Pakistan army and police officers examine a bullet-riddled vehicle of the military police at the site of an incident in Karachi yesterday. — AP
Pakistan army and police officers examine a bullet-riddled vehicle of the military police at the site of an incident in Karachi yesterday. — AP

KARACHI: Gunmen killed two Pakistani soldiers in the southern city of Karachi yesterday, the military said, a rare attack on the powerful army that could indicate the beginning of a push-back against a tightening crackdown on violence. The two were shot on a busy road in the center of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and financial hub. The killings follow an attack that killed four soldiers last month.

No soldier had been killed in Karachi before that since March, underlining their protected status in a city where murders of policemen, politicians and prominent businessmen are common.

“The two were sitting in their official vehicle, when two men shot them from behind and fled,” senior police officer Jamil Ahmed told media. Pakistan’s military said unidentified gunmen riding a motorcycle fired on the soldiers.

Karachi, a metropolis of about 20 million people, is home to the stock exchange and central bank and is plagued by political, ethnic and sectarian violence.

Security officials say many politicians in the city have links to violent gangs, operating like a mafia to maintain their hold on power. Two years ago, the military launched a crackdown targeting suspected militants and violent criminals.

Murders have sharply declined since the crackdown began, although violence is still common. In recent months, the crackdown has expanded to include alleged corruption.

Opposition politicians say the military is using it as an excuse to target them. The military denies the accusations.

War crimes

Meanwhile, Pakistan has denied committing war crimes during Bangladesh’s independence conflict in 1971, in what analysts said yesterday was an unusually strong statement signalling worsening ties.

The move follows the executions in Bangladesh last week of senior opposition leaders convicted of war crimes during the conflict. Pakistan has engaged in a war of words with its former eastern wing, which broke away in 1971 following the rise of a separatist movement and genocide as well as rape by Pakistani forces of Bangladeshi civilians.

In a statement by the foreign office on Monday, Islamabad “rejected insinuation of ‘complicity in committing crimes or war atrocities’.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” the statement added. Badar Alam, editor of Pakistan’s Herald magazine, said the statement was a “stiffening of Islamabad’s stance” that marked a retreat from former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf’s 2002 statement of regret for “excesses committed during the unfortunate period”.

Bangladesh has been roiled by violence for much of the last three years since a domestic tribunal began delivering its verdicts on opposition figures accused of orchestrating massacres during the 1971 war. Four people have so far been sent to the gallows in trials criticized by some groups for failing to reach international standards.

“Both countries have to cater to their internal gallery. If you look at the war crimes trials that are happening in Bangladesh, most observers are seeing them in the context of current domestic politics in that country,” Alam added. “Pakistan is also playing to its own gallery. At this time Pakistan appears to be in conflict with every country in South Asia,” he said yesterday, noting worsening ties with Afghanistan and India. Dhaka says the 1971 war left three million people dead, though independent researchers put the toll much lower.

Pakistan formally recognized Bangladesh’s independence in 1974, but has never issued an official apology for its actions during the war.

A 1972 Pakistani judicial inquiry said genocide had been committed, but its recommendations to try the generals responsible were never followed. – AFP