Job Vacant After Karachi's Top Counter-Terrorism Cop Is Killed

An intense debate is underway in Pakistan over what to do about a surge of deadly Taliban attacks. The city's chief counterterrosim officer was killed a few weeks ago. Superintendent Chaudhry Aslam Khan was and remains a legendary figure.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Taliban militants have been expanding their operations in Pakistan. They're better known for attacks in the rural mountains, but they're also active in the cities of that populous country.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

They even have a spreading footprint in Pakistan's economic capital, Karachi. It's one of the largest cities in the world, with a busy seaport and glass towers under construction near the beach, and crowded neighborhoods spreading for miles inland.

GREENE: But in that city, Taliban militants have been targeting law enforcement. Last year, more than 180 policemen were killed in the city. This year, the rate's even higher. NPR's Philip Reeves has the story of a cop who tried to fight back.

(SOUNDBITE OF OUTSIDE BACKGROUND NOISES)

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Karachi is a city with many freshly dug graves. The grave of Chaudhry Aslam Khan stands out among them. His grave lies beneath a blanket of yellow marigolds and crimson rose petals.

UNIDENTIFIED MOURNER: (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: A youth rocks back and forth in a plastic chair, singing verses from the Koran. He's been here all day, mourning beneath a blazing sun. Superintendent Aslam was Karachi's top counterterrorism police officer. The fact that he had one of the world's most dangerous jobs didn't seem to worry him.

AHMED CHINOY: Basically, he was a very straightforward man, very courageous, not afraid of anything - going straight after the criminals, the terrorists, whether it's at the cost of his life or whether the cost of the lives of his men that were with him.

REEVES: Ahmed Chinoy heads a committee that liaises between Karachi's more than 18 million citizens and law enforcement. He knew Aslam well.

CHINOY: He was trying to show the terrorists that he's there to face them. And I think he was one of the biggest fear that the militancies had.

REEVES: Superintendent Aslam waged war on the Taliban as if it was personal. He often appeared on TV. He tended to be blunt.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

CHAUDHRY ASLAM KAHN: (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: Chaudhry Aslam will fight the terrorists to the last drop of his blood, he says. He's waving a pistol at the camera. With his grizzled beard and bearlike frame, Aslam cut an imposing figure. He was like a crime fighter from the movies, says Muhammad Badar Alam, editor of the Herald magazine.

MUHAMMAD BADAR ALAM: He cultivated that kind of an image of a reckless, brave, courageous kind of a man who cannot care less about all the formalities.

REEVES: Aslam's enemies made at least seven attempts to kill him. They demolished the front of his house with a bomb. They attacked his office. They shot at him, wounding him in the leg. Aslam's luck finally ran out a few weeks back. A Taliban suicide bomber blew up his car as his convoy was sweeping through town on a freeway.

Violent deaths are so common in Pakistan that they tend to receive scant attention. Aslam's funeral was covered live on national TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV NEWS PROGRAM)

UNIDENTIFIED BROADCASTER: One of Pakistan's bravest policeman lost his life as a result of a blast in Karachi...

REEVES: Thousands came to pay their respects in person, including the city's top brass. Aslam also had plenty of critics. Gunning down suspects and blaming it on a shootout, is common among South Asia's law enforcement agencies. Human rights activists say this illegal practice tends to fuel insurgencies. Officials usually privately argue that there's no option in societies where crime's rampant and the judiciary is frightened, corrupt and dysfunctional. Zohra Yusuf, chair of Pakistan's Human Rights Commission, says Aslam's courage and commitment are not in doubt.

ZOHRA YUSUF: But one must also recall that, you know, he had a reputation for being involved in many extrajudicial killings and, you know, the so-called police encounters. So he had this sort of very rough and tough personality.

(SOUNDBITE OF BACKGROUND STREET NOISES)

REEVES: Downtown Karachi is remarkably vibrant, considering all the bloodshed here. Somehow, this giant metropolis carries on, generating around two-thirds of Pakistan's national income. Yet on the city streets so far this year, one cop, on average, has been killed every day. Imagine that in an American city. Zohra Yusuf thinks the police are out of their depth.

YUSUF: They are scared. They know that in many areas of Karachi, they are outnumbered. They are outgunned. You know, they often go to places where they end up being held hostage.

REEVES: Criminal gangs and rival ethnic and political militias have slaughtering each other in Karachi for many years. The number of Taliban militants in the mix surged a few years back, when Pakistan's army rolled into the mountains of the northwest to try to dislodge the militants from their havens there. Large numbers of Pashtuns fled the fighting and moved to Karachi. With them came many militants. Pockets of Karachi are now entirely controlled by the Taliban, says Samina Ahmed of the International Crisis Group.

SAMINA AHMED: They're running their own courts. They're running rackets - everything from extortion to drug trafficking.

REEVES: The last few weeks has brought an onslaught of Taliban attacks in Pakistan. The government is offering to negotiate peace, but it's under considerable pressure to send in the army, this time into North Waziristan, the militants' biggest mountain stronghold. Samina Ahmed says winning this war isn't as simple as that.

AHMED: Violence in Karachi - Pakistan's economic hub and largest city - is an indicator on how important it is to emphasize that threat in the urban centers in the heartland, not just in the tribal borderlands. There's way too much attention focused on the problems of the borderland.

REEVES: The people of Karachi are waiting to hear who will replace the legendary Superintendent Aslam. Ahmed Chinoy, of the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee, says it won't be easy, but there are dedicated cops who will carry on the fight. And in the end, they'll win.

CHINOY: No one can fight the state. The state is always bigger and stronger.

REEVES: Others are not so sure. In the superintendent's huge home, his grieving relatives proudly show visitors photos of Aslam winning a national award for heroism. Imran is a brother-in-law.

IMRAN: They must be jumping in the air right now - Talibans - with happiness, because nobody else is going to do - like, take action against them. Now, they have open hand to do anything.

REEVES: Imran is deeply worried. He asks NPR to withhold his full name. He says Aslam's wife and four kids are living in constant danger. But there is one person in Karachi eager to face down the militants. When he's finished studying, Aslam's 16-year-old son, Iqrash, says he'll pick up where his father left off.

IQRASH: I'll take the risk. I'll go and police, and I'll do it - what he did. I like to fight and - like my father did. I want to save people's lives, and make peace in our country.

REEVES: Does Pakistan need another fearless, swashbuckling cop? Human rights activist Zohra Yusuf has her doubts.

YUSUF: I don't think we need heroes so much as we need leadership with vision, with planning, clear-cut policies; rather than heroes.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.