Archive for the ‘Dawn’ Category


by Zia Ur Rehman

FEB 23, 2015

KARACHI: On an evening, policemen patrolling the Arakan Abad neighborhood of Aorangi stopped Shamsul Hassan, a young fisherman, started frisking him and asking questions, and then let him go after taking a bribe of Rs200.

“Harassment at the hands of Karachi police has become a routine matter for our community as we do not have Pakistani national identity cards despite having been living in the country for the past 35 years,” says Hassan, a Burmese Muslim known as the Rohingya, who was born in Karachi.

Rohingya Muslims are seen in this file photo. -AFP

Hassan is one of the thousands of young Rohingyas whose parents had fled persecution in Burma (now called Myanmar) over the past 35 years to Karachi.

In the early years of their migration, they felt comparatively comfortable and welcome in the Muslim state of Pakistan. Their large-scale migration had made Karachi one of the largest Rohingya population centres outside Myanmar but afterwards the situation started turning against them.

Although Rohingyas and Bengalis live side by side in dozens of shantytowns of Karachi, mainly in Bin Qasim and Korangi towns, both communities are very different from each other culturally and linguistically.

But the Rohingyas generally call themselves Bengalis. “It is because they want to show that they have also migrated to Pakistan before the fall of Dhaka and it helps them get naturalised citizenship,” said Saleh Shahabuddin, a Bengali community leader in Machchar Colony area of Keamari.

According to an estimate of the National Alien Registration Authority, there are about half a million Rohingyas in the city. But experts and community leaders believe their number is higher as the illegal immigrants are seldom counted in national census while the last time a census was held in Karachi was in 1998.

Experts say that migration of both Bengalis and Burmese started in 1980s, which had continued intermittently until 1998. “Because of a liberal policy towards migrants and refugees during Gen Ziaul Haq’s military regime, major Rohingya exodus took place (to Karachi),” said Zia Ahmed Awan, a lawyer who worked extensively on issues of illegal immigration and human trafficking.

During Zia’s regime, they were brought to Pakistan for two purposes – study in madresshas and participate in Afghan jihad. “Zia offered them residence permits in Pakistan and thousands landed in Karachi. But they were never granted citizenship,” said Mr Awan.

Interviews with a number of community leaders in Arakan Abad, which was named after the Arakan province in Myanmar, suggest that non-issuance of national identity cards is the biggest problem the community faces.

“Even as being third-generation and born in Karachi, the National Database and Registration Authority is not issuing us identity cards, making the community vulnerable to harassment by law enforcement agencies,” said Mohammad Shoaib, a Rohingya community leader.

“It compels the community youth to join ethno-political and religious parties, Jihadi groups and criminal gangs to seek shelter and security and in return, these groups use them for their political and violent activities,” he said.

They also complain that their neighborhoods across the city are deprived of basic civic facilities, such as safe drinking water and proper sewerage system, forcing community members to live in filthy conditions.

In 2001 local bodies elections, several Burmese activists, along with Bengali community leaders, became nazims and councillors from their majority areas in Karachi on tickets of different political parties, especially the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and Pakistan People Party and as independent candidates as well.

“Because the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) had then boycotted the local bodies election, a number of Rohingya people became part of local bodies system, which helped the community resolve civic issues in their neighborhoods,” said Shoaib.

In 2012 general elections, Burmese and Bengali community had contested elections from the platform of their own political parties, especially Pakistan Muslim Alliance (PMA) and Pakistan Muslim League-Sher-i-Bangal faction.

The PMA did not win any seat but bagged significant votes from eligible Burmese and Bengali communities in Korangi and Bin Qasim areas. For example, in 2002 general polls, the PMA candidates bagged around 5,000 votes from each of NA-254 (Korangi) and PS-129 (Bin Qasim) constituencies, only from Burmese and Bengali neighborhoods.

However, after MQM formed a special committee for the Bengali and Burmese communities called the Pakistan Bengalis Action Committee (PBAC) in 2005, the PMA abandoned its activities. The PBAC, led by Shaikh Feroz, a former town nazim of Orangi, is now active in all Burmese neighborhoods in the city.

Rohingya community is more inclined towards religion and they send their children to madressahs. It is a major reason that many religious parties, especially the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, the JI and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, have their organisational set-up in Burmese neighborhoods.

Community leaders say that law enforcement agencies have arrested a number of Rohingya people in different slums of the city in recent months but mainly for their involvement in ethno-political violence and street-crimes.

According to the United Nations, the Rohingyas are ‘one of the most persecuted groups of people in the world’. The community in Karachi is also worried over the ethnic cleansing taking place in Myanmar. It has organised several protests in the city against the oppression and conducted fund-raising campaigns for helping their kith and kin in Myanmar.

“A number of Rohingya members living in Arakan Abad have lost their relatives in recent attacks by Buddhist mobs in June 2012 in Myanmar,” said Mohammad Fazil, a local JI activist.

Rohingyas in Karachi regularly collect donations, Zakat and hides of sacrificial animals and send these to Myanmar and Bangladesh to support the displaced families.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2015



For many Pakistani-Americans, home is not where the hearth is

The paradox is fascinating: on November 4, as America went to mid-term polls, Pakistani-American cabbie from New York City, Mustafa Hussain, was arguing that participating in the US votes is just a waste of time. In the same breath, he proudly boasted that he had, along with his three friends, participated in a September 27 protest organised by the local Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) chapter in front of the United Nations when Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was addressing the General Assembly (UNGA).

PTI supporters demonstrate against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif outside the United Nations building in New York while he addressed the UN General Assembly —Online file photo

Hussain’s case is associated with a large debate attached to the Pakistani Diaspora in the US these days, one that centres on whether they have integrated enough into their adopted country. According to different estimates, up to 500,000 Pakistani Americans live in the US, with the largest populations concentrated in New York, Houston and Chicago, followed by northern and southern California. With a near 100% increase in numbers since 2000, Pakistani-Americans are the second fastest growing Asian immigrant group in the US.

Despite their numbers, social scientists studying the Pakistani Diaspora in America believe that there exists a “myth of return” — that one day, they would leave their adopted country and go back to Pakistan. This notion is among the greatest challenges to integration and socio-cultural assimilation for the Pakistani Diaspora in the US.

“I have been working as a physician for the last 15 years and am settled with family here,” says a physician in the town of Alexandria, Virginia. “But it is also a fact that eventually we have to go back to Pakistan permanently as the US is not our country.”

M Asim Siddiqui, who works with a local Urdu newspaper for Pakistani community in Virginia, argues that after 9/11, Muslim populations in general and the Pakistani community in particular felt insecure and preferred to stay within their community. “Many Pakistani-Americans live in ghettos, mainly near the mosques or Islamic centres, and this is because of their social, cultural and religious culture,” he claims.

A section of analysts think differently.

“Those Pakistanis who are high-end professionals, such as physicians, IT engineers and scientists are easily assimilating in the American culture. But the issue is with low-income Pakistanis who are working as cab drivers or grocery store clerks, and especially with those who came to the US through illegal means or by seeking asylum,” said Pir Zubair Shah, a New York-based researcher, who had worked with the New York Times in Pakistan.

Some analysts believe that it will take time for the Pakistani community as a whole to be fully entrenched in the larger mainstream community. “Pakistanis like to live close to each other and socialise only among themselves,” declares Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi, a political analyst and former president of the Pakistan Chamber of Commerce USA. “This cuts them off from the mainstream, and reduces contact at the cultural and community level. Their interactions [with others] are only limited to work.”

Integration in American society

Pakistanis are still a newer community in the US. The majority of them arrived in America in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Those arriving were well-placed professionals, such as physicians, engineers, software workers or scientists; many either came directly because of a demand in their profession or as students who stayed back after graduating.

Along with these professionals came their less educated relatives, who were either eligible for migration under immigration visa preference for relatives or through the visa lottery scheme. This demographic is largely working blue-collar jobs.

More than 80 per cent of Pakistani households are family-based, having taken advantage of the family reunion visa option.

