Posts Tagged ‘Saudi Consulate in Karachi’

centralasiaonline.com

By Zia Ur Rehman

2011-11-04

http://centralasiaonline.com/en_GB/pakistan-articles/caii/features/pakistan/main/2011/11/04/feature-02

KARACHI – The investigations of a Saudi diplomat’s murder and a hand grenade attack on a Saudi consulate, both in Karachi in May, continue, but security analysts are attributing both attacks to a Shiite militant organisation with links abroad.

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Pakistani security officials and Saudi Arabian officials talk at the Saudi consulate gate in Karachi after unidentified attackers threw two hand grenades at the consulate May 11. Authorities have linked attacks on Saudi officials to foreign Shiite militants. [REUTERS/Athar Hussain

Officials have connected Sipah-e-Mohammed Pakistan (SMP) to both attacks and say the Shiite group aims to reignite feuds between Pakistan’s Sunni and Shiite communities, and between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

“It is impossible to rule out the recent dispute between rival organisations of supporters and non-supporters of Saudi Arabia,” Saud Mirza, then-head of Karachi Police, said in May.

Law enforcement officials May 17 arrested Muntazir Imam, an SMP member, in connection with the death of Hassan al-Qahtani, a Saudi diplomat who was gunned down by men riding two motorcycles in Karachi May 16, and other killings of rival Islamist leaders.

Anti-Saudi attacks in Karachi in May

Qahtani’s assassination came five days after unidentified assailants threw hand grenades at the Saudi consulate in Karachi, where al-Qahtani worked. No one was injured in that attack, media reported.

After the violence, the Saudi government recalled non-essential staff and families of diplomats stationed in Karachi. Imam told investigators that more than 200 SMP activists, trained abroad and heavily armed are hunting down Sunnis, Pakistan Today reported May 26.

Shiite groups support SMP

SMP is a Shiite militant organisation outlawed by the Pakistani government. It has been connected to a number of killings and reportedly maintains close links with a Shiite regime, according to a South Asia Terrorist Portal (SATP) report.

“Although there is no strong evidence of foreign government involvement in supporting the SMP, the terrorist outfit had been supported by (foreign) Shiite groups,” Rana told Central Asia Online. The SMP is mainly involved in targeted killings of leaders of rival groups, particularly those of the SSP, he added.

“When the Punjab government started an operation against the SMP to dismantle its network in the province, most of its leaders fled (abroad),” said Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS). That operation has badly damaged SMP’s network, Rana said.

He said the Punjab government operation against the SMP was launched three years ago, but it is not known exactly when they fled.

A proxy battleground 

Pakistan has become a proxy battleground for conflicts between Shia and Sunni countries, security analysts say, adding that the May attacks on Saudi interests in Karachi could be an effort to re-ignite Sunni-Shiite tensions in Pakistan.

“Saudi interests in Karachi may have been targeted in response to the situation in the Gulf, especially the Saudi military support … to curb (Bahrain’s) uprising,” Raees Ahmed, a political analyst, told Central Asia Online.

The Saudi military’s assistance in putting down predominantly Shiite Bahrain’s uprising angered Pakistani Shiite organisations, Ahmed added, pointing to nationwide anti-Saudi protests that included wall-chalking and a propaganda campaign in Karachi.

In response, Sunni groups rallied in support of Saudi Arabia and accused Shiite states of creating unrest in the Gulf States and Pakistan. Pakistani Sunni leaders condemned the attacks on the Saudi consulates in Karachi and al-Qahtani’s killing and demanded that the government remove banners in Karachi bearing anti-Saudi messages, Ahmed said.

Other cities in Pakistan show signs of Sunni-Shiite tension, Ahmed continued, observing that walls in Karachi, Lahore and elsewhere now bear slogans and posters condemning various countries and exacerbating sectarian tensions.

This is not the first time Pakistan has been the proxy battleground. The SATP report noted that the same thing occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, with Karachi turned into a bloody battleground. Since 1989, fighting between the two sects has killed at least 7,636 in Pakistan, the report stated.

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 23
June 9, 2011 05:50 PM Age: 16 min

A diplomatic staffer of the Saudi Consulate in Karachi, Hassan al-Qahtani, was killed by unknown gunmen riding two motorcycles in Karachi on May 16 (Dawn [Karachi], May 16). A few days earlier, unidentified assailants had thrown Russian-made HE-36 hand grenades at the Saudi Consulate in Karachi, though there were no injuries in this case (The Nation[Karachi], May 11; Dawn, May 12). In both attacks, the assailants managed to escape. The consulate was defended at the time of the grenade attack by paramilitary Rangers and officers of the Foreign Security Cell (FSC – a police unit assigned to diplomatic security), three of whom were subsequently suspended and detained (The Nation, May 12). Privately-hired security also failed to take any action to prevent the assault or pursue the attackers.  Following the attacks, the Saudi government recalled non-essential staff and families of diplomats stationed at its Karachi office. The U.S. Consulate in Karachi also announced it had detected threats to its facility and urged American citizens in Karachi to keep a low profile and take precautions in their movements around the city (Pakistan Observer, June 3).



