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Rao Anwar and the killing fields of Karachi


Fahim Zaman | Naziha Syed Ali

Around 2pm one day in October 2008, a convoy of police mobiles was on its way back after visiting the scene of a murder in Moach Goth, when two young men in a white Toyota Corolla mischievously zig-zagged in front of it.

Superintendent Police (SP) Rao Anwar, who had been promoted from the rank of DSP a month earlier, was leading the convoy. According to one of the police officials in a follow-up vehicle, Rao was furious at the ‘affront’ and ordered that the car be stopped, but the youths sped away.

Two mobiles, on Rao’s orders, raced after the vehicle as it turned into Baldia Town. “I followed, intending to sort things out. After all, the boys hadn’t done anything criminal,” recalls the official.

Suddenly, gunshots rang out. He soon came upon a crowd of people gathered around the Corolla; inside was the body of one of the young men he had earlier seen in the car.

“He couldn’t have been more than 18 or 19 years old. The people there said the police had killed him. It made me think, what kind of a man can murder people in this way?”

A decade later, as details about Rao’s ‘exploits’ are coming to light, the more relevant question is, what kind of law-enforcement system nurtures men like Rao Anwar?

About a kilometre off the National Highway, inside a deserted two-room farmhouse, the light from the setting sun reflects on a wall pock-marked with bullet holes. Above them hangs a portrait of the Quaid-i-Azam. The bullet marks and a bloodstained carpet are the only evidence that remains of the murders last month.

“Two bodies were found here, and two in the other room,” says a DSP. Among those bodies was that of Naqeebullah Mehsud, the young man whose death in a fake encounter last month led to Rao’s suspension as Senior Superintendent Police (SSP) Malir.

Until Naqeebullah’s murder, Sindh’s so-called encounter specialist had not faced any inquiry over the number of encounter killings to his ‘credit’. Not a single inquiry — despite having slain at least 444 people between 2011 and 2018, according to the police’s own records. Not a single policeman was even injured, let alone killed, during the 745 encounters.

The Rangers-led operation in Karachi, which began in late 2013, gave fresh impetus to police encounters in district Malir during Rao’s tenure.

According to police records, Malir saw 195 police encounters from January to October 2012, in which 18 people were killed and 276 arrested; the ratio of deaths to arrests — the ‘kill rate’ — was 6.5 per cent. Between February to June 2013, the kill rate was 17.6pc.

In 2014, after the operation began, there were 186 encounters, in which 152 people died and 192 were arrested — the kill rate a whopping 79pc. Last year, there were 93 encounters resulting in 110 deaths and 89 arrests. That translates to the number of arrests falling 23pc below the number of people killed.

The current law enforcement system is simply not capable of telling us as to how many innocents like Naqeebullah were among those mowed down.

“He led a team of killing machines. There was no one to stop him,” says a senior police official. “Why was no notice taken of his actions earlier? The truth is, everyone knows everything, but even the police command is afraid of him because of his close connections with criminal political bosses and within the security establishment.”

(Interestingly, no record of Rao Anwar’s encounter killings existed in the central police office in Karachi.)

In the words of another long-serving police official: “Men are airlifted from as far away as Fata and brought here for him to dispatch. That’s why there are so many policemen being targeted in Karachi. These are reprisal killings.”

(In the latest case as well, other than Naqeebullah, the three men who were shot dead alongside him were also, say sources, handed over to Rao by the agencies. One of them, Mohammed Sabir, they add, was a missing person who had been picked up from Uch Sharif in southern Punjab one and a half years ago against whom no criminal record has been found.)

That Pakhtun tradition of badal (vengeance), according to several serving and retired police officials, is the reason why encounter killings are unknown in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Fata. “But the powers that be don’t care that the cops in Karachi are dying like dogs for doing their dirty work,” said a police official.

According to a source in the Sindh government, about four months ago, an awkward situation arose during a visit to the Sindh secretariat in Karachi by several military officials. Among those at the meeting was the chief secretary as well as the late Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani. The visitors included a lieutenant general, four major generals and some foreign military officials.

“One of the generals asked the CM why the provincial government was not taking action against such a murderer. Shah Sahib ignored the question, but when another officer of the same rank later repeated the question, he finally responded, ‘It would be better for you to also ask your corps commander and the agencies,” says the source.

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