Taliban bringing their war to streets of Karachi

Posted: September 24, 2012 in Published in, The Friday Times
Tags: , , , , ,

by Zia Ur Rehman

Aug 10-16, 2012

http://www.thefridaytimes.com/beta3/tft/article.php?issue=20120810&page=2

Taliban militants have brought their war to the streets of Karachi, threatening key leaders of the Pashtun-dominated secular-leaning Awami National Party (ANP) and raising funds through extortions, killing those who refuse to pay.

Leaders of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have recently threatened to kill Pashtuns from the Mehsud tribe living in Karachi if they do not leave the ANP. The threats came from people linked with Waliur Rehman Mehsud, chief of TTP’s South Waziristan chapter, party sources said.

Karachi is Pakistan’s largest city, and about 5 million of its estimated 18 million residents are Pashtuns from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA and Balochistan. A large number of Pashtuns migrated to the city after unrest and violence in northern Pakistan since the war on terror began in 2001. After the killing of key Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders in drone attacks and military operations, a number of militants have also fled to Karachi in recent years, security experts and police officials say.

Although there are several Karachi-based militant outfits associated with Al Qaeda and Taliban consisting mainly of non-Pashtun members, militants from FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have recently been found involved in extortion and seeking protection money from Pashtun traders and transporters, and are believed to have killed a number of rival political figures.

“In the beginning, the militants from the tribal areas did not get involved in subversive activities. This was in line with a TTP policy to use Karachi only for fundraising and rest and recuperation,” said a tribal elder based in Sohrab Goth. “But now they seem to have changed their strategy.”

Taking advantage of the ongoing ethnic violence in the city, militants belonging to TTP’s Swat chapter killed dozens of elders and political figures of Swat who were travelling to or living in Karachi.

On June 18, Sher Ali Khan, head of the Swat Qaumi Ittehad and chairman of the Pakistan Seamen’s Union, was killed in the Frontier Colony area. His relatives blamed his death on Swati militants hiding in the city. Some of his family members, especially his nephew, former councilor Malik Riaz, were killed by the Taliban when they controlled Swat.

On January 5, Saeed Ahmed Khan, district president of ANP, was killed in an attack on his house in the Metroville area of SITE Town. Belonging to Manja village of Swat’s Kabal tehsil, he was an influential political figure in both Swat and Karachi. One of the attackers shot dead by a police constable assigned to Saeed Khan’s security was identified as Aminullah, a fugitive TTP Swat militant.

“A number of other Swati political and social figures have also been killed in the streets of Karachi by militants loyal to TTP Swat chief Maulana Fazlullah,” said Sher Shah Khan, a parliamentarian elected from Swat.

The militant group involved in the killings of pro-government elders of Swat in Karachi is mainly led by Ibn-e-Aqeel alias Khog, and Sher Muhammad alias Yaseen. Both are among the most wanted people in Swat. The task of these assassinations was assigned to them two and half years ago by TTP commander Ibn-e-Amin, of the lower Shawar area of Swat. Ibn-e-Amin – among the most dangerous militant commanders in Swat and linked with Al Qaeda – was killed in a drone attack in Tirah valley of Khyber Agency in December 2010.

Another militant group active in Karachi is loyal to TTP South Waziristan chief Waliur Rehman Mehsud, led in the city by Khan Zaman. In the beginning, they were believed to be involved in extortion from Mehsud tribesmen from South Waziristan who run transport and heavy machinery businesses in Karachi. The sum they asked for ranged from Rs1 million to Rs5 million.

But recently, they have started threatening the people from the Mehsud tribe to leave the ANP. “Most of the party’s offices in Sohrab Goth, Mingopir, Kunwari Colony, Pashtunabad and New Sultanabad have been closed down after the threats, and party members belonging to the Mehsud clan have gone underground,” a provincial leader of the ANP said. He requested anonymity for security reasons.

Mehsud tribesmen living in Karachi are seen as supporters of the ANP. Two of the party’s elected members of Sindh Assembly also belong to the Mehsud tribe. Although the ANP was the main target of terrorism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA and had lost scores of party workers and lawmakers in attacks carried out by TTP because of their opposition to militancy and extremism, their Karachi leaders have never been threatened by Taliban groups before.

The Mohmand chapter of TTP has also formed a cell in Karachi for collecting protection money from the people belonging to Mohmand Agency. The network was developed by TTP Mohmand chief Omar Khalid and spokesman Ikramullah Mohmand to raise funds, said an elder from the Mohmand agency. Qari Shakeel, deputy to Omar Khalid, calls the traders himself, demanding money, he added. The network, led by TTP commander Yousaf Khan Mian in Karachi, has killed several traders who refused to pay, the elder said. Mohmand tribesmen based in Karachi usually sell timber and construction material.

Taliban militants are also involved in the July 17 attack on a WHO doctor and a July 20 slaying of a local community activist working with Polio eradication campaign in Sohrab Goth area, police say.

Mazshar Mashwani, a senior official at the Crime Investigation Department (CID), said Taliban militants hiding in Karachi had been killing ANP leaders and CID personnel for the last few months. “A group of TTP consisting of 9 or 10 militants has become active in the remits of SITE, Pirabad and Mingophir police stations, and killed several ANP and CID men,” he said. The militants, he said, were also carrying out fundraising through kidnapping for ransom, extortion and other means. Several CID and Rangers personnel involved in a crackdown against Taliban militants were killed in Pashtun dominated areas of Karachi in the last few weeks.

Experts and tribal elders say law-enforcement agencies should launch a “selective and surgical” operation in Karachi against militants who are hiding in the city.

A number of Taliban suspects have been arrested for murder, extortion and abduction in the last three months, according to news reports. They include Nazeerullah Mehsud (July 25), Faisal Mehsud and Khan Mohammad alias Sajid (July 2), Jahangir Khan Akakhel (June 9) and Muhammad Yaseen Mehsud alias Naib-Commander (May 28).

Police have also killed Omar Khitab, a key TTP leader, in a July 27 encounter. Khitab, belonging to South Waziristan, used to collect forced donations from Pashtun traders in Karachi, said Chaudhry Bashir, in charge of Mingophir police station.

The writer is a journalist and researcher and currently writing a book titled ‘Karachi in Turmoil’. Email: zia_red@hotmail.com

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