforcement agencies suspect nexus between terrorism and politics, but they fail to produce concrete evidence in court.
Karachi operation was not an initiative of the federal or provincial governments, but one must thank the Supreme Court’s 2011 judgement in the suo-motu 'Karachi Badamni' case which led to the launch of this high-profile operation.
There have been lots of ups and downs in the operation particularly over the powers of the rangers, their extension, policing powers etc, but finally they got powers under Anti-Terrorism Action. However, the powers to detain any suspect for 90 days ended with the expiry of Protection of Pakistan Ordinance (PPO).
This is exactly what happened in Karachi operation. 90-Azizabad, and Bilawal House in Clifton are symbols of two major parties of Sindh — the MQM and the PPP, respectively. While 90 and MQM remains under constant attack for being allegedly involved in major targeted killings, extortion, the authorities had often linked Bilawal House with terror financing which created tension between the Sindh and the federal government on one hand, and between the PPP and the establishment on the other.
It is ironic that despite several meetings of the 'apex committee’, both at provincial and federal level, with the latter having prime minister and army chief as members had been unable to find a solution. Till this day, no one knows exactly why the government failed in forming a 'redress and grievances' committee, despite decisions taken at the highest level.
Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah's silence on the failure of police in not getting even close to the tall claims made last month about one of the country's biggest arms seizure from a house near the MQM headquarters, was surprising.
The CM as well as the former governor, Dr Ishratul Ebad, announced rewards for the police for the operation, which has now become a cause of embarrassment. If nothing else, the CM should have at least suspended the team which had made such claims and had even directly or indirectly linked it to the MQM.
Similarly, in the case of killing of world famous Qawal Amjad Sabri, the authorities initially linked it with MQM's alleged militants, but later arrested two suspects of outlawed groups in the same case.
No one knows the final outcome of another high-profile case and that is the smuggling of arms and terror financing through Fisheries. Some top officials of the Fishermen Cooperative Society, including its chief, Nisar Morai, were arrested. Later, he was released and bailed out, but now again arrested. What happened to this big scam, which involved billions of rupees and supply of arms through sea.
Another case, which is apparently heading nowhere and which got so much coverage on the media, is the alleged links between Lyari gang-war leader Uzair Baloch and the PPP leadership and the Sindh government.
All these suspects or at least the high profile one like Dr Asim Hussain and Uzair Baloch's video confessions had been recorded, some were even aired. Another video confessional statement, which hit the headline was that of one of the three suspects in Dr Imran Farooq murder case.
Dr Asim Hussain's case, which practically led to tension between Sindh and Centre, and also between Sindh government and Rangers, made the closest aide of Asif Ali Zardari a victim, though in ranger's file, he still falls in the category of high-profile criminal.
Some former police officials and those who had been dealing with the investigation in the past believe that one of the reasons why police failed in the investigation is because of implication one suspect in too many cases instead of seriously probing one or two cases in which the suspect was actually involved.
Secondly, both police and rangers must stop politicizing the cases by branding them with one political party or the other.
Thus, it is time that the federal government, Sindh government, rangers and police sit and give serious thought to what they had done in the last three years. The premier apex committee, headed by PM Nawaz Sharif and the new army chief, must spend one or two days in Karachi to see where the operation went wrong despite success.
—The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.