Defying the Taliban with love

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Naimat Khan  TFT Issue: 06 Jan 2017

 

A few hundred metres from where the Taliban maintained their courts, communal harmony prevails. Naimat Khan reports from Manghopir.

 

By the end of 2013, Manghopir was the incontrovertible Ground Zero of the Taliban in Karachi. Its major neighbourhood, Sultanabad, built on qabza land (i.e. under the occupation of the land mafia), was home to both the leadership and the rank-and-file of the Wali-ur-Rehman Mehsud faction of the Taliban. In the foot of the mountainous ridge forming the border between Sultanabad and Ittehad town, the Taliban had a multipurpose office, built along the lines of their office in Miramshah bazaar in North Waziristan Agency. There, the ‘Ameer sahib’ would summon people to the Taliban’s ‘Shariah’ court. Southward in Sultanabad is the ANP Chowk, and also known as Madina Bakery. In the Taliban era, the Chowk was a symbol of terror in the vicinity. Bodies of around 87 people, including 17 policemen and 10 local Awami National Party (ANP) leaders and activists, were recovered from there. As the Taliban’s hold grew, locals say, the Manghopir Police Station, by the Manghopir River, was also closed down. From Sultanabad and nearby areas, violence and crime in the city was directed: ranging from bank heists to bomb blasts; and from targeted killings to attacks on political workers and minority sects.

But all was not bleak in this Taliban-infested part of Karachi. Less than a mile away from the center of violence, a tightly knit community with a sizeable proportion of four different religious and sectarian affiliations lived in a small colony, resilient in the face of waves of violence and political turbulence in the area. The colony is situated in the city government leprosy hospital and extended to Yaqoob Shah Basti. In the center of the colony are four places of worship of different religious affiliations: a mosque, a temple, a church, and an imambargah, all of which face each other.

Unlike the rest of the city where ethnic and religious identities reign supreme, the residents of this colony play down their differences. Many do not like to being identified by their religion, sect, ethnicity or language. Others speak of their respect for the others’ faith and ethnicity as their strength. That respect, they say, has helped them survive the turbulence common to Manghopir and Karachi.

Residents believe respect for others’ faith and ethnicity has helped them survive the turbulence common to Manghopir and Karachi

“I was admitted to the Leprosy hospital in late 60s. At that time almost all doctors were British. They treated us with immense compassion and would advise us to live in peace and love. I think their frequent emphasis on peaceful coexistence resonated with the community,” said 85-year-old Sohna Faqir hailing from Lasbela, Balochistan. Faqir recovered to full health at the hospital and yet did not leave the area. He was drawn to the care and camaraderie in the community and decided to settle here.

In the 1890s, a group of British doctors, visiting the area, came across patients of leprosy at the Mangophir Mazar bathing in the hot sulphur springs – also called ‘Mangi’ or Garm-aab. Back then it was famous that the springs had healing powers. When the visiting doctors saw the patients in pain, they were moved to do something. “They [the British] went back, collected funds and came back to setup the hospital in 1896,” according to Faqir.

“The Mandir existed before the hospital was established in 1896 but later during the British rule a Masjid and a church was setup for the patients, their attendees and other dwellers of the town,” said the 85 year old. As the population increased, Faqir said, an Imambargah – called the Imambargah Ali Raza – was built.

“Until 1986, the Sunni and Shia Muslims would offer prayers at the KMC Jamia Masjid. Later Imambargah Ali Raza was established,” said Noor Islam, a local journalist and resident of the same neighborhood, and added, “Despite separate places for offering their prayers, there has never been sectarian discord in the colony.”

For many years, Manghopir, a town founded by the 13th century saint Pir Haji Syed Sakhi Sultan, was home to Muhajirs, Sindhis, Punjabis, Kashmiris, Seraikis, Pakhtuns, Balochis, Memons, Bohras, and Ismailis. In 2008, thousands of displaced civilians from Waziristan started moving into the area. Following the Operation Rah-e-Nijat in South Waziristan, the demography of the area changed rapidly.