Nadeem Hotiana, press attaché at Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, said that Pakistanis in the US form a vibrant social community, with dozens of community, cultural, as well as university-based student events. Local chapters of Pakistani political parties also frequently organise social and cultural gatherings in different parts of the country.

“Although it is true that the Pakistani community has been unable to create a distinct place in American society, the new generation has been active and joining the country’s prestigious financial and policy-making organisations,” says Hotiana.

In 2010, as Pakistan reeled from the effects of the worst-ever floods in its history, the American Jewish Committee teamed up with the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America DC Chapter (APPNA), the Maryland Muslim Council, and the Washington Hebrew Congregation to donate 13,340 meals to flood victims.
In 2010, as Pakistan reeled from the effects of the worst-ever floods in its history, the American Jewish Committee teamed up with the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America DC Chapter (APPNA), the Maryland Muslim Council, and the Washington Hebrew Congregation to donate 13,340 meals to flood victims.

Michael Kugelman, an expert on South Asia associated with the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, argues that many Pakistanis have comfortably become part of American society — particularly the 35 per cent of Pakistani-Americans who were born in the US.

“If we want to talk about those that have struggled to integrate in American society, we’d have to draw from the 65 per cent that were not born here,” says Kugelman. “And even on this count, most of those I’ve met seem comfortable with their identity. They are well-versed in American sports and politics, but at the same time, deeply passionate about what’s going on back in Pakistan. Rare is the diaspora member who doesn’t have a view on what’s going on in Pakistan.”

Most issues faced by Pakistani-Americans are immigration-related or manifestations of bilateral relations between the two countries. “When the relationship goes sour, Pakistani-Americans tend to feel the pressure. Conversely, when relations improve, they feel that too,” says Kundi.

Pakistani politics, not US politics

Background interviews with a number of Pakistani Americans suggest that they are more interested in the politics of Pakistan and do not take an equal interest in local politics or elections in the US. This trend was also observed in the November 4 midterm elections.

By contrast, many segments of the Pakistani Diaspora actively follow Pakistani politics in terms of running and joining overseas chapters of Pakistani political parties.

“When you ask them to attend a meeting to do with local elections or with local representatives or to contribute funds, they will make lame excuses. But when leaders of Pakistani political parties visit the US, all of them would not only attend the gatherings but also help organisers financially,” explains Siddiqui.

Almost all Pakistani political parties, especially the PTI, PML-N, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), have their chapters and organisational structures in the US. However, political analysts believe that the PTI is possibly the most popular in the Diaspora.

“Most Pakistanis living in USA are from the educated middle-class, which is the constituency that supports the PTI,” says Kundi, before adding that the PTI’s inability to become an institution has also disappointed its supporters in the US.

While such political vibrancy is laudable to an extent, it compromises the Pakistani Diaspora’s position within the US.

Asad Chaudary, a Virginia chapter president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and someone who formed the Pak-American Study Circle for the purpose of lobbying in Capitol Hill, explains that because of these “divisions” within the Pakistani community, it is very hard to show strength in matters of lobbying. This affects policymaking and working relationships with congressmen and other officials. He also claims that it is “very hard” to get Pakistani-Americans to exercise their voting rights during American polls.

Hotiana too was not enthused by diaspora attitudes. He says Pakistani factional politics had also divided the Pakistani-American community.

“In a recent visit of Pakistani premier Sharif to the UNGA, we saw a divided Pakistani community, protesting in favour of as well as against the government,” he says. “On the other hand, Indian Diaspora, despite their political differences, showed their unity in welcoming Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”

Hotiana argues that their active involvement in Pakistan politics deters them from taking an active part in the politics of the US, their adopted country.

But perhaps, it is somewhat unfair to compare Pakistan’s diaspora to that of India’s, which is about 3 million strong.

“Both diasporas in the US are quite similar in the sense that they are relatively well-assimilated and are well-represented in both white-collar and blue-collar professions,” says Kugelman. “Where the difference lies is how they are organised. India’s diaspora in the US, despite its large size, is quite well-organised and is capable of speaking with one voice — which may help explain why it has a large lobbying presence in Washington and has been very successful in advocating for positions on Capitol Hill.”

Islamic radicalisation

In recent years, there has been a small increase in the number of terror incidents involving Islamic radicals who are American citizens, according to counter-terrorism officials and experts in the US. A number of US citizens have also been part of high-profile international and domestic terrorism; in some cases, such as that of Faisal Shahzad, Pakistani-Americans were involved.

A Pakistan-born naturalised US citizen, Shahzad attempted to bomb New York’s Times Square in May 2010 with a parked car full of explosives. He was allegedly inspired by Pakistani militants and told US authorities during interrogation that he was a “fan and follower” of radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, but appears to have planned the bombing alone. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

A research paper titled Muslims Americans, conducted by Pew Research Centre in 2011, finds no indication of increased alienation or anger among Muslim Americans, which includes the Pakistani Diaspora, in response to concerns about home-grown Islamic terrorists. But a majority of Muslim Americans express concerns about the possible rise of Islamic extremism, both in the US and abroad.

Arif Ansar, a security analyst associated with PoliTact, a Washington-based think-tank, is also of same view. He believes that Pakistani-Americans primarily display a liberal and peaceful outlook. However, he thinks that the danger of the lone wolf phenomenon is always there.

“People espousing religious conservatism, and even liberals, have often taken on an ambivalent posture towards world affairs,” says Ansar. “What this means is that while they may despise US and western policies towards the Islamic world privately, they do not articulate them in public, nor do they adopt political activism as a means to address their concerns.”

Ansar adds that their attitude is that their activism was unlikely to produce any result or make a difference at a larger level, and this was in marked contrast to the culture of individualism and activism in the American system.

Shah, who had covered the Shahzad case extensively in Pakistan at that time, is of the view that the situation of Islamic radicalisation is more severe in Europe than in the US. “It was a case of economic frustration, not of a case of radicalisation through any organised network within the US,” he comments.

Pakistan’s private electronic media, which is very popular among the Pakistani Diaspora in the US, is playing a key role in shaping expat sensibilities and keeps them from integrating into American politics, he claims. “The majority of Pakistani-Americans watch Pakistani TV channels, that often demonise the US and glorify Taliban militants,” says Shah.

However, while many Pakistanis may remain aloof, US security officials are certainly keeping an eye on the community. US counterterrorism officers explain that in the backdrop of terrorist attacks, they instituted a program directed at the Muslim community, especially Pakistani-Americans, to develop informants and undercover agents. US law enforcement agencies have been working on this issue in collaboration with leaders of Pakistani community and religious clerics at mosques.

“If you compare the situation with Europe, where a number of young European Muslims, especially from France, have been joining the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, the situation is much better in the US,” says a law enforcement official in Washington D.C.

At the same time, PoliTact has noted how American and western policies, especially in the Middle East and South and Central Asia, will in the long run create home-grown challenges.

“If the foreign policies of western nations continue to divert too acutely from the sentiments of their Muslim citizens, which they often do not candidly express, it is bound to produce inadvertent long-term consequences,” says Ansar.

“To address this, the responsibility lies with both diaspora leaders and American public representatives. To be taken seriously, community leaders would have to generate genuine assessments of the risks and the situation as opposed to presenting recommendations based on wishful thinking, or by attempting to appease by conforming to mainstream thoughts.”

This article was first written during a six-week-long fellowship of the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ), Washington. It has been re-edited for use in Pakistan. The writer tweets at @zalmayzia


By Zia Ur Rehman

January 11th, 2015

Sitting at a tea stall near Jamia Farooqia, a seminary in Karachi’s Shah Faisal Colony, a group of five young students discuss the current issue of madressah reforms.

One of them is Mansoor Abbasi, a 26-year-old student of the seminary, who feels that the government wants “to shut down all the madressahs in the country at the behest of the US and foreign-funded NGOs”. The others nod their heads in agreement.

