Troubled north-west comes to town

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Kunwari Colony in Karachi has become a hotbed of Taliban militants. Photo courtesy Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

Kunwari Colony in Karachi has become a hotbed of Taliban militants. Photo courtesy Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

On a mid-November day, factory worker Ghulam Shabbir was shot dead on the road adjacent to Manghopir Hills in north-western Karachi. The motorcycle he was riding had POLICE written on its registration plate. A day earlier, a Mohammad Ejaz was murdered in Kunwari Colony in the same part of the city. He was sporting a military haircut in anticipation of his departure for joining the military, related one of his relatives.

These could be seen, and ignored, as routine stories from Karachi — a city where targeted killings and deadly violence have become a way of life in many localities. Yet something is starkly different about the two murders: They were carried out by militants whom local residents, police officials and political activists recognise as the Taliban. The second difference is that both were targeted for the same reason — for being seen as belonging to the law enforcement and security agencies.

In a large part of Karachi – spread between Orangi in the west and the northern edge of North Nazimabad – such targeting of real or imagined security personnel at the hands of the Taliban has become quite common. The militants have also turned localities such as Manghopir, Sultanabad, Pakhtunabad, Kunwari Colony and Pirabad, into no-go areas for the police and outsiders. It is almost impossible to travel to these places unless someone living there is able to get clearance from both the law-enforcement agencies, mainly operating on the outer parts of these neighbourhoods, and the Taliban militants holding sway in the inner parts.

“The militants have either scared police personnel, informers and intelligence moles out of these localities or killed those who refused to leave,” says Nasir Mahmood, the station house officer at Manghopir police station. “The police and other law-enforcement agency personnel find it next to impossible to enter the inner streets of Kunwari Colony, Pakhtunabad and Sultanabad, especially when they need to go there to perform medico-legal duties or to remove a corpse from there,” he says. “The law enforcers, therefore, are clueless about what is actually happening there,” he adds.

Mahmood says the bodies of most people killed by the Taliban are dumped along the Manghopir Road — a risky area for the police to operate in as its patrol vans have often come under fire there, he says. The Herald could note the anxiety among policemen as they were retrieving Shabbir’s body. “The police and other law enforcers are routinely fired upon from the hills [overlooking where they were working],” an alert police constable explained.

Inside Kunwari Colony, the Taliban’s writ is so severe that people do not even venture out of their houses if the militants do not approve of it. When Bakht Khan, a resident of the colony, was killed by militants while they were exchanging fire with the police and Rangers on October 12, no one came out of his house to collect his body even 24 hours after his killing. Nearly 50 men were present in the house at the time to see off a member of his family for Hajj but none of them dared to step out, fearing this may upset the militants.

The Taliban are so dominant in the area that they are no longer operating secretly. “Just walk across the street and you will meet the people you are looking for.” This is how a constable posted at the entrance to Manghopir police station responds when the Herald asks him about the Taliban’s presence. Pasted inside a mosque in Sultanabad, a flier advises local shopkeepers and businessmen to contact Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Karachi Chapter, should the workers of any political group demand protection money from them. The flier carries a satellite phone number for traders to get in touch with the Taliban.

Elsewhere, the militants are themselves demanding and collecting protection money through what they call the Pakhtun Aman Jirga. An office of the jirga can be seen behind Malik Agha Hotel near al-Asif Square in Sohrab Goth. Altaf Khan, who rents out heavy machinery from a shop in Sohrab Goth, says the business community in his area is receiving, and complying with demands for money by the Taliban. “The militants are minting money from us under the garb of providing protection,” he says.

The Awami National Party (ANP), which until recently was the dominant political party in these neighbourhoods, seems to have accepted that it cannot compete with the Taliban. Its flags and other symbols have disappeared from the Pakhtun areas lying between Orangi and the Matric Board Office in Nazimabad.

Umer Farooq, a resident of Mohammad Khan Goth locality near Sohrab Goth, tells the Herald that TTP operatives sent a message to the ANP’s local leaders a few months ago. The message instructed them to remove their party’s flags and its graffiti, he says. The missive also told them to hand over their arms to the TTP representatives in their respective neighbourhoods, Farooq adds.