“After the operation, the Taliban militants came here in droves, started taking shelter in the neighbourhood, and by 2012-13 they achieved a complete hold over the locality, making it no-go area for political workers and law enforcement agencies,” said Islam.

“We have been living here for so many decades together. We are one people practicing different faiths, which made us strong when Taliban would freely roam around on the main road,” said Babu Lal, caretaker of the of the centuries’ old Mardeshwar Mahadev Mandir, the oldest of the four worship places in the locality. Facing the hospital, a few steps to the east, is the Imambargah and few steps to the west are the Church and the mosque.

According to Lal, the community regularly observes ritual of shab-e-barat, Diwali, and Holi, in which Muslims and Christians also participate. “From 2012 to 2014, we – as a precaution – would celebrate the events inside our houses. After the Karachi operation in 2015, we resumed our celebrations out in the open.” Even when we moved indoors, our Muslim brothers continued to be a part of our celebrations, Lal added. “Our Muslim friends make it a point to wish us on Christmas and Easter,” said William Gill, 45-year-old councilor of the Pakistan Peoples Party, and added, “Muslims join us at the Baptist Church in our prayers on Christmas.”

Asfandyar Mir, doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago, researching politically motivated violence and the dynamics of Taliban control in Karachi, recently visited the community. Commenting on the uniqueness of the ethnic and religious tolerance in the area, he added: “from a social science perspective, the fact that such islands of harmony exist amidst extreme turmoil is always remarkable. Most analyses on Karachi’s communal relationships start with the observation that in times of violence identities are hardened, and even apolitical religious and ethnic groups are compelled to seek security with their co-ethnics or religious groups. But this diverse community contradicts that trend, having withstood pressures in a very challenging part of the city.”

Making it deadly

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Naimat Khan

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KARACHI: Terrorists in Pakistan do not rely on industrial grade bombs. Instead, to target both law enforcers and ordinary civilians, they have relied on their own specialized cadres to make different kinds of bombs. On April 12, 2016, Karachi Police’s Counter Terror Department unearthed a facility used to make bombs in the Gadap town. In the raid one bomb maker named Muhammad Mujtaba aka Rehan was eliminated. One of his accomplices, named Abdul Saboor aka Hamad was killed, whereas anther, named Muhammad Murtaza, was arrested. Police also recovered 80 kg of explosive material, circuits, ball bearings, bottle bombs, tennis ball bombs, bomb manufacturing material, laptop, memory cards, and USBs.

Raja Umar Khattab, senior counter terrorism official who led the raid, told this scribe that the arrested Muhammad Murtaza aka Abu Huraira claims that the dead Rehan was the last expert bomb maker alive in the city. Rehan was the protege of Hashim aka Babu, a master bomb marker with 14 years of experience, especially car bombs. Babu was killed in a gunfight with the police in April 2015.

After Babu – who had put together the bomb manufacturing setup in Gadap town and supplied explosive devices to one Abdus Salam Sindhi of Liaquatabad – was killed, the Counter Terror Department’s assessment was that it had set back AQIS’s bomb making capability significantly. “After that shoot out, I thought that this was it. As I had extensively worked on hunting the bomb makers and dented all three groups – the brainwashers, the hit-men and bomb makers – of Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), I believed that no locally made lethal weapon will be used by terrorists, at least for next couple of years,” Khattab told The Frontier Post.

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But six months later, on October 17, 2016, the police were surprised when terrorists hurled hand grenades at an Imambargah in Liaquatabad killing one child and leaving several women hurt. Media reported it as cracker blast. “For a while I believed that my assessment after April had been wrong,” Khattab told and added “but when we arrested Ishaq Booby and Asim Capri, accused of Amjad Sabri’s murder, they disclosed that they had hit the Shia Majlis with grenade having ball bearing wrapped to it”.