In this photo, a student of a madrassa attends a test in reciting verses of the Quran in a Mosque in Islamabad. — AP/File

In response to the Dec 16 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, the government has announced a National Action Plan (NAP) to fight terrorism and militancy. The plan includes the registration and regulation of madressahs and a committee has been formed to meet the wifaqs of different madressahs to reach a consensus.

But the Ittehad-i-Tanzeemat-i-Madaris-i-Deenia (ITMD), a coalition of five wifaqs (Deobandi, Barelvi, Ahl-i-Hadith, Shia and Jamaat-i-Islami), have come out strongly in defence of the seminaries. Supporting them are religious political parties, especially the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F).

Mufti Munibur Rehman, who heads the ITMD alliance, says that the madressahs will not “tolerate any negative propaganda and agenda against the madressahs”. He headed the Jan 3 meeting of the coalition at the Jamaat-i-Islami’s central office in Lahore and says that the government should consult the ITMD leaders regarding the action plan and take them into confidence about any issues related to madressahs.

It is not the first time that the madressahs federation has voiced opposition to government attempts to regularise them. In fact, the ITMD was formed in 2004 in opposition to retired Gen Pervez Musharraf’s introduction of the Pakistan Madressah Education Board in 2003.

Meanwhile, security analysts believe that this is not the right time to address seminary reforms. Muhammad Amir Rana, an Islamabad-based security expert, who also attended the meetings of the working group for the establishment of the NAP, says that religious parties and seminaries of different sects become united whenever the government tries to impose any kind of control over them. “The working group has recommended to the government to examine the connections of different madressahs with militancy,” says Rana. He adds that the government should “push the seminaries managements to provide assurances that their teachers and students would not be involved in any sort of terrorism”.

Rana points out that madressahs provide political, social and financial support, as well as manpower, to religious political parties, the key reason why they always unite to stop government intervention in madressahs matters. “They do not want to lose their strength,” Rana says.

This time, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman is leading the campaign to oppose attempts to regulate madressahs and is trying to build a larger alliance of religious parties and wifaqs to pressure the government. Mufti Muhammad Naeem, who heads the Jamia Binoria Al-Alamia in Karachi, says that Rehman represents all five major wifaqs and they “support his struggle”.

Commenting on federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Khan’s statement that 10 per cent of the madressahs are involved in terrorism, Naeem says that those madressahs should be exposed. “We will support the government action against them,” he says.

Liberal political parties and civil society organisations are in agreement that seminaries should be reformed. “They impart extremist and violent sectarian ideologies catering to militant movements and feed armed conflicts,” says Afrasiab Khattak, an Awami National Party leader and part of the NAP committee.

Some Shia and Barelvi groups are also demanding action against madressahs involved in militancy but point out that there should be no restrictions on madressahs that are not. Allama Amin Shaheedi of the Majlis Wahdat-i-Muslimeen says that Chaudhry Nisar should identify the seminaries associated with militancy. “It is a fact that some madressahs have turned into militant training centres and prepare young students for suicide attacks,” says Shaheedi.

Interviews with seminary teachers and religious scholars suggest that following the announcement of NAP’s formation, law enforcement agencies started collecting information such as connections of teachers, management and students with religious and jihadi groups and their funding sources from seminaries. They insist that in the last five years, all major wifaqs have directed their seminaries to keep an eye on students and teachers for involvement in militancy.

“Forget about the past, now almost all seminaries have been asking students and teachers to sign affidavits that they would not become part of any religious, sectarian and jihadi groups,” says a teacher at Jamia Farooqia, requesting anonymity. He adds that they had expelled a number of students for violating the instruction and “are not responsible for acts by any students who have graduated”.

However, he agrees that some seminaries associated with banned jihadi and sectarian groups are not under the influence of the wifaqs.


January 4th, 2015

By Zia Ur Rehman

Outside a house in Chatta Gabol Goth, a neighbourhood on Superhighway in Karachi, dozens of Mehsud tribesmen gathered to offer condolences to Abdullah Mehsud’s relatives.

Abdullah was a 32-year-old truck driver killed in an alleged police encounter on Dec 22, 2014, in the Deluxe Town area of Sohrab Goth, Karachi.

That day police claimed killing 13 suspected militants belonging to Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Al Qaeda during combat.

Mehsud tribesmen say that they are being persecuted on the basis of their tribal background as key TTP leaders — Baitullah, Hakimullah, Waliur Rehman and now Khan Said alias Sajna — belonged to the Mehsud clan. “Police now treat every Mehsud as a TTP militant and have adopted ‘arrest and kill’ policy for us if we fail to pay them bribes,” says Muhammad Din, a tribal elder.

Law enforcement agencies in Karachi have stepped up counterterrorism operations against Taliban groups in the Pakhtun neighbourhoods of the city in response to the Dec 16 attack on Army Public School in Peshawar; alongside, accusations of extrajudicial killings have also increased.

Since Dec 16, police and Rangers in Karachi have claimed killing a number of suspected militants allegedly belonging to the TTP. Among them was Abid Mehsud, alias Mucharh, the operational commander of the TTP Mehsud faction in the city. He was killed on Dec 18 along with three deputies in an ‘encounter’ with Rangers in Musharraf Colony. The operation was considered an achievement by the law enforcement agencies and a blow to the TTP in the city, say police officials as well as Pakhtun political activists.

However, a number of recent operations have been controversial. For instance, residents of Deluxe Town, where Abdullah was killed along with 12 other suspects, say that the “encounter was fake”. “We have seen a number of such fake encounters in the last few months in our locality,” says the owner of a house in the neighbourhood, requesting anonymity. “Police bring suspects arrested from other areas and kill them here.”

Interviews with Pakhtun tribal elders, political activists and families of those killed suggest that police regularly harass people from tribal areas, especially those belonging to the Mehsud clan. They agree that the TTP has a strong presence in Pakhtun neighbourhoods and that law enforcement agencies have killed a number of TTP militants in recent months. However, they also say that the police have started “picking up” Mehsud tribesmen and releasing them after payment of money. This criticism is so rampant, they say, that Rangers, who used to hand over suspects cleared of suspicion to the police, have started releasing them directly because of complaints of police bribery.

“Sachal, Sohrab Goth and Gulshan-i-Maymar police picked up more than 30 Mehsud tribesmen recently and their whereabouts are still unknown,” says a local Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader.

The alleged “custodial killing” of Nazeerullah Mehsud, a PTI member from Kunwari Colony, and his friend, on Dec 28, and the killing of Mufti Shah Faisal Mehsud, a leader of Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) on Nov 17, in what is being claimed was a fake encounter, triggered big protests in the city. In both cases the police claimed that the killed were Taliban militants, while leaders of the two political parties insist that they were innocent. “The police took away Mufti Faisal and his brother Noor Wali from their house in Surjani town in August. Wali was released by the Sachal police after a payment of Rs25,000 but Faisal was killed in a fake encounter, ” says JUI-F’s Karachi chief, Qari Usman.

Mehsud transporters and elders say that they have been forced to pay millions of rupees as “protection money” to avoid being targeted by the TTP, mainly because of the failure of the government to provide them security. “Now police harass the community, saying that they have been involved in providing financial support to the TTP,” says a Mehsud trader, adding that a number of police officers in Taliban strongholds have also paid “protection money” to local TTP leaders.

Maulana Jamaluddin, MNA from the Mehsud area of South Waziristan, says that he not only raised the issue of the targeting of Mehsud tribesmen in Karachi in parliament but along with Saleh Shah, a senator from the same area, also discussed the matter with Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah. Reiterating the complaints of Mehsud tribesmen in the city, Jamaluddin said that “Police pick them up during raids. If they pay, they can return, otherwise they are killed in fake encounters.” He also asked authorities in Sindh to “direct law enforcement agencies to present suspects in court instead of killing them in fake encounters” and to make better use of intelligence sources.

Spokesperson for the Karachi police, however, rejects claims of extrajudicial killings. Atiq Shaikh says that police “face reprisal” when they “raid terrorists’ hideouts,” adding that 143 police personnel were killed in Karachi in 2014, mainly by the TTP.