Initially, the ANP did try to resist these orders. But it gave up after the TTP started killing its main activists, forcing many of its leaders to leave those areas. Bashir Jan, ANP Sindh’s general secretary, says the Taliban have killed nearly 70 activists belonging to his party during the past few months. But he then adds that some of them were killed by “elements posing as Taliban”. Jan believes the killings are part of a conspiracy being hatched against the ANP in order to uproot it from Karachi.

Copyright DAWN GIS

A map of Karachi’s localities. Copyright DAWN GIS

His party’s workers on the ground, however, are certain about where the threat is coming from. Rehmat Khan Achakzai, president of ANP in Janjar Goth, located near Afghan Camp at the Super Highway, tells the Herald that the Taliban can target the party’s workers anywhere and at any time. He says the ANP’s members and activists do not have enough support in Pakhtun areas to withstand the Taliban.

Senior police officials, as well as government representatives, were equally dismissive when the Herald pointed out that four years ago Taliban sympathisers and militants fleeing military operation in the tribal agencies and in Swat were thronging Karachi’s Pakhtun localities, such as Sultanabad and Pakhtunabad. Since then, the militants have spread to several adjoining localities. The situation is so grave in most of these areas that people have completely given in to the Taliban’s writ. Four years ago, the residents of Sultanabad successfully defied the newcomers when they tried to impose their control in the area. But intelligence agency officials tell the Herald that no one dares defy the Taliban’s orders any more in Sultanabad and in other areas beyond it.

One reason why the Taliban have been able to instill such fear in the hearts of locals is because they carry and wield sophisticated arms and ammunition that no one can match — not even the law enforcers, according to local police and intelligence sources. Evidence collected from the site where sub-inspector Mohammad Ilyas was shot dead on September 21 this year, while he was manning a traffic police kiosk in the Manghopir area, suggests that he was attacked with a sniper’s rifle, fired from a hilltop. Intelligence officials say Ilyas was hit late in the evening when visibility was extremely low — this suggests that the militants who targeted him were probably using night-vision goggles, the officials add.

he other reason for the Taliban’s dominance going unchallenged is their ruthlessness. “The militants do not tolerate the slightest disobedience even from their staunch supporters,” says Farooq. He tells the Herald how a local prayer leader, who was also a supporter of the Taliban, was killed only because he talked to a stranger about their presence. Farooq says the Taliban later declared the prayer leader a martyr whose sacrifice, they said, was necessary to further their cause.

Javed Odho, Deputy Inspector General of Police in Karachi’s West Zone where the Taliban-infested localities lie, says police officials posted before him in the area did not take the threat seriously and did not strictly monitor the massive influx of displaced people from Khyper Pakhtunkhwa, tribal agencies and Swat. “Dozens of informal housing settlements and shanty towns have sprung up in Gadap Town along the Super Highway and on the outskirts of Manghopir and Landhi [where these displaced people now live],” he says and adds that the Taliban militants have been present in these settlements and slums from the beginning but they were not connected to each other until recently. Now there exists a proper TTP network in the city, Odho says.

The police’s failure to take them head-on before they could organise is a major reason why they have gained strength in the areas under their control. “The TTP militants became strong because nobody confronted them earlier,” Odho acknowledges. “Now when action against them is being taken, they are resisting,” he tells the Herald.

Odho, however, does not see the Taliban’s presence posing as big a problem as is seen by his subordinates or by local residents. He acknowledges that taking police action in some areas is challenging but hastens to add that attacks on police patrol vans have indeed decreased in many areas and that the collapsed intelligence network is being revived. “The Taliban are on the run now,” Odho adds.

Professor Fateh Mohammad Barfat, former head of the criminology department at Karachi University links Talbanisation of Karachi to unregulated residential settlements and slums. “60 per cent of Karachi’s population is living in slums, dividing it along ethnic and sectarian lines,” he says. The government, he explains, should make a policy for repatriating those who come to Karachi after being displaced by natural disasters and conflicts. “There is no other way of saving Karachi from a looming civil war,” adds Barfat.