“The terrorists had wrapped ball bearings with it for ensuring it results maximum fatalities.” It was clear to Khattab then that Taliban and AQIS were innovating around their constraints.

In March 2013, the BBC Urdu first reported terrorists – normally knowing for using Russian made hand grenades and smoke grenades – were using the tennis ball bomb. The tennis ball bomb was an invention of the Taliban, according to the Police, working like a small bomb or cracker but had a bigger sound impact. Taliban increased its lethality by adding ball bearings of 2mm and nails. Such tennis ball bombs were made at the factory in Gadap Town.

The loss of the bomb making facility at Gadap is likely to hurt the Taliban as it comes on the back of sustained counter terror efforts by the law enforcement agencies.

“We have always known the TTP uses local bomb making factories, but with the success of Zarb-e-Azb, we know that their capabilities have been decimated,” according to Khalid Muhammad, Director General – CommandEleve, adding, “We also know that they have ‘imported’ bomb makers from AQAP and IS Khorasan to give them a more logistic advantage in quick hit attacks with IEDs, much like the tennis ball or shoe bomb”.

Muhammad is of the view that the security agencies must shut down capabilities of terrorists comprehensively, which they are currently doing.

“Second, we must get ahead of their technology by understanding what technology these groups have used in other battle spaces like Iraq and Syria,” he concludes.

They are for maximum terrorism, whether inventing new or adding more lethality to the factory-made, the terrorists will continue their search for deadly weapons to use, said another analyst.

Published in The Frontier Post 

Are Taliban staging a comeback in Karachi?

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By: Naimat Khan

KARACHI: On December 8 a journalist from Manghopir posted photos of graffiti declaring Taliban’s comeback in the ‘Sultanabad’ area of the city. The graffiti read “Khalid Mehsud Sajna Zindabad Taliban Zindabad” and “we’re watching, we’re watching all, Tehreek-e-Taliban Waziristan.”

As the photos began to do rounds on social media, law enforcers swiftly moved to remove the graffiti. But the appearance of the Taliban’s message remains the talk of the neighborhood. Until 2013 Sultanabad – with a sizable population of Mehsud tribesmen having moved in after the military operations in South Waziristan – was a no-go area, controlled by the Pakistan Taliban. They had an office in the area as well.

Karachi police views the graffiti as nothing more than a hollow threat. “I do not see it as an indicator of Taliban’s come back,” said Omar Shahid, SSP Investigation in Counter Terrorism Department of the Sindh Police. No wall-chalking was reported in Kanwari colony, which was also one of the Taliban’s strongholds in the city few years back. At the peak of Taliban’s influence, Shahid says, prominent local elders had left the city for Peshawar and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) due to Taliban’s threat. In the last few years, most of them have come back.

“The first indicator of Taliban recurrence in the town would be if they are threatened or killed,” Shahid argues. He thinks that this time around, the local population will offer more resistance than before. Recalling the recent meeting of Pathan elders with former DG Rangers, Major General Bilal Akber, the police officer says that the community feels it suffered because of the Taliban.  “Until and unless Taliban undertake a sustained campaign of terrorism, such graffiti has little significance,” he concluded.

Informed locals offer two explanations for the appearance of the graffiti. Some locals link it to the politics surrounding the removal of the former Manghopir SHO Ghulam Hussain Korai. Korai was removed after a police encounter of an Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) leader Maulana Yousuf Quddosi. On his removal, locals staged a protest, insisting that Korai had a major role in wiping out Taliban from the area. “It’s said that it’s linked to the race for seat of SHO Manghopir, a vicinity where two major centers of drug peddlers – one owned by a Baloch and another owned by a Pashtun from Shangla Swat – are situated, providing huge share to ‘all’,” a local said.

Others suggest that it’s not just about the graffiti but that they have seen Taliban move around in the area. “Pro-Taliban graffiti are not the only alarming thing for us. For the last few weeks six men riding three 125 motorbikes have been seen roaming around the streets of Sultanabad,” a local driver Mubeen Khan told this scribe. “Few years back, Taliban courts would summon people here in this office ,” the driver told while pointing towards a house in the foothill.

