Karachi operation safeguards Pashtuns against Taliban attacks

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: Photo By News Lens Pakistan /
Activists of the Awami National Party at a political rally in Sohrab Goth area of Karachi. Pashtun liberal political parties, civil society organizations and traders in the city have expressed satisfaction over the ongoing law enforcement agencies’ crackdown. Photo: Ziaur Rehman/News Lens Pakistan

Karachi: While there has been growing criticism of the paramilitary Rangers’ action in Karachi against militants and criminals that has gone on for two years now, it is certainly not coming from the Pashtun liberal political parties, civil society organizations and traders in the city

The police and military authorities have long claimed that the Rangers’ action has returned a semblance of peace to the restive port city despite criticism of the force’s heavy handedness against political workers of certain parties and criminals. 

However, Pashtun political workers and traders – the main target of Taliban militants – are clearly happy with the operation, saying it has “completely shattered” the Tehrik-e-Taliban network in Karachi.

“Their key target was the Pashtun liberal political leaders, especially those belonging to the Pashtun ethnic liberal Awami National Party, polio vaccinators, civil society activists and police personnel,” said Mazhar Mashwani, a senior police official at the Counter-Terrorism Department. “Also, the militants have been threatening Pashtun traders to pay extortion money. The collected money was used to support their subversive activities across the country.”

The Awami National Party has been the TTP’s bete noir since 2009 when the party, then in power in the northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa took a tough stance against the Taliban whose brutal onslaught threatened the government’s writ in the northern districts, especially the picturesque Swat and the tribal areas.

In 2009, Taliban militants from Swat, South Wazirsitan and Mohmand districts, guised as internally displaced people (IDPs), started moving into Karachi.

“At first, they worked as labourers, waiting for the right time to set up and reinforce their networks in the city,” a Mohmand businessman, not named due to security concerns, told News Lens. “But somewhere in 2011, they changed their strategy. Militants of all three areas organized their groups in the city, targeting the Pashtun communities where they had found refuge besides carrying out other subversive activities.”

In Karachi, three factions of the TTP – Swat, Mehsud and Mohmand – are active, running networks in various Pashtun neighborhoods of the city.

The TTP South Waziristan faction is led by Khan Said alias Sajna. It mainly consists of Mehsud militants. The group has been operating independently after parting ways with the TTP in May last year. 

In Karachi, Khan Zaman aka Goonga heads the group. Law enforcement agencies claim they have killed a number of the group’s leaders and militants in the ongoing crackdown in the city, compelling them to go underground or move to other parts of the country.

These claims are substantiated by the group itself. “Key leaders of the [South Waziristan] faction killed by law enforcement agencies in recent months include Abid Mucharr, Abid Chota, Zikria Mehsud, Mufti Javed, Khazan Gul, Zahidullah, Ubaidullah, Amir Zada and Khwajlak,” a source in the TTP South Wazirstan chapter told News Lens on condition of anonymity.  He said Khan Zaman and Zawel were the only two remaining important commanders of the faction. 

The TTP Swat chapter is loyal to the organization’s central chief Maulana Fazlullah who waged a violent insurgency in the northern Swat district of Khyber Paktunkwa in 2009. In Karachi, their organizational set up is very secretive and mainly involved in the killing of ANP leaders and police personnel in Karachi’s District West.

The TTP Mohmand faction, renamed TTP-Jammatul Ahrar (JA) after its split from TTP last year, is led by Abdul Wali alias Omar Khalid Khurasani. The group has been weakened because of the killing of key leaders and sympathizers at the hands of law enforcement agencies.

The ANP, and Pashtun tribal elders, have been a key target of TTP in the city. Shahi Syed, the ANP Sindh president, said over 100 party activists including district presidents have been killed by Taliban militants in the last two years.

“It forced us to halt our political activities in the city and a number of leaders left the city for security reasons,” Syed told News Lens Pakistan. ANP was being targeted in the District West of Karachi, a Pashtun-populated town which, Syed claimed, was a stronghold of the party.

“Not just in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA but also Karachi, the ANP was a key target of Taliban militants because of its bold stance against militancy and terrorism in the region,” said Abu Bakar Yousafzai, a Karachi-based researcher. “Because of spike in killing of ANP workers in the city, a number of party members joined the right-wing leaning parties, such as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and the Jamaat-e-Islami to save their lives.”

The TTP has also targeted polio teams in the Karachi, disrupting vaccination campaigns. Several anti-polio workers have been gunned down in Karachi since July 2012.  Both the TTP and Jundullah, a Sunni militant group with links to al-Qaeda, have claimed responsibility for targeting polio vaccinators, according to media reports. Vaccination teams in Karachi are often deployed now with security cover from the police.

The TTP militants have also targeted a number of policemen, mainly those stationed in the Pashtun neighbourhood of Karachi’s District West.

However, the ongoing operation in the city has disrupted the networks of all three factions of the TTP, according to police reports. In the first nine months of 2015, police killed 644 outlaws in the city,  167 of them active militants associated with the TTP and al-Qaeda, said a police source, not named because he is not authorized to speak to media.

A Karachi-based Mehsud tribal elder familiar with Taliban factions in the city claimed that a number of key Taliban commanders and sympathizers have been killed at the hands of law enforcement agencies, especially Rangers, after the December 2014 attack on Army Public School in Peshawar.

“We have not seen any incidents of killing or extortion by the TTP in last two months,” he told News Lens, requesting anonymity for security reasons.  “The TTP militants have disappeared and local residents of Pashtun areas are now feeling secure.”

Security analysts believe that the military operation code-named Zarb-e-Azab started in North Waziristan in June 2014 has shattered the TTP’s command and control system, impacting activities of its Karachi factions.

Asmat Khan Wazir, an Islamabad based independent security analyst from North Waziristan, said before the operation Karachi Taliban had offices in the Miramshah town in North Waziristan, directing their local leadership and threatening Pashtun businessmen and politicians in the city. “Now the Rangers crackdown has sent them underground or flee to other parts of the country,” said Wazir.

The paramilitary Rangers operation, started in September 2013, is aimed at clearing the city of assorted criminal and militant groups – whether Taliban, sectarian militants, ethno-political violent groups or criminal syndicates. 

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