Meanwhile, human rights activists say that extrajudicial killings are not a new phenomenon in Karachi. “If someone is involved in a crime, courts should decide his case,” says Asad Iqbal Butt, an official of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). Fake encounters are giving rise to a sense of insecurity among people, he says, adding that according to HRCP statistics, around 450 people were killed in police encounters in Karachi in 2014.

Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2015


By Zia Ur Rehman

September 23, 2014

On September 12, 2014, the Pakistani army claimed the arrest of all 10 Taliban terrorists involved in the attempted assassination of teenage activist Malala Yousafzai and her friends, Kainat and Shazia. The arrests were announced some two years after the incident, which happened on October 9, 2012 while the girls were returning from school; all accused are said to hail from Malakand, with military spokesman Major General Asim Bajwa promising they would be tried under anti-terror laws.

Three days later, on September 15, Malik Zahir Shah, head of peace committee of Gul Jabba village of Kabal sub-division, was killed by unknown militants in broad daylight. He was murdered near a check post manned by security and police personnel.

Another two peace committee members — Muhammad Zaib Khan and Fareed Khan — were gunned down the same day in Bara Bandai area of Kabal sub-division, as they were heading home from a local bazaar. After their killings, locals say the army imposed a curfew in various villages of Kabal sub-division and started a search operation.

Between the military and the Taliban forces, the joust for power and control over Swat is ongoing — security remains in a state of flux despite five years having elapsed since the army first launched an operation in late 2007 to reclaim Swat.

In the beginning of 2007, Taliban militants led by Maulana Fazlullah, now central chief of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) took control of the Swat district and waged a campaign of attacking schools, killing policemen, and beheading opponents.

An apparent crackdown on Fazlullah’s militia started in July 2007 by the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary (FC) force and the police on orders issued by then provincial government of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) — an alliance of six religio-political parties — but it failed to establish the writ of the state.

  October, 2007: A citizen shows a leaflet dropped by the government from helicopters in Imamdehri, a village of Swat valley, urging them to support security forces in tracking down militants.—AFP file photo
October, 2007: A citizen shows a leaflet dropped by the government from helicopters in Imamdehri, a village of Swat valley, urging them to support security forces in tracking down militants.—AFP file photo

As a result, Taliban militias became more powerful and more areas came under their complete control. Residents of Swat saw several small-level military operations and a peace deal between Fazlullah’s militia and the newly elected Awami National Party (ANP)-led provincial government in May 2008.

But even this pact could not deter Taliban militants from their subversive activities, including suicide attacks and attacks on state installations and security forces. Almost all organs of the state, including the police, the local administration, public schools, banks and courts retreated, closed down and disappeared.

However, in May 2009, Pakistani army carried out an operation against the Taliban militants which wrested control of the valley from their grasp, displacing around 1.7 million people in the process. But the remaining Taliban changed tactics and incidents of targeted killing of anti-Taliban figures and other subversive activities continue, whipping up fear among the local residents, especially those who supported the army in the operation.

Resurgence of Taliban activities

Omar Hayyat, an influential elder from the Takhta Band area of Mingora, was offering Isha prayers in the first row at a local mosque on July 23. As he prostrated, unknown militants climbed over the worshippers and shot Hayyat dead. The assailants escaped without any resistance.

“Jihadi groups such as Hizbul Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Mohammad which re-surfaced recently after 2007, are openly carrying out fund raising and recruitment campaigns in Swat.

In the last three years, a number of members of Village Defence Committees (VDCs) or peace committees — which are being organised at village-level in entire districts with the army’s support — have been targeted by unknown militants. Hayyat was one among them.

  November, 2007: A militant stands outside the local police station in Matta, with a signboard announcing that it the station is now under control of the local Taliban.—AFP file photo
November, 2007: A militant stands outside the local police station in Matta, with a signboard announcing that it the station is now under control of the local Taliban.—AFP file photo

Feroz Shah, central leader of a committee formed at Kabal sub-division level, argues that political leaders and members of peace committees of Swat, who resisted the atrocities of Taliban militants and supported the army operation instead, are key targets of TTP militants. According to the police and media reports, at least 30 peace committee members have been gunned down in Swat in the last three years. In the same wave of targeted attacks, Taliban assailants attempted to kill Malala Yousafzai, the well-known teenage education activist, in 2012.

The killing of peace committee members is an ongoing process of retaliation, explains Sartaj Khan, a social researcher who has worked extensively on insurgencies in the Pakhtun and Baloch regions. “Most of these men have been instrumental in helping authorities arrest militants, destroy their houses, and even assisting in finding them in other places, such as Karachi. By killing the peace committee members, Taliban militants are trying to warn the others to keep distance from security forces.”

In recent days, militants also targeted army personnel. Two army soldiers on patrol were injured in an attack in Nazarabad area of Matta sub-division on August 15. After the attack, the army carried out a search operation in the area and detailed around 10 suspects. In another incident in May, an army vehicle was targeted in Malam Jabba.

Traders in Swat also complain that they have been receiving letters with the reference of Taliban leaders, text messages and phone calls asking them to pay extortion money. “We are getting phone calls with Afghanistan codes and Karachi numbers demanding we pay extortion money,” a traders’ leader in Matta said. While some local activists believe that local criminals are using the TTP name to extort money, a number of traders are silently paying up because of fear and very few traders have registered complaints in local police stations. In Ramazan, leaflets purporting to be from the TTP were distributed in Madyan bazaar, warning local women not to visit the market and bazaars.

“It would be good if the army allows the local administration and police to handle the security and administrative situation in Swat,” argues Yousafzai. Whether the local administration is up to that task is another question, however.

Great fatalities: Nepkikhel

Villages of Kabal sub-division situated to the north of Mingora (the main business hub of Swat) across the River Swat are inhabited by the sub-clan of the Yousafzais, the Nepkikhel.

The area was the birth-place of the Swati Taliban and Fazlullah is from one of its villages, named Mamdehrai. The majority of the assassinated Taliban militants and peace committee members both are from the region. “Only from the Nepkikhel region, with a population of around 500,000, more than 700 people who were associated with or sympathisers of Fazlullah, are still absconders,” Shah said.

  December, 2007: Pakistani troops capture Maulana Fazlullah’s sprawling Imam Dehri complex in Mingora.—AP file photo
December, 2007: Pakistani troops capture Maulana Fazlullah’s sprawling Imam Dehri complex in Mingora.—AP file photo

Background interviews with tribal elders and local residents suggest that security forces have detained a number of suspected militants from the region and that hundreds of them have died in military’s custody since 2009. Zama Swat, a Mingora-based news website, which regularly compiles such statistics, says that more than 300 detainees have died since 2009 and that the majority of them are from Nepkikhel.

The wives and children of the detained men hold regular protests in Kanju Bazaar, outside the army’s local headquarters and the residence of local MNA Murad Saeed.

“Security forces have arrested their relatives and now they are ‘missing’. We demand to show their whereabouts and present them in the courts,” said Jan Saba, a leader of the families of ‘missing persons’ from Nepkikhel region.

Swat connections with Afghanistan and Karachi

Although the government confidently claimed that militants were wiped out from the Swat valley in a successful military operation, local tribal elders and commentators say that while the lower militant cadre was arrested or killed, Fazlullah and his key lieutenants, along with a number of armed fighters, managed to flee into the Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan during the operation. “The military operation has destroyed the command-and-control of Swati militants but it has not finished them,” asserts Khadim Hussain, a security analyst and author of The Militant Discourses.

Fazlullah, who was made new chief of the TTP after the killing of Hakeemullah Mehsud in a drone strike on November 1 in North Waziristan, declared that his organisation will continue to fight the Pakistani state until his version of Islamic law is implemented across the country. In a rare video message released on May 19, he directed suicide bombers to prepare to fight against the tanks and artillery of what he called ‘evil forces’.