Law enforcers remain vigilant. When the Taliban made inroads in the area in 2012, the Manghopir police station was closed down. The police station is only a few hundred meters away from the Taliban’s former neighborhood. Right now, it remains open and functioning. Soldiers of the Rangers also patrol the main Hub dam road.

Still, locals remain wary and concerned. Last month the Taliban posted a two-minute video message in Pashto, showing Taliban chief Maulana Fazlullah announcing the appointment of Haji Daud Mehud as the new chief for Taliban’s Karachi chapter. Haji Daud Mehsud was an official in the Sindh police before defecting to the Taliban. Fazlullah instructed all factions of the Taliban to follow the directives of Mehsud. Mehsud is a resident of Quaidabad.

Published in The Frontier Post 

Cop who arrested Aafia Siddiqui tops LeJ hit-list

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KARACHI: The arrested militants of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) have revealed during interrogation that an official of the Sindh Police, they believed had arrested Dr Aafia Siddiqui, remained at top of their hit-list.

Siddiqui, a MIT trained Pakistani neuroscientist, was convicted on two counts of attempted murder of US nationals, officers, and employees, assault with a deadly weapon, carrying and using a firearm, and three counts of assault on US officers and employees.

She is serving her 86-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, USA. According to reports in local media, Aafia was arrested by Karachi Police in Gulshan-e-Iqbal area of the city and handed over to an American intelligence agency who took her to Afghanistan for showing her arrest there in order to make a case against her.

The LeJ members say the sectarian proscribed outfit  also believed that Aafia was arrested by a police officer, who later become spokesperson for the Sindh Police. The officer, they believed, handed her over Siddiqui to an American intelligence agency.

Earlier this week, Chief Minister Sindh, Syed Murad Ali Shah announced that Counter Terrorism Police of his province lead by in Charge CTD Raja Umar Khattab, have arrested two Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) terrorists involved in high profile cases, including that of Amjad Sabri Murder, killing of military policemen and firing on Majlis that had left five people dead last month.

The accused, CM Sindh said, were identified as Ishaq Bobbi and Asim Capri.

A day later the Sindh Government constituted a Joint Interrogation Team (JIT), that to be headed by SSP Intelligence Counter Terrorism Department, Omar Shahid Hamid, to interrogate the high profile cases of murder of Sufi Singer Amjad Sabri, attack on Shia Majlis, killing of Military Policemen and attacks on police personnel.

“On the recommendation of Inspector General of Police, Sindh Karachi a joint Interrogation Team is hereby constituted for the purpose of interrogation in respect of involvement in heinous high profile cases including incident of terrorism, murder of army, rangers and police personal in Karachi, resulting arrest of two personal namely Ishaq alias Boby and Asim alias Capri,” a notification issued by secretary home reads.

Sources said the militants have told interrogators that the they had been involved in  32 more cases including killing of people of Ahmadiyya community. The police will do a forensic test of the cases soon, an official told this scribe on the condition of anonymity.

The accused have further revealed that they believed a former spokesman of Sindh police of SSP rank was involved in the arrest and handing of Aafia Siddiqui to America.

“The officer has always been at top of the hit-list but couldn’t be attacked due to different reasons”. According to police, the officer has been advised to take extra measures for his security as threat still loom over his head.

It is pertinent to mention that last week the administrative judge of the anti terrorism courts in Karachi remanded Ishaq Boby and Asim Capri, both arrested a day earlier following a news conference by CM Sindh, Syed Murad Ali Shah, into police custody for fourteen days here on Tuesday.

Both the accused were produced before the administration judge of ATCs, Naimatullah Phulphoto, which is situated in the remits of Sindh High Court (SHC) amid stern security arrangements.

