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 

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