As analyst Hussain describes it, the TTP has smaller cells in Kabal, Matta, Charbagh and Miadam areas of Swat, which, after the appointment of Fazlullah as TTP chief, have become active and are killing peace committee members with hit-and-run tactics.

Fazlullah and his fighters now carry out cross-border attacks in the bordering areas of Dir, Bajaur and Mohmand districts from Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan. On June 4, seven security personnel were killed in Mamond area of Bajaur in a cross-border attack claimed by the TTP. In October last year, the TTP also issued a video of September 15 bombing that killed two senior Pakistani generals, Maj. Gen. Sanaullah Khan Niazi and Lieutenant Colonel Touseef, who were commanders in Swat, near the Pak-Afghan border in Dir district.

During the military operation, a number of Swati militants moved to Karachi, where they brought their fight to the streets of that city. Working in collaboration with Mehsud and Mohmand militants, Swati militants have killed a number of Swati pro-government elders travelling to Karachi for personal and business reasons, leaders of Awami National Party and now police personnel in the city.

Police officials believe that TTP Swat chapter in Karachi is led by Azizullah alias Baba Shamzai and Qari Shakir in Karachi. “Fazlullah, current chief of TTP, is personally ordering his Karachi group directly from Kunar province of Afghanistan to carry out subversive activities and kill policemen in the city following the killing of a number of militants in police encounters,” said Irfan Ali Baloch, a senior police official in Karachi.

Local residents in Swat are also concerned over re-emergence of Jihadi organisations, which mainly focus on Indian-administrated Kashmir, in the valley. “Jihadi groups such as Hizbul Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Mohammad, which re-surfaced recently after 2007, are openly carrying out fund raising and recruitment campaigns in Swat,” said Sardar Ahmed Yousafzai, a political analyst and president of Kabal Tehsil Bar Association in Swat. He said that supporters of Fazullah could join these Jihadi outfits and could deteriorate security situation in region again.

Withdrawal of troops and establishment of cantonments

During the Taliban reign, armed militants used to stop and search residents at checkpoints in different parts of Swat. But after the military operation, security forces now man such checkpoints. Residents say that the number of army checkpoints has been reduced now, although the army is also stationed on peaks of mountains surrounding the valley.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI)-led Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, after winning polls in May 2013 in the Swat valley and all of KP, worked towards a plan for the withdrawal of army from Swat. But according to a PTI parliamentarian elected from Swat the security situation, especially the assassinations of pro-government elders and the killing of Niazi, made pulling out the army impossible.

 November, 2011: Rebuilding carries apace at the Government Girls Degree College in Kabal,  which was destroyed by Taliban militants.—Online file photo
November, 2011: Rebuilding carries apace at the Government Girls Degree College in Kabal, which was destroyed by Taliban militants.—Online file photo

Now, the Pakistani military is constructing three cantonments in the Swat district to prevent attacks from the Taliban militants. Swat’s residents are divided over the presence of the army and the construction of cantonments in the valley. “After the withdrawal of the army, Taliban militants could again try to regroup in the area,” says Shah, adding that the army’s presence and construction of cantonment was necessary for maintaining peace in the valley.

However, some analysts and residents think differently and say that security check posts and search operations in different parts of Swat have frustrated the local community. “It would be good if the army allows the local administration and police to handle the security and administrative situation in Swat,” argues Yousafzai. Whether the local administration is up to that task is another question, however.

Local residents have their own conspiracy theories over the construction of cantonments in Swat. “It seems the emergence of Taliban in Swat and resultant military operation all was a drama just to acquire prime land in Swat for the construction of cantonment,” says Shah Hussain, a 60-year-old resident of Khwaza Khela. Villagers also complain that the prices they get from the government for their fertile land is far below the actual rate.

Civil society and environmental organisations have also expressed their concern over the construction of the cantonment in Swat. “Construction of three cantonments poses a serious challenge to the ecosystem and biodiversity of the entire region and violates international biodiversity and human rights declaration and conventions to which Pakistan is a signatory,” said an alliance of civil society organizations in Peshawar.


In June, the Pakistani army started a new operation in North Waziristan and analysts say that there are still a set of questions about the apparently incomplete job from the army’s first major operation against the Taliban militants in Swat valley.

Although terrorist activity in Swat is still less as compared to the rest of the country, analysts say that continuing attacks are belying the military’s claims of securing the area from militants. Military officials and experts say the resurgent Taliban will not be able to regain the hold it had over the valley from 2007 to 2009, but are likely to restrict their fight to hit-and-run tactics, an ideal guerrilla warfare approach in Swat’s rugged terrain. In the words of Yousafzai, “there is calm in the valley, not peace”.

The writer is a journalist and researcher. He tweets @zalmayzia





By Zia Ur Rehman

July 7, 2014

Once the guns fall silent, there is a debate that needs to take place and a historical question that needs to be adressed: what will be the fate of Fata?


The notion of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) as the epicentre of international terrorism has rapidly gained traction — not only are Pakistan and Afghanistan being affected by the militancy infested in the area, the threat has become credible enough for the international community to sit up and take note. A new debate is raging: what should Fata’s fate be?

Fata is currently governed as a special tribal region under separate constitutional arrangements. The region, comprising a total area of 27,220 square kilometres, is inhabited by almost a dozen Pakhtun tribes. It is constituted by seven tribal agencies — Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Kurram, Orakzai, North Waziristan and South Waziristan — and six frontier regions (FRs): FR Peshawar, FR Kohat, FR Bannu, FR Lakki Marwat, FR Tank and FR Dera Ismail Khan.

Almost all of the seven tribal agencies that constitute Fata as well as the adjacent frontier regions have been overrun by militancy and the military operations carried out in response.

Four schools of thought exist about the future of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. What are their merits and demerits?

The discussion on the fate of Fata restarted after Federal Minister for States and Frontier Region (SAFRON) Lt Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch claimed that the government is planning to give Fata the status of a province. “The government is working to hand a Gilgit-Baltistan-like administrative status for tribal areas,” said the minister on April 22 while speaking at a conference. Baloch had earlier aired the same suggestion in February, during a meeting of the National Assembly’s standing committee on Safron.

The minister’s stance gives weight to the idea that the Pakistan government remains under immense pressure to act decisively to bring the region into the mainstream, and to make special provisions to end underdevelopment, backwardness and violent realities of the tribes’ people. Western diplomatic circles also confirm that they too have been pushing the Pakistani government to alter Fata’s current administrative set-up — a move that they see as key to curbing militancy in the wider region.

“Tribal people need a new social contract and a new economic and power structure because Taliban militancy and the continuous military operation in the tribal region have caused irremediable damage to the old administrative and legal governing system,” says a Western diplomat, requesting anonymity.

The idea that Fata and KP should be amalgamated finds representation in Pakhtun nationalism. Tribal elders who support this merger, explains Dawar, are “Pakhtun nationalists” who believe in the unification of the Pakhtun regions in Pakistan… On the other hand, tribal politicians remain adamant that the best way forward is to carve a separate province altogether.

However, also in play are a great number of indigenous voices and a range of ideas on how Fata should be governed. Ihsan Dawar, a political analyst from North Waziristan, explains that local stakeholders are broadly divided into four schools of thought: one believes that Fata territory should be merged with KP proper, the second argues for Fata becoming a separate province, a third group says it should turn into a Fata council and the last argues that status quo should be maintained.

The four schools and their proponents

Political parties, Fata-based civil society organisations, and tribal elders are all demanding a change in the current administrative set-up of Fata, but they remain poles apart on the specifics because each is firmly camped in a different school of thought.

The idea that Fata and KP should be amalgamated finds representation in Pakhtun nationalism. Tribal elders who support this merger, explains Dawar, are “Pakhtun nationalists” who believe in the unification of the Pakhtun regions in Pakistan.

Underpinning the amalgamation argument is the idea that Fata and KP are a natural geographical unit, explains Akbar Watanyaar, a Pashto poet from Khyber Agency. “As one big province, our people will have great influence in national and international affairs. People across the world are struggling for unification of their divided land but some ‘forces’ deliberately impose the colonial principle of ‘divide and rule’ on Pakhtuns,” he says.