The Investigation Officer submitted before the judge that the accused have been arrested in case under the charges of possessing explosive material and arms. He further told that the accused were wanted to police in the murder of Amjad Sabri, military policemen and other important case. The IO prayed that the accused should be given in 14-day police remand, which the ATC administrative judge granted.

Published in The Frontier Post 

Counter-terror experts give no credence to LEJ-A claim of Quetta police academy assault

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Naimat Khan

KARACHI: Counter-terrorism experts have rejected Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) Al-Almi’s claim of carrying out the Quetta police training academy attack, saying the banned outfit’s assertion meant for a mere re-branding.

The claim by Al-Almi, an offshoot of the LeJ – a Sunni sectarian outfit with its origins in Punjab – has not been established so far, says Raja Umar Khattab, a senior counter-terrorism official in Karachi, revealing that the claim by Afghanistan-based IS-Khurasan could be substantiated through evidences the outfit has provided with its claim on Tuesday. “Both organisations are, however, being operated from Afghanistan currently.”

Over 60 police cadets were killed when three heavily-armed militants wearing suicide vests stormed the police training centre on the outskirt of the capital city of Balochistan on October 24.

Interestingly, both the proscribed groups, Islamic State and Al-Almi, claimed responsibility with the latter saying it was assisting the Khurasan branch of the Middle Eastern terrorist organisation. IG Frontier Corps Major-General Sher Afgun said calls intercepted between the attackers and their handlers suggested they were from the LeJ.

“We came to know from the communication intercepts that there were three militants who were getting instructions from Afghanistan,” Afgun told reporters, adding, “The Al-Alami faction of LeJ was behind the attack.”

Read More: Elimination of Malik Ishaq no fatal blow to sectarian killings

The Islamic State’s Amaq news agency published the claim of responsibility, saying three IS fighters “used machine guns and grenades, and then blew up their explosive vests in the crowd”. A teenage attacker killed by security forces can be seen in IS media release, supporting the IS-Khurran’s claim.

“The calls may definitely be from Afghanistan as both the IS and LeJ Al-Almi are being operated from other side of the border,” the police official said. “Though LeJ and Al-Almi claimed the responsibility, the one IS-Khurasan with evidently true claim hasn’t mentioned any assistance from the sectarian outfit,” Khattab told The Frontier Post.

This is not the first terror act with multiple claims. In August, Quetta hospital was attacked that left 70 people, mostly lawyers, dead was claimed by the IS, and also by the banned Pakistani Taliban faction, Jamaatur Ahrar. However, according to Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri, India’s premier spy agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), was involved in the attack.

Though, Al-Alami earlier claimed responsibility for the targeted assassinations of four women of the Hazara Shia community in the provincial capital and the attack on a Shia Imambargah in Karachi, experts believe that the trend of attacking Shia community and law enforcement agencies by IS has emerged, without any role of the LeJ.

“Currently, several terrorist outfits, including IS, AQIS and TTP are found involved in sectarian-driven bloodletting,” the official said.

According to the police official, LeJ has the capability of target killing but it doesn’t seem to be capable of carrying out major terror attacks. “Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was formed in 2004 by Abid Mehsud, a mastermind of Hasan Turabi murder, but the group has never excelled.”

Currently, Yousuf Mansoor is running the organisation from Afghanistan whereas its Sindh chapter’s head, Safdar alias Abu Sufian, who is also the outfit’s spokesperson, is admitting most of the terror acts to remain in the news for attracting youths with militant and sectarian tendencies.

“The organisation’s claims haven’t been verified,” Khattab told this scribe, adding that the group has been unable to establish its own camp inside Pakistan or Afghanistan and has been sending its members to camps of other terrorist outfits.

According to security experts, the Al-Alami’s mother organisation, LeJ, has almost become dysfunctional after two of its most notorious leaders, i.e. Malik Ishaq, the chief of the terror outfit, and Usman Saifullah Kurd, the head of its Balochistan chapter, were killed in encounters with law enforcers.

