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  • ‘We Search, We Find, We Kill’:Inside Karachi’s Gangland Purge
  • Taimur Khan (bio)

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KARACHI, Pakistan—When the lights unexpectedly turned off and darkness descended on a security compound near Karachi airport, none of the members of Pakistan’s elite police force seemed concerned. Most of the officers had received multiple death threats and nearly lost their lives in shootouts or terrorist strikes. Many of their colleagues had been killed in front of them. Just moments earlier, an officer in jeans and a baseball cap had pulled up his shirt to show me a still-healing bullet wound. Another had shrapnel scars across his face from a grenade that had been thrown over the station’s boundary wall. [End Page 93]

After a few minutes, a backup generator in the station gargled and jumped to life, and the glow from fluorescent lights lit the courtyard outside but left the interior of the sparse concrete building in shadows. Officers joked and smoked cigarettes as they loaded their armored vehicle and modified pickup trucks and checked their pistols and AK-47s.

The men were preparing for an early morning raid. They hoped to capture or, more likely, assassinate an alleged Pakistani Taliban leader.

Inside the dark station, the ranking officer, Amanullah Marwat, fielded calls and text messages on two cellphones. At first glance, Marwat’s pock-marked round cheeks, quick laugh, and standard-issue police officer’s paunch made him seem benign, avuncular even, but his eyes—dark and bloodshot—hinted at the ruthlessness with which he does his job.

Marwat explained that the string of texts on one of the phones was from a military intelligence agency and provided crucial information on their current target. He uses his own sources to investigate more routine crimes, but for the citywide campaign of extrajudicial killings, the orders almost always come from federal and military agencies. “Once we have all the information and we have met with the higher ups, we go search for them, we find them, and if they turn out to be Taliban, we kill them,” Marwat said, pulling at his handlebar mustache. “We feel very happy.”

Marwat’s mentor was the charismatic Chaudhry Aslam Khan, a hardboiled Pashtun encounter specialist who was assassinated in 2014 by the Pakistani Taliban in a suicide car bombing. “After he was killed, my entire team killed 235 suspects,” Marwat boasted.

An older officer on his team emerged from an adjoining room and was in the process of taking off his uniform before heading home. As a precaution, Karachi police—most of whom live in slums or lower-middle-class neighborhoods without the ubiquitous private security of affluent areas—travel to and from work in civilian clothes. The changing officer had been listening and wanted to interject.

“The hard luck that police have in Karachi is that the population has no faith in us, and that is because we have done wrong things in the past,” the officer said, explaining that residents fear that police will collude with criminals or give the press the names of witnesses. “They are scared of coming to us, because they think today we’re helping them, but tomorrow we may get them into trouble, because in the past this is how it happened,” he said. “We are trying to rebuild that trust, slowly.”

One way these elite police teams have attempted to build confidence is by killing hundreds of suspects, which include many of the gangsters and militants that have been terrorizing Karachi’s neighborhoods for years. The father of a slain police officer told me that an encounter specialist like Marwat had even offered him the opportunity to execute the man suspected of killing his son. The father said he turned down the offer telling the officer, “No, this is not justice.” The detainee, though, was killed anyway.

The morning after the raid I received a series of gruesome photos on my cellphone from one of the officers. In one, an alleged Taliban militant in a gray shalwar kameez was face down on the ground with a Kalashnikov under his...


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pp. 93-104
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