While it is believed that the attack on the Saudi Consulate and the murder of its staffer in Karachi might be retribution for the American May 2 Abbottabad operation that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, there is also speculation that the attacks may have been related to the Saudi troop deployment in Bahrain to suppress Shiite-led protests against the kingdom’s Sunni royal family. As such, one Karachi-based security official suggested they may be intended to reignite long-standing tensions between the Sunni and Shiite communities of Pakistan. [1]

This assertion was seemingly corroborated by Karachi’s Crime Investigation Department (CID) when they claimed the involvement of the Shiite Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP) in the attacks on Saudi interests in Karachi. An official of the CID, which is responsible for operations against banned militant outfits in Karachi, announced the arrest of SMP militant Muntazir Imam, suspecting his involvement in the killing of the Saudi consulate officer as well as twelve other assassinations of rival Islamist leaders (The Nation, May 19; Saudi Gazette, June 8; Express Tribune, May 29). Local authorities said that it was impossible to rule out the diplomat’s assassination was part of a dispute between rival sectarian organizations composed of supporters and opponents of Saudi Arabia (The Nation, May 18). Calling Imam’s arrest a breakthrough, a CID official said that it would be premature to say the SMP was involved in the killing of the Saudi diplomat as the investigation is still underway (Central Asia Online, May 26).

While no group, including the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attacks, they might also have been related to the Saudi government’s reported refusal to accept Bin Laden’s body. Other reports have emerged in recent days revealing the Saudis have been providing intelligence to the United States (Express Tribune [Karachi], May 12). Saudi Arabia stripped Bin Laden of citizenship in 1994 after he criticized the royal family’s reliance on U.S. troops to protect the Kingdom after the Iraqi invasion of neighboring Kuwait. The Saudi government has also refused to accept the repatriation of the three widows and nine children of Bin Laden currently in protective custody in Pakistan. During his recent visit to Riyadh, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik made a formal request to Saudi authorities to accept Bin Laden’s family, but the Saudis declined (Express Tribune [Karachi], May 19).

The killing of the Saudi diplomat may not only be a mark of protest by al-Qaeda against the Saudi Kingdom’s indifferent attitude toward Bin Laden’s family, but also a warning to Pakistan against the possible deportation of the family to the United States. [2] One media report quoted an anonymous Pakistan security official who claimed that the murdered Saudi diplomat was an intelligence official who was looking into Saudi dissidents who have found refuge in Karachi and this is most probably why he was targeted (New York Times, May 16). Saudi authorities said al-Qahtani was involved in relief operations and facilitating the travel of Pakistani pilgrims taking part in the Hajj (Pakistan Times, June 4).

Saudi interests in Karachi have been targeted in response to the situation in the Gulf, specifically the Saudi military intervention in Bahrain. Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain in March to help the royal family quell the anti-state protests in the tiny Gulf kingdom. However, the deployment angered Shiite Pakistanis, with nationwide protests condemning the Saudi involvement. [3] Shiites were also angry about local newspaper advertisements seeking to recruit hundreds of former soldiers to work for the Bahrain security forces and help with the crackdown on protestors. The Fauji Foundation, a company which has strong links to the Pakistani Army, announced it was sending 1,000 Pakistanis to join the Bahrain National Guard (Weekly Humshehri [Lahore], March18).

Sunni groups have also jumped into the fray with demonstrations and rallies in support of Saudi Arabia, openly accusing Iran of being behind the unrest in Bahrain and other Gulf states. In a sign of local Shiite-Sunni tensions, walls across Karachi, Lahore and other Pakistani cities are filled with slogans and posters condemning Saudi Arabia and Iran, exacerbating the already tense atmosphere between Sunnis and Shiites. [4] In this campaign, banned sectarian organizations hailing from the both sects, including the Shiite SMP and the Sunni Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) have become active in marking walls with derisory slogans and organizing sectarian rallies.

The attack on the Saudi Consulate and the killing of its staffer clearly show that the fight for Bahrain has shifted to Pakistan and could ignite the decade-long Sunni-Shiite rivalry in the country, especially in Karachi. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have funded hard-line Sunni militants groups in Pakistan for years, angering the minority Shi’a community, while Iran has channeled money to Shiite militant groups.  In the 1980s and 1990s, Pakistan was the scene of an effective proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with Karachi being a particularly bloody battleground in the struggle. The involvement of hard-line religious groups from Afghanistan in Pakistan’s internal affairs has further complicated the sectarian conflict. Since 1989, sectarian fighting has engulfed the entire country, claiming nearly 7636 lives, mostly from the Shi’a community. [5] Sectarian violence is an unpredictable menace in Pakistan, but the recent activities of Sunni and Shiite religious groups could develop into yet another phase of proxy warfare on Pakistani soil.

Notes:

1. Interview with a Karachi-based security official who requested anonymity, May 26, 2011. See also Terrorism Monitor Brief, January 7, 2010.
2. Interview with Islamabad-based political analyst Zakir Hussain, May 26, 2011.
3. Interview with Karachi-based senior journalist and researcher Ahmed Wali, May 27, 2011.
4. Ibid.
5. Sectarian violence in Pakistan 1989-2011, South Asian Terrorist Portal,www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/pakistan/database/sect-killing.htm. 

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