Moreover, Hafiz Naeem Bukhari, the head of LeJ’s Karachi chapter; Asif Chotu, the commander from southern Punjab, and Qari Ramzan Mengal, the Quetta-chapter head, are in jail.

Read More: Writing on the wall

Reports suggested that the killings and arrests of its top leadership have hampered LeJ’s operational capabilities and dented its organisational infrastructure. “LeJ has never claimed responsibility,” the official added.

Meanwhile, Balochistan government on Wednesday formed an investigation team to probe into the Quetta carnage. “The support of Punjab’s forensic agency will also be sought,” Deputy IG Quetta Abdul Razzaq Cheema said. The team will visit the incident cite, speak to survivors and present its report soon, added Cheema.

Published in The Frontier Post

‘Death squads backed by Muslim neighbor operate in Karachi’

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KARACHI: As the Rangers’ led operation against political killers and terrorist outfits like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Al Qaeda has been successful, the law enforcers are facing hardship in dealing with at least one lawlessness factor due to religious resistance and sectarian leanings within police force, it has reliably been learnt.

A report by a sensitive agency, a copy of which is available with The Frontier Post, has cited “constant power struggle between various political, religious and sectarian segments of the society” as a core of Karachi problem. “The power struggle is essentially geared towards having control over the financial resources”.

“Land grabbing, china-cutting and control over water hydrants and lucrative contracts in industrial areas remains the core of such confrontations,” the report reads. According to intelligence agencies, the problem is compounded by corruption and collusion of Sindh police coupled with lacunas in criminal justice system which are effectively exploited by such mafias.

Read more:  Writing on the wall

As much has been done on this front, including effective operation against political killers, operation against TTP, Al Qaeda and IS-Inspired Jihadi network in the city’s suburbs, a problem is unresolved due to some factors, yet to be overcome, a source told this scribe. “The city is also the target of international intelligence agencies being a port city”.

According to report Karachi has been the recruitment base of Al-Qaeda traditionally. “The presence of vast number of Deobandi and Ahle-Hadith Madressahs provide a rich recruiting base for terrorist organizations”.

According to security sources, bringing Madressah registration laws is part of the efforts to overcome this issue. “But there is another issue, which is far from being addressed,” a law enforcement officer told on the condition of anonymity.

“The presence of large Shia majority in areas such as Abbas town, Jaffer-e-Tayyar Society Malir, Ancholi Rizvia, New Golimar, Shah Faisal provides an excellent operational area for Iranian intelligence to make inroads”, informs the report. Multiple Shia death squads operate in Karachi and due to significant presence of Shia officers in police and law enforcement agencies the operations against such death squads could hardly ever be successful, the report reads.

“Furthermore, being financially well off and being a well connected community any arrests of target killers in past met with immensely powerful street agitations,” according to the report, informing that the Shia death squads are cleverly operating under the garb of Shia NGOs such as Jaffria disaster cell (JDC), PYAM, OYAM and Baqiatullah.

According to the report, Majlis-e-Wihdat-ul Muslimeen (MWM), the new political face of Shia community in Pakistan – which has been contesting elections in Karachi – has also formed its own death squad.

“Target killing has been a rampant phenomenon in Karachi. MQM-A has been the prominent political party using target killing as its favored tool. Atleast 12 death squad teams operated in Karachi further assisted by sector target killer teams”.

According to report the intelligence based operations have seriously reduced MQMA’s death squads’ capabilities however there are other actors using the same tool with resilience. “MQMA started to face serious fissures within it due to its Shia members breaking away from MOMA towards MWM.

“Latest reports indicate that MWM has also created its own death squads”.

According to a report by  Samaa News channel , Police have revealed that a man recently arrested on the suspicion of target killing had been working as a translator for the neighboring country’s consul general.