In practical terms, tribal people are already dependent for health, education, commerce and other concerns on the nearest metropolitan centres of KP. A large number of people from every agency and tribe have settled in adjacent cities. Dera Ismail Khan and Tank are home to people of many tribes from South Waziristan, while Bannu is the second abode of many from North Waziristan. Similarly, a large number of Mohmands made their way to Charsadda and Peshawar to earn their livelihoods and are permanently settled there.

In the same way, the administration of the tribal region is still dealt with by the Fata Secretariat in Peshawar. Historically, the affairs of Khyber, Orakzai and South Waziristan agencies have been and continue to be controlled and run from their headquarters, located in Peshawar, Hangu and Tank respectively.

The first proposal has both the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) putting their weight behind it. Bushra Gohar, a central leader of the ANP, said that the party’s constitution recognises Fata as an integral part of KP, and during the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment, the ANP proposed the repeal of Articles 246 & 247 to fully integrate the tribal areas. Gohar, however, maintained that the ANP believes any change to the status of tribal areas should be in accordance with the will and aspirations of the people living there.

On the other hand, tribal politicians remain adamant that the best way forward is to carve a separate province altogether. “Fata should be given the status of a separate province; this means we can have administrative and financial autonomy over our affairs, and our people will progress independently and separately,” argues Habib Malik Orakzai, chief of the Muttahida Qabail Party. “With KP itself unable to resolve its issues in the past 67 years, any amalgamation will increase the problems of the tribal people.”

Those who believe in this second school of thought also include influential politicians, who win elections from Fata as independent candidates or in non-political capacities, sometimes on the basis of tribal strength and at other times, by spending millions of rupees in electioneering.

The third school of thought revolves around constituting a Fata council that is modelled after the Gilgit-Baltistan-council. The argument is that an elected body of people from Fata should be able to decide its future rather than have it decided for them. “Council members should be elected through transparent elections, and they could make laws to bring Fata into mainstream Pakistan,” says Akhundzada Chattan, a former parliamentarian from the PPP who was elected from Bajaur Agency.

Chattan claims that all political leaders and tribal elders of Fata, who were part of various committees — especially headed by Justice (retired) Mian Mohammad Ajmal and Farooq H. Naek, All Fata Siasi Ittehad, Political Parties Joint Committee on Fata Reforms, and a committee formed by Shaheed Bhutto Foundation — unanimously agreed that a Gilgit-Baltistan-like Fata council should be elected in the first phase to decide the tribal areas’ fate.

And lastly, there is the school of thought that is resistant to any kind of overhaul. This position is argued by beneficiaries of the old order: the maliks (tribal chieftains), the political agents, officials of the Fata Secretariat, as well as independent, wealthy political figures. A segment of tribal elders and civil society activists also side by this position, explains a Mohmand Agency-based journalist.

The argument given by this school of thought revolves around reform. Farooq Mehsud, coordinator of the Save Waziristan Rights Society — a civil society group formed by Mehsud, Wazir, Dotani and Suleman Khel tribal elders — alleges that some international organisations are “funding the campaign” for a new Fata province, damaging the culture and traditions of tribal people in the process. Mehsud clarifies that his group wants to amend controversial articles of the existing law while keeping the existing state of affairs intact.

Welcome politics

For the first time in the country’s history, political parties managed to field candidates from Fata in the general elections held in May 2013. This was made possible by an amendment to the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) in August 2011; the new rules extended the Political Parties Act (PPA) 2002 to Fata and allowed political parties to operate there as they do elsewhere in Pakistan.

Prior to this regulation, all 12 members of the National Assembly from Fata and the eight members in Senate were elected independently and could not join any political party. In fact, until the introduction of adult franchise in 1996, elections in tribal areas were based on selective voting — some 35,000 maliks were entitled to cast votes, while the majority would sell votes to the highest bidder.

Not this time: political parties carried out campaigns and canvassed for votes, tribal candidates were allotted symbols of their respective political parties for the first time and a large number cast their votes in Fata’s first party-based elections.

“Although political parties were able to win only four seats, their participation in last May’s general elections has left a positive impact,” argues Chattan. Mehsud believes that the participation of political parties not only gave space to new and young leaders in Fata’s politics but has also politicised the tribal society.

Can a non-Pakhtun govern Fata?

The recent appointment of Sardar Mehtab Ahmed Abbasi, a central leader of the PML-N hailing from the Hazara division, to the position of provincial governor has unleashed a new can of worms.

The law, as it stands, makes the KP governor responsible for looking after the affairs of the Fata region. Traditionally, a KP governor would hold great sway in the tribal areas through connections with tribal elders.

In February, 2012, former president Asif Ali Zardari appointed Shaukatullah Khan, a tribal leader from Bajaur Agency, as the provincial governor. Tribal elders and politicians welcomed the appointment and hoped that the first civilian tribal governor of KP would help ameliorate their problems. Those who criticise Abbasi’s appointment point to the fact that the incumbent governor is unable to speak Pashto.

“Appointing a non-Pashto-speaking governor indicates the approach of the federal government,” remarks Mehsud, claiming that only a governor who belongs to the tribal region can effectively run Fata’s affairs.

Orakzai and Chattan think differently: they believe that Abbasi, who served as provincial chief minister in the 1990s, enjoys full support of the ruling PML-N and can therefore take some strong decisions. “Fata’s affairs are, in fact, run by the army, we saw that previous governors had no power,” claims Chattan. He hopes that being a political figure and with support at the centre, Abbasi can implement new policies to bring Fata into the mainstream.

The writer is a journalist and researcher. He tweets @zalmayzia


By Zia Ur Rehman

March 9, 2014

They came in trickles and floods; as individuals, whole families, and entire caravans. Fleeing the insurgencies and operations in their homes, displaced persons from various parts of FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa sought refuge in Karachi as well as other cities. But along with the tormented, came their tormentors: the very Taliban the refugees were fleeing from.

The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) may have been born in the tribal agencies, it might have even ruled Swat, but it is Karachi that has been crucial to the TTP’s perpetuation of power across the country. It is Karachi that helped fund the TTP’s war in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as the organisation routinely conducted bank heists to generate finances. It is also Karachi where members of the TTP found sanctuary as security forces pounded their hideouts. Slowly but surely, the largest city of Pakhtun people has witnessed three factions of the TTP taking control of a number of areas and exert their influence in many others. This is a process that has spanned more than half a decade; it promises to decisively shape the future of the city.

Back in 2007, as the Pakistan government began an operation to regain control of the Swat valley, thousands left their homes to escape being caught in the crossfire. The choice of Karachi was a natural one for these victims of war; with some four million Pakhtuns living in this megacity, many of the internally displaced people (IDPs) had kin they could count on, and with whom they could shelter until they returned home.

In 2009, guised as IDPs, militants from Swat, South Waziristan, Mohmand Agency, Bajaur, Dir, and elsewhere began taking refuge in Karachi, as the military operations reached their respective areas. At first, they did their best to blend in: a number of militants who fled to Karachi shaved their breads, cut their trademark long hair, and worked in the city as petty labourers. Thus disguised, they waited for the right time to establish and reinforce their networks in the city.

Prior to such large-scale migrations, small cells of various TTP groups existed in the city; their job was primarily to raise funds for the operations of their parent groups, largely through bank robberies. “In the beginning, the TTP did not get involved in subversive activities. This was in line with the TTP policy of using Karachi only for fund-raising, rest and recuperation,” said a Mehsud tribal elder living in Ittehad Town.

“But then they seem to have changed their strategy for Karachi. Political leaders from Swat say that Swati militants who fled to Karachi had been assassinating pro-government Swat residents in the city, all under the cover of then ongoing ethno-political targeted killings.”

In short, the TTP took advantage of the chaos of Karachi to, quite literally, get away with murder.

