Analysis: Karachi’s political turbulence fuels Muslim militancy

By Michael Georgy

KARACHI (BestGrowthStock) – Pakistan’s financial capital Karachi faces a growing menace from some of the world’s most dangerous militant groups because political and ethnic rivalries destabilizing the city are making it easier for them to operate.

Provincial coalition politicians have become so consumed by rivalries they are hindering the war on militancy in Karachi, which officials say contributes 68 percent of the government’s total revenue and 25 percent of gross domestic product.

“All these parties have to be on board and they have to trust each other if they want any kind of plan to be effective on the ground,” said Sharfuddin Memon, a consultant for the Home Affairs Department of the provincial government of Sindh, of which Karachi is the capital.

Intertwined organizations like al Qaeda and Pakistan’s Taliban are already well established in Karachi, a major transit point for supplies to Afghanistan for the U.S.- and NATO-led anti-insurgency effort.

They enjoy safe havens and benefit from funding networks in the sprawling metropolis, where hardline religious seminaries churn out young men eager for holy war.

Tackling militants is made more difficult by Karachi’s complex ethnic politics. Animosities between political parties — that go back decades — still trigger bloodshed today.

The dominant Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), represents the Mohajirs, descendents of Urdu-speakers who migrated from India after the creation of Pakistan in 1947.

The ethnic Pashtun-based Awami National Party (ANP), is the MQM’s main rival for political posts and spoils.

Karachi’s so-called targeted killings, often blamed on MQM and ANP supporters, have risen to 1,132 this year, the highest level since 1995, says the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee.

Rising numbers of drive-by shootings, drug wars, extortion rackets and land grabbing are deepening chaos in Karachi, giving militants even more opportunities to find hideouts, generate cash, gain recruits and plan and stage attacks.

Most of these activities occur in badlands on the edge of Pakistan’s biggest city, like Sohrab Goth, a hotbed of the Pakistani Taliban and their sympathizers.

ANP flags hang from street lamps, a reminder of political turf wars that have been heating up over the past few months.

“THEY WILL HIT BACK”

Taliban militants blend in easily among fellow Pashtuns who live in grimy apartment blocks that run for kilometers.

“If the police launch an operation against militants here they will hit back hard. They have plenty of weapons,” said MQM official Khawaja Izhar Hassan, driving through enemy territory during a quiet period.

While maintaining that politicians must work together to tackle militancy, he accused the ANP and the ruling Pakistan People’s Party of foot-dragging on militancy and crime.

As political parties trade accusations, a far more subtle but equally troubling security threat looms in Karachi, home to the central bank, stock exchange, main port and offices of most foreign companies investing in Pakistan.

Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies Director Muhammad Amir Rana says security agencies are overlooking creeping Talibanisation of some areas.

“People may not notice if someone comes in the street during prayer time and says, ‘OK, shut down your shops’. And if someone comes at night and says ‘throw out your television set’ and cuts down the cables,” he said.

Things have been relatively calm over the past two years as militants have focused on cities in the north and across the northwest. But risks of major attacks will grow as long as political paralysis gives militants breathing space.

A suicide car bombing on November 11, claimed by the Pakistan Taliban, brought the fight to the doorstep of elite counterterrorism police in Karachi. The blast demolished the headquarters of an investigation department where militants were interrogated. At least 18 people were killed.

Containing the threat will require pouring resources into law enforcement agencies so they can improve intelligence gathering and disrupt kidnappings and extortion, which fund militants.

“The authorities really need to invest heavily in the security agencies, build their capacity, and sensitize them to the new levels of threat,” said security analyst Imtiaz Gul. “This is an imperative.”

But far from investing big, even the basics are lacking. There isn’t a single police security camera in Karachi, home to about 18 million, according to Memon, who launched a hotline for complaints about crime, and police abuses.

Generating cash to boost the fight against militancy is unlikely soon. Pakistan is being kept afloat by an $11 billion International Monetary Fund loan agreed in 2008.

Meanwhile, the government’s failure to ease poverty and create jobs is driving disgruntled young men to join the jihadis.

At Karachi’s Jamia Binoria madrassa, young boys rock back and forth as they memorise the Koran. Spokesman Saifullah Rabbani says students are taught Islam is a religion of peace.

But he is quick to predict what will happen if they don’t find opportunities after graduation.

“If there is poverty and unemployment, these people will not join the MQM. They will not join the ANP. They will not join the Pakistan People’s Party. They will certainly go toward the Taliban,” he said.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

Analysis: Karachi’s political turbulence fuels Muslim militancy