The man, identified as Mehdi Moosvi, was arrested by police from Shadman Town area of Karachi.  “Officials claim the suspected hit-man, allegedly involved in sectarian killings and terrorism, has made shocking disclosures during the investigation”, news channel reported and added, “He [the accused] disclosed that he has worked as translator of a neighboring country’s consul general, and has also accompanied his country’s diplomat during meetings with former Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah and other high officials”.

The accused has also worked in the cyber crime cell of FIA after he helped the agency’s deputy director Kamran Ata in recovering fake degrees. Prior his association Mehdi was officer in the Axact.  On May 21, 2016, this newspaper reported anti-IS graffiti in Shia neighborhoods of the city amid reports of several youths having joined the Assad’s battle against the Middle Eastern terrorist group, IS, in Syria.

“Thousands of Shia youths have left for Iraq and Syria from different parts of the country, including Karachi whereas anti-Islamic State (IS) sentiments are touching its highest edge in Shia neighborhoods of the seaside city,” a senior official told then on the condition of anonymity.  On other hands the experts told this scribe that the growing trend of anti-IS wall-walking in Shia vicinities indicated that the community had been exposed to recruitments by the groups who are sending youths to Syria and Iraq for anti-Daish fighting.

On May 2, 2016 Iran passed a law to grant citizenship to families of Pakistani ‘martyrs’ fighting in Syria and Iraq. It’s also pertinent to mention that an earlier report published in this newspaper informed that thousands of Pakistanis have left for Syria to fight alongwith Assad’s forces. In its letter on 13th August, 2014 National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) wrote to provincial governments that over 2000 Pakistani Shia students were studying in Madaris of Najaf, Iraq where they are “brainwashed and motivated against Sunni on sectarian line and Pakistani government for alleged killing of Shia in Pakistan.”

Tariq Habib, an Islamabad based journalist, told The Frontier Post in May 2016 that known faces of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, who are being placed in fourth schedule, had been advised by leadership to leave for Syria via Balochistan.

“The Shia youth recruited under the banner of ‘Al-Zainabun’ and Sunni youth fighting alongwith Diash are sent to Syria and Iraq for three and seven months, respectively. If proper strategy wasn’t adopted to counter them the sectarian violence will break all past records of Pakistan,” Habib told.

Fighting the Taliban: Bad medicine

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Naimat Khan

State-backed fighters may seem like a good idea to fight insurgents, but the formula has not always worked

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The romantic notion of the Pashtun fighting for his homeland against homegrown and foreign extremists was embodied by the lashkars that started to push back in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at a time when good news was desperately hard to come by. These groups of fighters and peace committees were formed to fight the Taliban as early as 2004. Since then, the Fata secretariat estimates that more than 1,400 of them and anti-Taliban elders have been killed for doing just that. The latest casualty was a former Awami National Party MPA, Muhammad Shoaib, in Swabi on July 18 this year. Many of them have, as a result, either fled to Islamabad or left the country given the threat to their lives.

This is, however, one side to the complex story of lashkars. For if history teaches us anything, it is that when states fight terrorists through private militias it has almost always been counterproductive. And while one does not mean to belittle their sacrifices, it is worth highlighting how this mechanism can also come with its own blow back. In the case of some lashkars and peace committees it has come in the shape of abuse of power.

Some committees ended up being headed or populated by men with a history of crime. An elder, Haji Imran Afridi, gives the example of the Adezai peace committee run by a former contract killer, Dilawar Khan, and the Badhbair committee that was led by a man named Fahim Khan who was found to be involved in land grabbing and extortion. These criminals now had legal cover and were provided money, arms and vehicles by the government. “The ones previously reigning through illegal arms had the government’s arms in their hands, which increased their strength manifold,” said another elder, who did not want to be named.

The police came to rely on committees. According to elder Haji Imran Afridi, the Badhbair police station would refer cases to the committee daily. A shopkeeper, who did not want to be named, corroborated this by narrating an incident in which a man who was unable to return a loan found himself facing the peace committee’s wrath after a police complaint was lodged. The police had refered the case to the committee. “[The victim] was with the women and children of his family when [the committee members] dragged him to the main bazaar,” said the shopkeeper. “I, like other shopkeepers, came out of my shop. But no one could dare question them.”