29 thoughts on “Troubled north-west comes to town

  1. Herald and MQM both pointed towards Talibanization of Karachi but nobody pay head to it now what? Are we heading towards a civil war in Karachi? I feel intelligence agencies have some agenda and this is the reason they turned a blind eye on Talibans in Karachi. MQM was right from the day one and all those who made fun of MQM will be responsible for loss of innocent lives when Taliban try to establish their writ of terror all across Karachi.

    • you are absolutely right, there is hidden agenda of agencies to polarize our city, just to let it bleeding and plunder it. whenever there is flood, they try to settle affected in karachi,

    • MQM supports Taliban behind the door, if you dont believe that then why did Altaf Hussain protested and lambasted attack of Aurangzeb Farooqi ?? Dont we know he is the leader of banned SSP who is the biggest support for Taliban and Al qaeda in pakistan.

    • while i am not a greater admirer of the MQM, i 100% agree that whatever bhai logs were saying was a gospel truth. we are at the brink of civil war. the inevitability of the war can be understood by the report of Herald. Will they make Karachi another Swat of Sufi Muhammad or fuzllulha, i don’t know? But i do know that a massive level of mayhem is waiting for us in near future………….

    • Sirji, the Taliban are doing to the MQM what the MQM did to the local Sindhis, so let’s not pretend that the MQM are the victims here.

      • what did they do to the local sindhi’s? even before partition sindhis were in a minority in Karachi, si I’m not sure what you are talking about?

        Plus the Taliban are killing Pakhtuns in

    • Yes Salman!!! their agenda is to keep their brothers in Saudi Arabia & Bahrain happy.At the cost of making Karachi a Shia slaughter house.

  2. This is only the beginning. Pakistan created the Taliban and the Al Qaeda, because the ISI believed they could control them. That has proved not to be true.

  3. these people controlling karachi areas are not talibans but indian intelligence RAW controlled terrorists, who have been recruited and trained to destroy pakistani cities such as karachi, these indian terrorists are responsible for all the killing and bombings going on in karachi , wake up pakistani people , specially in karachi, fight these indian terrorists b4 they control whole karachi and pakistan, i wished general musharaf would be there in power, then these lames could not stay a single minute in pakistani cities, he would immediately take action and bomb them….

    • I guess you are misinformed and misguided. India, as far as I know and read, never initiated a war against any country specifically. They are far ahead of Pakistan in terms of development, human safety, security, and overall life, employment; see their IT prowess, even the US has to think twice before abandoning H1-B visas. Here in Pakistan, people in general, and political setup is too corrupt to think about the better of the people. In the development of Pakistan, religion must not get precedence, be it any religion. Shia-Sunni, Sindhi, Punjabi, Christian are later; first they are Pakistanis. This message must be clear to them.

  4. it is sindh govt who should be blamed who allowed people coming from tribal area to settled in karachi if karachi is not saved it will spread in rest of sindh also..instead of taking against LB system…they should get united against Talibanization.There must be some agenda of our intelligence agencies to create Swat like situation in karachi

  5. At one hand Altaf Hussain made a lots of noice about Talibanisation in Karachi, on the other hand he denounced attack on Farroqui (leader of banned SSP). What is wrong with our leaders ? its all fake its all politics and all MQM is concerned about is sharing the goodies with their Pakhtun opponents.

  6. Nonsense – this has nothing to do with the intelligence agencies. It is a simple case of the state losing control as they did in Swat. It was the army which had to go in and reassert the writ of the State.

  7. No doubt that Pakistan is a free society but the movement of the Pakhtuns from the north west to Karachi in particular has been going on for the last 55 years or more.

    They can come and grab land to build all these shanty towns but the reverse is not happening or possible. Nobody is allowed to settle in those areas of Pukhtunawa or Fata where these people come from. They kill in the name of religion.

    So this lopsided policy is not working and it needs to be addressed by the government talking to ANP and Taliban as the Pakhtuns belong to these political parties.

    We allow these things to happen and when we have the opportunity to lay down laws we dont do it. We accept bribes and turn a blind eye to people who break laws and now we have a many problems at hand.

