According to police in Pakistan two gunmen on a motorbike shot and killed two military police in Karachi before escaping the scene of the crime.
Jamil Ahmed, a senior police officer, told the press that the incident took place in a commercial area of the port city. In a statement the military confirmed that two soldiers died in the attack, according to AP.
Attack serves as reminder of continued militant presence in Pakistan
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif blasted the attack and said that the soldiers had been “martyred” for a “peaceful and prosperous Pakistan.” The attack comes against a backdrop of a slowly improving security situation in Pakistan, where security forces have been fighting militant groups for the past few years with significant success.
Karachi is the capital of the Sindh province, in the south of Pakistan, and the area has seen operations against militants and other criminal groups. So far no one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The military police vehicle was parked near Karachi’s Gul Plaza when masked gunmen carried out the attack. “The assailants stopped their car and opened fire on them near Tibet Centre in Karachi,” a police official told The Express Tribune.
Investigation underway to find killers
According to several eyewitnesses the motorbike-riding militants shot two soldiers in the head. “One of them died on the spot whereas the other succumbed to his injuries at the hospital,” DIG South Jamil Ahmed told AFP. ”This is a very serious incident but we will track the attackers down soon.”
The deceased soldiers have been named as Naik Rashid and Havaldar Irshad, and both were taken to the PNS Shifa Hospital for post-mortem examination. Pakistan Police and Rangers shut down the crime scene and investigations are underway.
Three 9mm bullet casings were found at the scene, and investigators are looking for CCTV footage to aid their search for the killers. Sindh Home Minister Sohail Anwar Sial expressed his sadness at the killings and prayed for the forgiveness of the deceased.
“Police have rounded up at least two suspects from the crime scene,” the DIG South said. He said that the militants shot the soldiers from the back of the car. Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah called a meeting of the Karachi Apex Committee in order to review the security situation in the port city.
Controversial crackdown continues in Karachi
In September 2013 a federal cabinet handed Rangers the powers to conduct operations against criminals that had already been identified by federal military and civilian agencies as taking part in targeted killings, kidnappings for ransom, extortion and terrorism.
The Apex Committee of 14 May 2015 was chaired by Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, who decided to begin heavy policing and surveillance in Karachi’s sprawling suburbs. A spokesman for the military said that the operation was designed to stop “sneaking terrorist attacks.”
Karachi is a volatile city of some 20 million inhabitants in which police are frequent targets for Islamist militants and criminal groups. Attacks on military police are far rarer, but the last attack saw four Rangers soldiers killed as they guarded a mosque on November 20.
Criminal elements pushing back against army?
Since the beginning of the operation violent incidents have been declining across militant, criminal and sectarian-linked groups. However the operation has come in for criticism from human rights defenders who claim that hundreds of extra-judicial killings have taken place during staged firefights.
The attacks on Pakistan’s powerful army could indicate a push-back from criminal groups against the operation. The situation is complicated by the fact that many politicians in Karachi allegedly have links to violent gangs which work to keep their hold on power.
Investigations in Karachi recently extended to include a crackdown on corruption. Politicians from Pakistan’s opposition parties claim that powerful elements in the army are using the crackdown to target legitimate political activities, accusations that have been denied by the military.
Violence remains common in the turbulent city of Karachi, which has a history of sectarian conflict and criminal activity. While the majority of anti-militant operations take place in the north west of Pakistan, along the Afghan border, Karachi remains a maelstrom of security issues.
The Sindh Rangers paramilitary force claims that 364 terrorists have been killed since the beginning of their operation. The militants were allegedly associated with various organizations including al-Qaeda, different factions of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
Thirty-seven Rangers personnel have been killed over the same time period. The operation looks set to continue despite mounting criticism from some politicians and rights groups.