This formula for the dispensation of justice meant that committees were acting as recovery officers and judges at a jirga. “The committees soon started to pressure people by holding jirgas in which their orders would be final,” Afridi says.

Several family members of former goons-turned-committee leaders rode the crest of their power and even entered the political arena by contesting local body elections. The brother of Adezai anti-militant lashkar chief Dilawar Khan, who was later killed, stood from the platform of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. The party’s provincial chief, Amir Muqam, had even attended his corner meetings.“Since the committees were close to police officers and politicians, they tried to enter politics,” explains Afridi, adding that dozens of committee members with bad reputations even won in the last local government polls.

“Peace committees, typically in Pakistan, have been formed by politically motivated individuals to put themselves in the spotlight,” says Khalid Muhammad of the think tank Command Eleven, who hails from Swat himself. “And it’s no surprise that some of the committee members have protected and provided cover for terrorists in their own communities due to the threats made against them if they were to leak information.” Take the example of Muslim Khan, the TTP Swat spokesman, who was hiding in the home of one of the peace committee members in Qambar, he adds.

147 is the number of pro-government tribal elders who have been killed in the tribal areas May 2005 to Nov 2015 (source: South Asia Terrorism Portal)

This problematic behaviour did, however, come to the notice of the authorities eventually. According to one security official, when the committee members started oppressing locals, those at the helm of affairs realized they should be checked before they turned into another Taliban force. Another security official, based in Peshawar, added: “When some of those crossed their limits a ‘safai mohim’ (cleansing drive) had to be kicked off both to get rid of them and to warn others others.”

It does seem to be counter intuitive, however, to have to discipline a force that is supposed to be on your side. “When it comes to dealing with armed groups on its soil, Pakistan stands where it stood post 9/11,” argues Asfandyar Mir, a Chicago-based scholar and counter militancy expert. “The state fights groups that are averse to its ideological project … puts up with those who deploy agreeable symbols and ideas while offering tactical utility within or outside the borders, and neglects the rest.” For him, this violence management strategy is fraught with serious risk of blowback. Remember the case of Abdullah Mehsud who had formed a peace committee against Baitullah Mehsud back in 2004?

According to one view, lashkars and peace committees have at least in many cases minimized the fatalities of the security forces and police and something must be said for that. But as the Swat-based analyst Sardar Ahmed Yousafzai puts it, how productive could they be if they are being targeted themselves?

Peace committees: who, when, how

Swat: In Swat the committees were formed directly by the army after the start of the operation in 2009 and have remained under its supervision. They had no lashkar or active fighting force and were never on the offensive. Instead, they assisted with information sharing. They would not go on patrol unlike the committees in FATA and troubled parts of settled districts. Between 40 and 90 of these members have been killed in the last seven years.

Settled districts: Unlike in Swat, the committees in the settled districts were formed by police (though the security agencies had given clearance for all of them). The committees in the settled but troubled districts of Charsadda, Nowshera, Peshawar, Lakki Marwat, DI Khan and Bannu mostly comprised men with criminal backgrounds or a bad reputation. There was no direct presence of the army, so they were on the frontlines against the Taliban’s attacks. More than 500 of these members, including 97 killed in the Shah Hassan Khel blast on January 1, 2010, have paid with their lives. They were mostly killed by militants but some recently as part of the “Safai Mohim”.

FATA: The peace committees were formed as far back as early 2004. The committees and Amn Lashkars were abolished by former KP governor, Sardar Mehtab Abbasi, in 2015. He replaced the lashkar with jirgas, which were already a part of tribal culture. The committees were indigenously formed by elders and worked according to the tribal hierarchy of governance.

The writer is a Karachi-based journalist

@NKMalazai