The Nine Lives of Pakistan’s ‘Dirty Harry’

Karachi’s famed police investigator, Chaudhry Aslam Khan, was a man for whom metaphors have been mixed. He was a divisive figure, sometimes called Karachi’s "Dirty Harry" because of his controversial law enforcement tactics, which many believed included torturing, disappearing, or killing criminal suspects. Having been shot five times and having survived at least nine assassination ...

ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images

Karachi's famed police investigator, Chaudhry Aslam Khan, was a man for whom metaphors have been mixed. He was a divisive figure, sometimes called Karachi's "Dirty Harry" because of his controversial law enforcement tactics, which many believed included torturing, disappearing, or killing criminal suspects. Having been shot five times and having survived at least nine assassination attempts, he was also known as the cop with nine lives.

On Thursday, he ran out of lives and luck. He died in a bombing carried out by the Pakistani Taliban.

The Guardian once described Aslam as "a grizzled police veteran of 27 years' experience. Profane, chain-smoking and usually armed with a Glock pistol, he … earned a controversial reputation as Karachi's version of Dirty Harry -- the cop who will do whatever it takes to keep the peace." He had been accused of deaths in custody and of staging operations in which suspects were killed instead of arrested. In 2006, he did 18 months in jail for the murder of an innocent man but was eventually cleared of the charges.

Karachi’s famed police investigator, Chaudhry Aslam Khan, was a man for whom metaphors have been mixed. He was a divisive figure, sometimes called Karachi’s "Dirty Harry" because of his controversial law enforcement tactics, which many believed included torturing, disappearing, or killing criminal suspects. Having been shot five times and having survived at least nine assassination attempts, he was also known as the cop with nine lives.

On Thursday, he ran out of lives and luck. He died in a bombing carried out by the Pakistani Taliban.

The Guardian once described Aslam as "a grizzled police veteran of 27 years’ experience. Profane, chain-smoking and usually armed with a Glock pistol, he … earned a controversial reputation as Karachi’s version of Dirty Harry — the cop who will do whatever it takes to keep the peace." He had been accused of deaths in custody and of staging operations in which suspects were killed instead of arrested. In 2006, he did 18 months in jail for the murder of an innocent man but was eventually cleared of the charges.

He was also the head of Karachi’s anti-terror operations. His crusade against Taliban militants, as well as his efforts to stamp out organized crime, made him a frequent target of violence. His death has been claimed by a chapter of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, which targeted him for allegedly killing Taliban members detained in Karachi jails.

The last failed attempt on his life occurred in 2011, when a Taliban suicide bomber drove a van through Aslam’s front gate, killing eight people. At the time, he brazenly told reporters that he would bury his attackers in the crater they had left in his yard. "I will give my life but I won’t bow to terrorists," he said.

On Thursday his enemies finally caught up with him. A bomber targeted his convoy, killing him and two other officers.

Despite Aslam’s reputation for operating above the law, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif paid tribute to the man, saying: "We will not let the will of the nation be crushed by these cowardly acts by terrorists."

Catherine A. Traywick is a fellow at Foreign Policy.

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