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Karachi: Nourishing Islamist Terror

By Ajit Kumar Singh and Tushar Ranjan Moahnty 

Karachi, Pakistan's commercial capital, has long been a theatre of wide spectrum of violence, inspired, variously, by Islamist terrorism, ethnic and sectarian rivalry or partisan politics. It has, moreover, emerged as a major safe-haven for Islamist extremists linked to Al Qaeda and Taliban, as well as to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Capital to the Sindh province, Karachi has, since the 1980s, been a focal point of tremendous sectarian strife between the majority Sunni and minority Shia Muslims. The city has also seen recurring violence targeting western interests. Violent political rivalries have also created an environment that has helped terrorist groups of various hues entrench themselves in metropolitan anonymity.

With a population of some 20 million and counting, the port-city, has witnessed at least of 425 killings, including 360 civilians, 38 militants and 27 Security Force (SF) personnel, in some 213 incidents of violence since 2005. While year 2007 saw an extraordinary spike, with 151 killed followed by a decline at just 37 fatalities in 2008, violence has been escalating since. At least 77 persons have already been killed in 2010. The city has also witnessed at least seven suicide bombings since 2005.


















































Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal, *Data till June 27, 2010

The most significant incidents recorded since 2005 include:

February 5, 2010: At least 33 persons were killed and over 100, including women and children, were injured, in twin blasts in Karachi, targeting Shias, as the city marked Hazrat Imam Hussain's chehlum (40th Day after death) ceremony.

December 28, 2009: A suicide bomber targeted Pakistan's largest procession of Shiite Muslims in Karachi on their holiest day of Ashura, killing at least 30 people and injuring more than 63. Interior Minister Rehman Malik blamed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) for the attack.

October 18, 2007: A suicide bombing in a crowd welcoming former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto killed 143 persons and injured approximately 550 others in Karachi. However, Bhutto escaped unhurt in this attack. [She eventually died in an attack on December 27, 2007.]

April 11, 2006: At least 57 people, including prominent Sunni religious leaders, were killed and more than 50 persons sustained injuries, in a suicide bomb attack at Nishtar Park in Karachi.

May 31, 2005: Four employees of the US fast-food franchise Kentucky Fried Chicken were burnt alive and two others froze to death in the outlet’s refrigeration unit in Karachi during a riot that followed a suicide attack on a Shia mosque in Karachi.

Significantly, SATP data excludes killings in political and organised criminal violence which are rampant in Karachi. Thus, on May 12, 2007, Karachi had exploded in orchestrated violence when the sacked Chief Justice, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, arrived in the city to attend a rally organised by High Court lawyers and opposition parties. Armed cadres, principally believed to be drawn from the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) which heads the provincial Government in Sindh, and is a partner in the ruling Federal Coalition, received tacit state support as they went on a rampage across the city, attacking opposition party workers and media organisations, leaving at least 42 dead and over 150 wounded. All Parties Minorities Alliance Chairman, Shahbaz Bhatti, had, at that time, declared that the "Government deliberately stoked the violence against political parties."

Recently, on May 19, 2010, Karachi, witnessed shootings across the city, in which at least 23 people, including a Policeman, were killed. According to the data compiled by law enforcement agencies, at least 92 people affiliated with political and banned religious outfits have been shot dead in various incidents of targeted killing in 2010.

The city has also witnesses a continuous rash of abductions for ransom, car-jackings, armed robberies and murders. Sources indicate that a substantial section of such crime is attributed to groups with links to various political parties and Islamist extremist groups. An elaborate underground economy of organised crime and terror exists in Karachi, where everything is said to be available for a price. Karachi is also flooded with illegal weapons, and local media reports indicate that some 16 cases of unlicensed arms possession are registered, on average, each day.

The city has, for long, been considered extremely difficult to police. November 23, 2009, report cited a study carried out by the Police suggesting that the sanctioned strength of 34,155 law enforcers was well below what was needed. "In Karachi, there is a single Policeman for the protection of the lives, property and legitimate interests of 571 people" as against a 1:287 ratio in Lahore. "If we follow the police-population ratio of Lahore, the Karachi Police force should have more than 60,000 policemen for the protection of more than 16 million people."

Nevertheless, enforcement agencies have chalked up some important successes. Police, for instance, killed five suspects, believed to be linked to the then TTP chief Baitullah Mehsud, in an encounter in Karachi on June 26, 2009. According partial data compiled in the SATP database, at least 75 militants, including 59 TTP, five al Qaeda and six Afghan Taliban cadres, were arrested in 2009. Year 2010 has already seen at least 56, including 16 Taliban and two al Qaeda militants, arrested. Significantly, US and Pakistani intelligence services arrested the top military 'commander' of Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on February 16, 2010. 46 militants were arrested in the city in 2005; 88 in 2006; 31 in 2007 and 44 in 2008.