The perfect distraction : ‘Target killing’

When the TTP entered Karachi proper, it found a city in the midst of politico-ethnic conflict. At the time, it was convenient for both the police and political parties to sweep any so-called ‘target killings’ under the larger rug of ethnically-fuelled violence and political turf wars. Assassinations carried out by the Taliban also came under this catch-all phrase.

In fact, it was largely thanks to the peculiar political dynamics of Karachi that the Taliban presence remained mostly unnoticed and unremarked. When the MQM, in 2010 and 2011, began to warn that the Taliban militants were acquiring a presence in the city, the ANP accused it of trying to use that claim as a pretext to ‘ethnically cleanse’ Karachi’s Pakhtuns.

“MQM chief Altaf Hussain had pointed out the presence of the TTP in Karachi years ago, but the authorities, despite taking the issue seriously, denied the reports regarding the presence of the TTP in the city,” said Khawaja Izhar-ul-Hasan, a MQM leader.

Privately, members of other political parties and analysts say that the MQM’s claims may have been proved true later on, but they were definitely written off as politically-motivated when first raised. There was no trust between the ANP and MQM, and the Taliban effectively took advantage of this gap, eventually becoming a direct threat to both parties.

Background interviews with Pakhtun elders, analysts and police officials familiar with the network of the TTP in Karachi suggest that most of the Pakhtun-populated areas of the city are now under partial or complete influence of the TTP.

A direct result of this dominance is the deterioration of the law and order situation in these areas. Here, the various factions of the TTP have joined hands with banned sectarian outfits and criminal syndicates in the city to increase both their subversive activities and fund-raising campaigns (mostly through extortion, robberies and kidnapping for ransom). These areas have become extremely dangerous not just for law enforcement agencies, but also for political activists of mainstream parties, especially the ANP, polio vaccinators and non-governmental organisations.

The battle of Pakhtun representation : ANP pummeled 

The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has traditionally tolerated no opposition, political or otherwise, when establishing a stranglehold over local populations. In keeping with their modus operandi, the TTP first went after local Pakhtun leadership in Karachi — which in this case was also the Awami National Party (ANP).

“Killing influential Pakhtun elders is a key strategy of Taliban groups, first successfully carried out in Afghanistan, then FATA and KP, and now in Karachi,” said Kahar Zalmay, an Islamabad-based security analyst who monitors the network of TTP across the country, saying that through an organised campaign of killing influential Pakhtun political leaders and elders in Karachi and forcing the ANP to vacate most of its traditional strongholds, now all Pakhtun-majority areas of the city are under varying degrees of TTP influence.

In fact, the first open acknowledgment by the TTP of its presence in this city came as a threat to the ANP. In June 2012, it openly threatened ANP activists to quit the party, remove their party’s flags and graffiti and close their offices.

The TTP then claimed the responsibility for killing Amir Sardar, an ANP leader and former union council mayor, in the Frontier Colony area in August the same year.

On Feb 21 this year, three ANP activists — Dr Israr, Jamshed Khan and Razeemullah — were shot dead along with two guests by unidentified people in MPR colony in Orangi Town. Israr’s relatives said that the three party activists were receiving threats from the TTP Swat chapter. Earlier, on Feb 8, grenades were thrown at the Sher Shah residence of Raza Jadoon, then Sindh president of Pakhtun Students Federation as well as at the home of ANP leader Rahim Swati in Qasba Colony area. Jadoon said that he had been receiving threatening calls from the TTP with the phone code of Afghanistan.

In a series of interviews with Pakhtun political and civil society activists, it emerges that the TTP Swat faction has killed a number of political activists mainly belonging to the ANP as well as social activists in different parts of the city.

Shahi Syed, Sindh president of the ANP, claimed that around 80 leaders and office-bearers of ANP have been killed by the Taliban. As a result, party offices across the city, including even the Baacha Khan Markaz, the provincial party headquarter situated in Pirabad, have been closed. Perhaps there can be no greater example of how serious the threat is than the fact that several leaders of the party have left Karachi and migrated to their native towns in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa because of threats issued by the TTP.

The political strength of the ANP has also diminished as a direct result of this: In the 2008 general elections, the ANP won two provincial assembly seats from Karachi’s two largest Pakhtun-populated areas — SITE Town and Landhi industrial area. But in the 2013 polls, the rallies and offices of ANP candidates — Bashir Jan and Amanullah Mehsud — from these two areas were targeted by TTP militants, killing and injuring several party activists. The TTP claimed the responsibility of the May 2, 2013 killing of Sadiq Zaman Khattak, an ANP candidate from NA-254 Korangi, in the Bilal Colony area.

Because of the attacks on the ANP, some party members and leaders sought safer pastures, joining other political parties such as the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and even the Ahl-i-Sunnat Wal Jammat (ASWJ). Khurshid Inqilabi, an ANP candidate in the general elections from Baldia Town area, has recently joined the PTI. Inqilabi’s family sources said that he joined the PTI in order to save his life as he was also receiving threats from the TTP.

Besides the ANP, the TTP Swat faction has also started targeting leaders of the PPP. On Jan 24, Mujibur Rehman, president of the PPP PS-96, was killed near Banaras chowk. A Pakhtun leader of PPP in district West said that they are also feeling insecure because of the tough statements issued from the party chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari against the TTP. They fear that the TTPs retaliation will target them.

But political parties are only a few of the targets. In Karachi, the TTPs Swat faction had also killed dozens of Swati pro-government elders and those who were associated with peace committees in Swat or who supported the security forces during the operation. “A number of influential political figures and members of anti-Taliban committees of Swat travelling to Karachi for personal or business reasons have been murdered since 2009,” said Sardar Ahmed Yousafzai, a political analyst and president of Kabal Tehsil Bar Association in Swat, adding that majority of assassinated people were from Kabal tehsil as that area was the birth-place of TTP Swat. He said that dozens of Swati families living in Karachi for the last three to four decades have recently migrated to Swat because of the security situation in Pakhtun neighbourhoods.

The golden goose of the TTP: 

All three TTP factions have been involved in collecting extortions from the Pakhtun traders and transporters, school and hospital owners and even madressahs for the last several years in Karachi. A number of Pakhtun traders interviewed for this report revealed that increasing incidents of extortions remained unreported because of immense pressure and threats by the TTP. The use of hand grenades as a scare tactic, and the killing of those who refuse to pay on time is part of their strategy. And, as usual, they prey mostly on those who are ethnically and tribally connected to them. “They know very well about the wealth of everyone belonging to their own tribe,” said a Mehsud transporter.

The TTP Mehsud faction, for example, has systematically occupied the trade bodies of the business of heavy machinery (heavy-duty vehicles) and local truck and mini-bus associations of Sohrab Goth and imposed fixed taxes on the traders and transporters associated with these bodies. Of course, the reason is that Mehsud tribesmen are largely involved in these businesses. The TTP Mohmand faction has been collecting extortion money from Mohmand tribesmen based in Karachi, who are well-off and mainly involved in selling timber and construction material.

Analysts are of the view that the TTP has been facing a severe financial crisis and a shortage of funds in wake of the measures taken by Pakistani authorities to cut off their international sources of income, especially from gulf countries. Now, the central leadership of all three TTP factions have directed their Karachi members to collect funds through extortion and kidnapping for ransom from the businessmen and transporters belonging to tribal areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. These funds are then used to purchase equipment, weaponry and fill the many expenses associated with running an insurgency.

Killing of law enforcement personnel : 

In keeping with their increased strength on the ground and their raised profile, the TTP also started posing a greater threat to law enforcement agencies. In recent months, a number of personnel of Police and other law enforcement agencies and their informers have been murdered in different Pakhtun areas of Karachi.

Police officials believe that the TTP is working off a hit list that includes police officers involved in the arrests and deaths of a number of militants, including its key commanders in Karachi. Bahaddin Babar, a well-known police officer, was gunned down on Dec 31 2013 by unknown assailants near the Bab-i-Khyber in the Metroville area of SITE Town. At the time, Chaudary Aslam said that the TTP Swat faction killed Babar because he was actively working against TTP operatives in the city. But after nine days of the killing of Babar, Aslam was also killed along with his two guards in a massive bombing on Jan 9 this year.