    Sure all Pakistanis can live whereever they want with a clear understanding that the law and order should be maintained. Pakhtuns in their tradition have never live in a civilized society. They are a bunch of wild people.

    It is such a bad feeling whenever I go back to Pakistan to see that the society I was born is still backwards and most of the people are living in the past. They glorify the time that is no more. Religion now is used to the worst. We have not arrived in the community of nations where life, liberty and peace is the norm.

    Pakhtuns are definately part of the problem not the solution. There is a greater chance now that we can try to talk and assumilate them in the culture of Pakistan if they want to live in Karachi.

    There is also a chance that if they resist a civil war can happen which will be very bad for all in Karachi.

  8. I totally agree with jami and Salman. The writing was on the wall for many years but the vested interests obviously did not pay heed to it for various reasons. One among them is that they thought this migration would deflate the situation in the real war zones which actually never happened and secondly they never plan anything on long-term basis and never consider the consequences of their short-sided policies. Let us accept that we have a dearth of serious thinkers, planners, policy-makers,managers, law-enforcers as all our policies are based on un-educated guess work.
    Wish we had invested in education. Its kind of late—very late!

  9. Inch by inch, day by day they are coming. What is happening today was never even thought of a few years ago; and what is about to come in a few years is unthinkable now. If our army cannot do anything now, it will not do anything then. Have a nice day.

    • It’s the common, uneducated youth who has been indoctrinated by some uneducated self proclaimed Messiah or Savior of Islam. Those need to be identified and put behind bars to spoil the brain of the young ones by encouraging them to come to jihad or involve in killing innocent people irrespective of religion: Islam never teaches to be destructive or kill others. May Allah give them humanity first then anything else!

  10. Pakistan is on the brink of failure. Pakistan’s own created militants in 80′s in order to please USA, lending a free hand to Saudi’s to inject fanatic doctrines and the corrupt democratic system are the blunders made to this poor nation.
    No hope for the poor nation unless some miracle happens.

  11. Karachi is the hub of Muhajir terrorists, who are mostly loyal to their self-exiled Don, Altaf Hussain — a agent of MI6 and the one who aspires to play for the CIA’s dirty game of amputating Karachi from the rest of the country. Equaling Pakhtun and Taliban is grave mistake this very article has sadly committed. Taliban are still the strategic depth of the Pakistani security apparatus and their entry into Karachi is impossible without the consent of the country’s security agencies.

  12. Dear Herald: As long as you can write objective articles like this one, there is a slever of hope for this country. Your article does not elaborate on how these Pathans were systematically brought and allowed to live in these areas which they illegally occupied. The fact to me is clear that ISI brought them, and kept them in their proper place. Deep down they wanted to create an alternative force to take Mohajirs who had united. Without active help from ISI so many Pathans could have never been there.
    My view about this problem are:

    1. Sooner or later there will be a civil war between Pathans and Mohajirs, Panjabis, Sindhis and Baluchies. It would be bloody and then it will end and the Pathans who came here to work will have to leave Karachi. so eventually they will go back to their “mulk”.

    If Pakistan has any feeling for those who have given human sactificies to create this country, then they should make plans to re-settle these Pathans back to their province.

  13. Dear Maqbool Ahmed: Thanks a lot for writing an objective article. You did not go into the history of Pathans coming to Karachi. First time about 10,000 were brought by Gahur Ayub. When Ayub Khan despite fraud committed by Ayub, he was defeated by Fatma Jinnah in Karachi. So these Pathans were brought to give as lesson to Karachites for not following the line. After than ISI systematically brought them and settled them in place where they are on the top and they can kills people living in lower areas. The purpose was not counter Mohajirs in Karachi.

    Now you are talking about Civil War. Remember that Pathans came to Karachi to work and send money back to their MOLK . Mohajirs are the only community which has no where to go. It is in the interest of Pakistan to tell the Pathans to go back to their MOLK. If not and if the civil war occurs, then there will be no Pakistan. Remember Frontier and Baloochistan are already gone, i.e. government writ is limited. If Karachi goes, so goes Sind and so goes Pakistan.

    ISI should understand that Civil War will end the country.

    Iqbal sialkotia

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