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Karachi: Metropolis of Terror

There is a method in the madness of Islamist extremism in Pakistan, and this is constantly reaffirmed.

At least 57 people, including prominent Islamist clerics, died and more than 200 people sustained injuries in a suicide bomb attack at Nishtar Park in Karachi, capital of Sindh province, on April 11, 2006. The blast occurred at a stage erected in a park where religious leaders and scores of the faithful were offering evening prayers at a meeting to mark the birth anniversary of Prophet Mohammed. Among those killed where top leaders of the Sunni Tehreek (ST) and Jamaat-e-Ahle Sunnat.

Available indications are that the suicide-bomber wanted to decapitate the Sunni Tehreek. Its Chief, Abbas Qadri, Deputy Chief Akram Qadri and Spokesperson Iftikhar Bhatti were, in fact, killed in the attack. Some leaders of the ‘moderate’ Jamaat-e-Ahle Sunnat, including Haji Hanif Billo and Hafiz Muhammad Taqi, also died in the blast.

The ST, which is of Barelvi orientation, was formed in 1992 by Maulana Saleem Qadri to counter the dominance of the Deobandi and Ahle Hadith schools of thought. Incidentally, Saleem Qadri was himself assassinated on May 18, 2001, in Karachi. His attackers were identified as belonging to the now outlawed Sunni group, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). Under its just-assassinated Chief, Abbas Qadri, the ST grew rapidly on the strength of large sums of money from the affluent business community in Karachi, who were primarily scouting for protection from other groups such as the SSP and its armed wing, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).

Preliminary indications suggest that the latest incident was the result of the ongoing conflict between the Barelvi and Deobandi schools. No official determination has still been made regarding those responsible for the incident, but many suspect that the LeJ engineered it. A majority of the Jihadis in Pakistan swears by the Deobandi school of thought, while the Barelvis, including the ST, have largely, though not entirely, abstained from militancy. The Barelvis, however, are major players in the ‘politics of the mosque’. The ST, for instance, is locked in a long battle with Deobandi groups over the control of various mosques in Karachi and over the collection of endowments. While such an intra-Sunni confrontation often leads to violence in Karachi, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) regime in the Sindh province is also under acute challenge from the extremist Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal alliance. And violence between Sunni groups, allegedly at the behest of agencies in Islamabad, is believed to weaken the MQM and mainstream parties like the Pakistan People's Party.

Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial capital, has seldom been out of the headlines. While sectarian strife between the majority Sunni and minority Shia Muslims dominated the news in the past, the city has also been a safe haven for Islamist extremists linked to the Al Qaeda. There was an alleged assassination attempt on the life of President Pervez Musharraf in September 2002 and US journalist Daniel Pearl was abducted and subsequently killed in Karachi in February 2002. Indian mafia don Dawood Ibrahim, the prime accused in the 1992 serial blasts in Mumbai, has a Karachi address (White House, near Saudi Mosque, Clifton), and it was to Karachi that a reporter from Al-Jazeera was invited to interview two top Al Qaeda leaders. Many Al Qaeda operatives, including Ramzi Binalshibh, have been arrested from Karachi since 9/11. Abu Zubaydah, before his arrest, reportedly oversaw the establishment of Al Qaeda cells in Karachi. The city also houses the Binoria mosque complex, which has long been the nerve centre of the Military-Jehadi enterprise. While Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai (assassinated on May 30, 2004) of Binoria is believed to have been a patron of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), one of his many infamous students, Maulana Masood Azhar, launched the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

The metropolis, with a population of approximately 16 million and counting, has also seen crimes like abduction for ransom, car-jacking and armed robbery increase in the recent years. According to sources, a substantial section of such crime is attributed to people with links to the various political and Islamist extremist groups. Indeed, an elaborate underground economy of terror exists in this city where everything is available – for a price.

