By Zia Ur Rehman

KARACHI – Tribal-area militants hiding in Karachi have brought their fight to the streets of Karachi, killing pro-government Pashtuns under the guise of targeted killings, Central Asia Online has learned.

“The militants, taking advantage of ongoing ethnic violence in the city, kill their rivals, (and) in most cases, the police consider these killings a result of ethnic violence,” said a senior police official who runs the anti-extremism cell in the city.

”]That concealment makes it difficult for officials to put a number on the militancy-related deaths. But security officials have arrested dozens of hard-core militants from Swat and other tribal areas suspected of involvement in such killings, said a senior police official in Karachi’s SITE Town.

That militants have migrated to Karachi from Swat, tribal areas and elsewhere is nothing new. They began taking refuge there after the government launched military operations in the tribal areas and Swat in 2009. Karachi, with a population of about 18m, provides them sanctuary because about 5m Pashtuns inhabit the city.

In the tribal areas, where the population is sparser, residents had an idea of who was involved in the militancy. In Karachi, the militants shaved their beards, cut their long hair and blended right in, said a leader of Karachi-based Swat Qaumi Ittehad (SQI), requesting anonymity. SQI is an organisation for Swatis living in Karachi.

What is new, however, is that pro-government Pashtuns travelling to Karachi for personal or business reasons are being targeted and killed. Officials explain the disturbing trend by saying the militants are killing Pashtuns in Karachi to silence anti-Taliban voices in the tribal areas.

Dozens of members of peace committees from different parts of the tribal areas have been killed in the past year in Karachi for speaking out against Taliban atrocities in the former “valley of terror,” said Ziauddin Yousafzai, spokesman for the Swat Qaumi Jirga.

The list of Karachi victims with ties to the tribal areas and Swat includes:

Rustam Khan, an Awami National Party (ANP) leader and member of a peace committee in Kanju, killed in Banaras January 2.

Fazal Muhammad, a constable of Swat’s Special Police Force, killed in Pathan Colony November 9.

Nisar Muhammad Khan, an active leader of Swat’s anti-Taliban peace committee of Kabal, shot to death October 28 in Pathan Colony.

Mian Azam Shah, an anti-Taliban leader in Matta, assassinated in Baldia Town October 19.

Abdul Manan – the older brother of Dilawar Khan, who formerly led the Adezai Qaumi lashkar in the suburbs of Peshawar – gunned down in Karachi in January 2009.

Haji Tor Babazai, an anti-Taliban elder of Mohmand Agency, killed in Karachi on September 29.

Accomplices of Maulana Fazlullah, head of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) Swat, were behind the targeted killings of some Swati’s anti-Taliban elders in Karachi, Yousafzai said. The men assassinated by the militants in Karachi were very helpful to the government during military operation, and I believe they have been targeted for this very reason,”, agreed Sher Shah Khan, a parliamentarian from Swat and district general secretary of the ANP.

The killings have engendered fear in Swat, he said.

The militant group involved in the killings of pro-government elders of Swat in Karachi in mainly led by Ibn-e-Aqeel, alias khog, and Sher Muhammad, alias Yaseen, said a Matta local elder who is now in Karachi. They were among the most wanted people in Swat, he added.

Police have arrested dozens of Taliban militants from the tribal areas, said a police official, adding that some of them had suicide jackets and huge quantities of explosives and weapons.

“I personally know a dozen hard-line militants who killed innocent Swati people and burnt their houses have been arrested in Karachi by local police”, said Jamal Nasir Khan, a former Swat district mayor.

Most militants in Karachi are low-profile TTP members. “They hide here, work here as labourers, and some of them perhaps waiting for the right time to settle their scores with their rivals in the city,” said the senior police official involved in fighting extremism.

The militants hiding in Karachi have joined the ranks of banned jihadi organisations, especially Jaish-e-Muhammad, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, he said.

Law enforcement agencies should launch a “selective and surgical” operation in Karachi against militants who have migrated to Karachi, Khan and Yousafzai said.

Indeed, evidence from the spate of recent “targeted killings” has indicated that they have links to the tribal area militancy, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said.

“We have directed law enforcement agencies to launch a crackdown against the militants hiding in Karachi,” Malik said.