Meanwhile, Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik said, on May 23, 2010, that terrorist elements from Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Swat (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) were behind the recent wave of target killings in Karachi. Karachi mayor Syed Mustafa Kamal separately stated that the city was the TTP's "revenue engine".

Earlier reports indicated that hundreds of TTP cadres fleeing from the country’s restive northwest frontier, had taken refuge in Karachi, where a growing nexus with banned militant organisations was evident. A huge Pashtun population, mostly in the city’s suburbs, provided shelter to these militants, according to security officials. Senior Police investigator Raja Umer Khattab thus disclosed, "Most of the Taliban coming to Karachi are 'B' and 'C' category... They hide here, work here as labourers, and some of them are probably waiting for the right time to go back to the tribal areas and fight again." While in the city, they receive support from and establish linkages with the various extremist groupings operating in the city. An unnamed official thus explained, "The TTP and most of the jihadi outfits like LeJ (Lashkar-e-Jhangvi), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Jundullah, share the same ideology, and in Karachi we have established that they are working together. They work in groups of 10-15 people, with one local amir (commander) and at times with no direct link to the main TTP leaders like Hakimullah Mehsud, so it makes it very difficult to trace their wider links. And these groups not only have Pashtun militants, but also those from Punjab and Balochistan, and even locals."

An October 18, 2009, report claimed that some 60 of the TTP’s second-rung leaders – who fled Swat during the Army’s Operation Rah-e-Rast (Path to Truth) – used Karachi as a transit route to head out to the Middle East. Sources indicate that sleeper cells of the TTP in Karachi facilitated the flight of these leaders. Some of those who travelled to the Middle East were close to Taliban leaders Muslim Khan and Maulana Fazlullah, and were part of the TTP’s decision-making structure. According to these sources, the Karachi unit of TTP hosts Islamist militants from other provinces, and provides logistics support, and also recruits new members. However, the Karachi TTP has no operational wing, and does not have permission to carry out attacks in the city.

Earlier, in an alarming disclosure, a March 1, 2009, report prepared by the Karachi Criminal Investigation Department Special Branch indicated that the Taliban network could strike the financial and shipping hub of Karachi and "could take the city hostage at any point". A December 23, 2009, report, quoting a Senior Police Official, stated that several militants of the LeJ, who were earlier hiding and fighting in the tribal areas of the NWFP, had reached Karachi to carry out terrorist activities.

Reports also indicated that Afghan Taliban were relocating from Quetta (Balochisatn) to Karachi, making it more difficult to apprehend them. According to a statement by Lt. Gen. John Paxton, director for operations at the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, on February 23, 2010, "Elements of the Afghan Taliban high command are beginning to relocate from Quetta to Karachi... And obviously this makes it more difficult to locate and apprehend the senior Taliban leadership, because Karachi is a major metropolitan city with over 3 million Pashtuns."

Meanwhile, Political Commentator Rafia Zakaria in an article published in Dawn on February 10, 2010, observed:

As Pakistan’s only mega city Karachi’s demographics, history of communal conflict and dynamics of urban governance all present a lethal mix. In addition, its status as a global city, one with widespread (and largely unregulated) communication systems, present unique opportunities to terrorist groups wishing to use the city as a hub for monitoring and proliferating transnational networks. More al Qaeda planners and leaders are believed to have been apprehended in Karachi than in any other single city, pointing to the fact that Karachi is not simply a target for terrorist attacks but a place which provides a cover to groups planning them. The arrests of Shawki Awad Balzuhair, Aziz Ahmed Al Maythali, Hassan Bin Attash, Rahimullah and several others, all took place in the city… In the political and structural opportunities it presents for planning and execution, Karachi could well be Al Qaeda’s dream city. Strategically, it holds an advantage over the tribal areas in that it is unlikely to be the target of US drone attacks. Karachi represents an important target for attacks because capitalising on political fissures in the city yields enormous advantages in thwarting the NATO mission in Afghanistan. The city is the entry point for NATO supplies to Afghanistan and its destabilisation would translate into a massive blow to NATO efforts in the region.

Karachi now provides an entire ‘infrastructure’ for terrorist organisations to flourish. The TTP, Taliban and al Qaeda, facing some pressure in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, continue to pour into the port city, further damaging an already dwindling Pakistani economy. The city is already a safe haven for Islamist terrorists, and is evolving as a significant theatre of violence. Unless extremist networks are uprooted now, the ‘descent into anarchy’ that has been noted across Pakistan’s other provinces may well come to afflict the country’s commercial capital.

Ajit Kumar Singh is a Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management and Tushar Ranjan Moahnty is a Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

Source: South Asia Intelligence Review -[Sair]