Several police stations and mobiles have also been regularly targeted in the areas under the influence of the TTP. For example, in February, Pirabad Police station was targeted with hand grenades twice in eight days. Similarly, Sohrab Goth, Mominabad and Mangophir police stations have been attacked several times by Taliban militants. Recently, trenches were dug around the Sohrab Goth and Surjani Town police stations while the same measures will be implemented in other sensitive police stations of the city soon.

In interviews with low-ranked police personnel, they said that the TTP militants target policemen standing on the roadsides, attack their vans by hurling grenades and in some cases, carry out grenade attacks near their houses when they are not on duty. “It has become very dangerous to patrol in these areas during night,” said a police officer deputed in the Mominabad police station.

Ongoing operation and the TTP: 

Although law enforcement agencies, and especially the Rangers, claim to have arrested several suspects belonging to banned militant outfits recently, leaders of political parties — especially the ANP and the MQM — and Pakhtun residents said that law enforcement agencies have not focused on the TTP in the whole operation.

“It is true that the ongoing operation has disrupted the network of targeted killers belonging to different political and sectarian groups and extortionists of different gangs, but the TTP-linked militants are still openly threatening and killing the people,” said a Pakhtun trader in the Pathan Colony area. In interviews with Pakhtun residents of different areas, they claimed that law enforcement agencies largely apprehend innocent people during the operation while militants flee the area before the arrival of the law enforcers.

“We have asked the government several times to take action against the TTP militants, who are killing our ANP members and capturing the Pakhtun areas, but instead of taking the matter seriously, no action has been initiated so far,” said Shahi Syed. The MQM has also similar reservations. Izharul Hassan said that the ongoing operation in Karachi was being conducted against the MQM and not against the Taliban militants.

However, sources familiar with the network of TTP in Karachi said that operation has in fact shattered the network of TTP Mohmand chapter in Karachi by killing its key leaders in encounters. However, the LEAs have not arrested or killed any significant leader of the Swat and Mehsud factions.

Sindh Rangers’ director general Major Rizwan Akhter, in a Feb 25 interview with an Urdu daily, claimed that they have arrested and killed a number of militants associated with different Taliban groups and that reports of ‘No-go areas’ for law enforcement agencies is baseless.

Implications : 

The strengthening of the TTP in Karachi has nationwide security and political implications. Karachi is considered a key area in the nexus of terrorism in the country because it has become the main hub of militants’ fundraising and alliances. Security experts, politicians and law enforcement all agree that TTP wants to tighten, where they already have great influence in the Pakhtun dominated suburban areas. It not only adds to the city’s already worst security situation, but also adds to TTPs financial and strategic assets.

The TTP militants in Karachi are drawing their strength from the continuing silence of the government and a lack of focus by the security forces. Government is still in position to control the spreading TTP network in the city through launching a ‘selective and surgical’ operation against various factions of TTP in Karachi. Although a month-long ceasefire between the TTP and the government has been announced, analysts believe that it will not stop the TTP’s campaign of fund-raising and killing Pakhtun leaders.

“The TTP can stop targeting law enforcement agencies in Karachi but their campaign of fund-raising and killing Pakhtun leaders in the city will continue,” said Kahar Zalmay.


TTP Network in Karachi 

It is important to note that the TTP is not a monolith and is, in fact, composed of different groups. As TTP militants moved into Karachi, they predictably organised into factions according to where they had come from. In Karachi, three factions of TTP — Mehsud, Swat and Mohmand — are active and running their network in various neighbourhoods of the city.

Swati and Mehsud militants migrated to Karachi after military operation began in Swat and South Waziristan in 2008 and 2009 respectively while the TTP Mohmand chapter sent their militants to Karachi for fund-raising in 2011. The three groups have their own leadership structures but support each other in subversive activities.

And the network of terror spreads further beyond TTP proper as well.

Analysts say that TTP’s tribal militants don’t have the resources, skills and expertise to conduct specialised operations in Karachi like the Abbas Town attack or the attack on the Mehran base. Therefore, they have joined hands with local sectarian and jihadi outfits, especially Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, and this nexus has increased the risk of terrorist attacks in Karachi.

TTP-Mehsud :

The most powerful faction of the TTP in Karachi is dominated by the Mehsud tribe. In Karachi, the TTP Mehsud faction was organisationally divided into two groups — one is loyal to TTP’s former chief Hakimullah Mehsud while the second is loyal to TTP-South Waziristan chief Waliur Rehman Mehsud.

Hakimullah Mehsud appointed Qari Yar Muhammad as TTP Karachi chief and Sher Khan as operational commander for Karachi. Similarly, Waliur Rehman Mehsud appointed Mufti Noor Wali as TTP Karachi chief and Khan Zaman as Karachi commander.

However, after infighting between both factions in Karachi, the Waliur Rehman faction has expelled the Hakimullah group from Karachi. Infighting between both factions began when militants belonging to Waliur Rehman killed Sher Khan in the Manghopir area on Aug 16. At least 30 key leaders of Hakimullah Mehsud have been murdered by the rival faction since August.

Khan Saeed, alias Sajna, who was appointed as successor to Waliur Rehman after his killing, has strengthened the group in Karachi. It is important to note that the Sajna faction depends on militants of its own Mehsud tribe but also supports the Swat and Mohmand factions. They also settle the business disputes of Mehsud tribesmen through jirgas.

Now, Khan Zaman runs the powerful network of the TTP in Karachi. Other key commanders of this group are: Zikria Mehsud (head of TTP Sohrab Goth chapter), Mufti Javed, Fareed Mehsud, Landay, Muqadam Wazir and Rafiq alias Tor. They are active in suburban areas of the city including Ittehad Town, Mangophir, Kunwari Colony, Pakhtun Abad, Sohrab Goth and settlements on Super Highway, Pipri, Shah Latif Town and Gulshen-i-Buner (Landhi) areas — all of these are largely Mehsud tribe-dominated areas.


Another Taliban faction largely comprises Swati militants who are loyal to TTP Swat leader Maulana Fazlullah, the incumbent central leader of the organisation.

There was little information available about the leadership of Swati militants operating in Karachi but the CID Karachi on Feb 3 claimed that Azizullah alias Shamzai is heading Karachi network of TTP Swat faction. His deputies are Qari Shakir and Wakeel, according to the CID officials.

An intelligence official in Swat said that since 2009, notorious TTP Swat’s commander Ibn-i-Amin, of the lower Shawar area of Swat, was issuing directions to Swati militants hiding in Karachi but then he was killed in a drone attack in Tirah valley of Khyber Agency in December 2010.

Most Swati militants operating in Karachi belong to Kanju, Kabal, Matta and Charbagh sub-divisions of Swat valley. TTP Swati militants operate in Ittehad Town, Pirabad, Qasba Colony, Frontier Colony, Banaras, Metroville, Future Colony, Sherpao Colony and Gulshen-i-Buner. Unlike the Mehsud militants, Swati militants do not settle family and business disputes of the people of Malakand division.


The Mohmand chapter of TTP has also formed its organisational setup in Karachi for collecting protection money from the people belonging to Mohmand Agency.

Unlike the Mehsud and Swati militants, they did not come to Karachi under the guise of displaced people. There are two reasons for this: first, there was no massive displacement in Mohmand Agency; and second, because Mohmand tribesmen mainly choose Peshawar and Rawalpindi over Karachi.

TTP-Mohmand chief Abdul Wali, popularly known as Omar Khalid Khorasani and his deputy Qari Shakeel, developed a network and sent it to Karachi to raise funds. After killing of several leaders of the TTP Mohmand faction in Karachi by law-enforcement agencies, there is very little information about their Karachi leadership.

However, Mohmand tribal elders in Karachi claim that TTP Mohmand’s network is run by Haleem Syed. They are not concentrated in any specific areas because it is believed that their sanctuaries are in settlements on the Northern Bypass and in the Manghopir area.