The multi-ethnic city regularly witnesses incidents of terrorist, sectarian, political and organized criminal violence. According to Institute for Conflict Management (ICM) data, there were 58 such incidents in 2004, 37 in 2005 and seven in 2006 (till April 14). According to the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee, a Karachi-based NGO that maintains a database on crime, there were 130 terrorism-related killings in 2005, 163 in 2004, 87 and 76 in 2002 and 2003 respectively. According to ICM data, 147 persons were arrested in 2004 for terrorism-related activities, 81 in 2005 and six in 2006 (till April 14). Karachi has for long been a centre for Islamist terrorists. “It's logical they'd try to regroup here, and they wouldn't even have to shave their beards,” Tariq Jamil, Karachi's deputy chief of Police, had said in June 2002. According to him, “It's so easy for anyone to melt into Karachi. It's easy for any kind of fanatics or terrorists to operate here”. Karachi, or mini-Pakistan as it is called, offers an expansive compass and space for radical Islam to flourish.

The city has also seen recurring violence targeting western interests. After a suicide-bomb attack at a Shia mosque in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal area on May 30, 2005, in which six persons were killed, six more died in a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) restaurant due to mob violence. On September 9, 2005, a KFC franchise and a McDonald's restaurant were bombed, although no fatalities were reported. On November 15, 2005, at least three people were killed and 20 others, including two South African women, wounded in a powerful car bomb explosion in front of the KFC restaurant. The U.S. Consulate in Karachi has been the target of several terrorist attacks in recent years. On March 2, 2006, US diplomat David Fyfe, his Pakistani driver and a Rangers official were killed and 54 persons injured in a suicide car bombing near the US Consulate, a day before President Bush visited Pakistan.

Karachi, for long, has been considered an extremely difficult city to police. The police force of 30,000 is relatively inadequate and the rapidly changing population profile as well as an intricate web of Islamist terrorist groups, compounds the problems of enforcement. Karachi Police, a much-beleaguered force, according to a June 2004 estimate, was deployed at 2,223 mosques and Imambargahs, 869 Madaris (seminaries). Besides, there is also substantial deployment at 103 foreign missions, 31 foreign food outlets, 205 vital installations, 84 temples, 213 churches, 99 multi-national companies and 227 petrol pumps. 100 police mobile vans and 7,000 police personnel are engaged in ‘VIP duty’. That leaves precious little for the routine tasks of policing or for aggressive counter-terrorism activities.

Within the common and unpredictable nature of terrorism and political violence in Karachi, a new development has added to the complexity. In November 2005, three persons were killed in a car-bomb explosion outside the Pakistan Industrial Development Company building in Saddar Town. The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), which was proscribed on April 9, 2006, claimed responsibility for the attack. This was the first instance of an attack claimed by the BLA within Karachi, an indication that unrest and insurgencies that afflict other provinces are now ominously reverberating across the length and breadth of Pakistan.

Disturbances in Karachi, which reportedly generates more than 60 per cent of Pakistan’s total revenue collection, will have national ramifications. The instability due to terrorist violence adversely affects economic activity and dampens investor sentiment. Amidst a plethora of terrorist incidents, thousands of masons, painters, plumbers, carpenters and ordinary workers, who scout for work on a daily basis in the city, are among the worst affected. The three days of shutdown after April 11 are reported to have resulted in a loss of PKR seven billion. “Pakistan’s industry is already finding it difficult to get orders from foreign buyers owing to the law and order situation in Karachi,” said Khalid Ferooz Arfeen, President of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, adding, “If these kinds of incidents were not stopped in future, no foreign buyers would sign contract with this country.” With a complete shutdown of industrial activity in the area, and hardly any production, Arfeen noted, “After this incident, we have gone back around one year in business and trade”.

Amidst the seemingly indiscriminate spread of radical Islamist violence, President Pervez Musharraf’s regime, nevertheless, continues to display an extraordinary level of tolerance and encouragement for Jihadi groups.

The writer is a Research Fellow at Institute for Conflict Management, India.

Courtesy : South Asia Terrorism Portal

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Kashmir Herald - Karachi: Metropolis of Terror

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