Friday, February 19, 2010

Karachi by the arrest of the Afghan Taleban

The spotlight shone on Karachi by the arrest of the Afghan Taleban’s second-in-command has illuminated a heaving Pakistani mega-city where organised crime helps to provide shelter for insurgents on the run. Since last autumn British and American intelligence sources have been saying that the port city — Nato’s main entry point for supplies passing through Pakistan to Afghanistan — has become a hideout for Mullah Omar, the Taleban’s spiritual leader, along with key members of his governing council, the Quetta Shura. "For various reasons they have begun to feel vulnerable in Quetta," one British intelligence source said. "There are too many eyes on it. We think Omar has shifted to Karachi. The size of the city and its distance from the [Afghan] border means it’s very difficult to read. Other commanders move in and out of it when they are able." Pakistan’s largest city and commercial capital, Karachi is home to more than 18 million people of varied ethnicity and language, a teeming port that generates 68 per cent of government revenue and 25 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product. Its population includes about 2.5 million Pashtuns, the largest Pashtun population in Pakistan outside the North West Frontier Province. The Pashtun migration to the city began in the 1950s but has burgeoned with each new wave of fighting along the border with Afghanistan, producing a displaced population inside Karachi where Mullah Baradar and others could easily conceal themselves. Organised crime has long been infamous there. Dacoits, armed robber bands, fought British troops around the city fringes for much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as recorded by the sombre memorial plaques to British soldiers in Karachi’s Holy Trinity Cathedral. In a recent interview the city’s mayor, Syed Mustafa Kamal, described it as the Taleban’s "revenue engine", where the proceeds of organised crime including kidnap, robbery and drug trafficking are laundered. He noted that the Taleban, keen to safeguard their financial supply lines, were unlikely to intensify violence in the port. Karachi’s violence has a momentum of its own. Today gunfights are as commonly conducted between rival ethnic and political factions as criminal gangs and law enforcers. Sindhis, Pashtuns and Mohajir Muslims from India have all at times clashed in the city. Dozens have been killed in assassinations and skirmishes between gangs of rival political activists over the past few months, while bomb attacks against Shia Muslims have left a further 76 people dead this year. Though precise details of Mullah Baradar’s arrest remain scarce, officials have confirmed that the Taleban No 2 had been captured in Karachi last month by Pakistani security agents responding to a US tip-off. Yet despite the Taleban’s well-documented connection in Karachi, some remained unconvinced by the reports of Baradar’s arrest. "There are no Taleban here in Karachi," said Mufti Mohammed Naeem, principal of the Jaamia Binoria madrassa. For most, however, word of Mullah Baradar’s arrest attracted little, if any, attention. "We’ve got no real interest in people like that," said a Pashtun trader.



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