by Giovanni Giacalone
On Friday, February 17th 2023, the jihadist group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan attacked the Police headquarter in the central Karachi area of Saddar, killing five (three police officers, one ranger and one civilian) and injuring over twenty.1
Three terrorists were also killed, two in the exchange of fire with security forces and one in the detonation of an IED that he was carrying. Almost a full week has gone by since the day of the attack, but many points are still unclear.
Firstly, it is yet unclear how the terrorists entered the heavily guarded compound. Initial claims indicated two cars carrying between 5 to 10 attackers and dropping them off at the back entrance of the compound. The terrorists were said to be dressed in police uniforms. However, on February 20th, investigators told the Pakistani newspaper Dawn News that “The point from where the militants cut barbed wire and made an entry was not covered by CCTV cameras”, adding that “two unidentified men, wearing helmets, saw the three militants off outside KPO and left the place on a motorcycle before the attack began”.
Does this mean that various cells penetrated from different spots of the compound? Not just from the back entrance?
Additionally, the total number of terrorists is yet unclear and if only three were killed, what happened to the other members of the group? Did they manage to flee?
One thing seems to be clear, the terrorists must have had some sort of help from the inside. They knew how to get into the compound, they knew the spot where there was no CCTV coverage, they knew exactly where to go once inside (the chief commander’s office). As a matter of fact, the investigators themselves indicated a possible inside help were looking into an aspect that the militants or their facilitators got help from inside.
Chief Minister Sindh, Syed Murad Ali Shah questioned how the attacks on police offices in Peshawar and Karachi took place despite a security “alert”. He answered himself and called it “laxity” by the intelligence agencies. The Minister also criticized the media for over-exciting breaking news during the attack, which helped the attackers speculate on the spot. He asked the broadcast media and charity ambulance services to show responsibility during such situations.
This is a key point that once again poses the dilemma of the news coverage during the attack. On one hand, news and broadcasting is a right that should not be questioned but, on the other hand, it is also true that an excessive and sensationalist approach to the reporting of such incidents strongly favors the terrorists who benefit from the media echo.
The assault on the police headquarters in Karachi comes two weeks after a suicide bomber, also disguised as an officer, blew himself up inside a Peshawar mosque attended by police personnel in northwestern Pakistan, killing about sixty people and injuring more than one hundred. Since last November, Pakistan has become the scene of a wave of attacks perpetrated by the TTP which decided to end the ceasefire with the Islamabad government and resume the fight. The Pakistani government had tried to persuade the Afghan Taliban to stop supporting the TTP but without success.
The Karachi police HQ attack is a big hit for TTP which has thus raised the level of the confrontation, not only reaching the heart of Pakistan’s financial and industrial capital but also a very important hard-target, the police headquarters, the offices of the command, in a high surveillance area. This attack highlights how TTP has made a leap in quality and is now able to strike far from its strongholds, having much wider networks than previously one could think. It is indeed a heavy blow due to its strong impact both on the media and on an institutional level, since Islamabad spent plenty of money for military purposes.
Sydney-based Ayesha Jehangir, a media, war and conflict researcher at the University of Technology Sydney, interestingly described the TTP as “Pakistan’s Frankenstein’s monster”.
“Only this time, Pakistan – who has had an influence over the Taliban since the militant organization was created in the 1990s – appears to be losing control, and the Karachi attack is evidence of the fact that the TTP problem is once more growing and is not confined to the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province only,” she told ABC Australia,
Dr. Jehangir also added: “What do you expect will happen when the state supports militant organizations in the region, and make religion a determinant of Pakistani political identity? The result is that militants such as the TTP are now claiming their share in the country’s politics, as did their comrades in Afghanistan”, referring to the fact that the resurgence of terrorism inside Pakistan is the consequence of Islamabad’s long-standing support for the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.
It will be interesting to see how the Pakistani government will respond to the Karachi attack.