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.”

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Taliban in Karachi: Exaggerated number yet miscalculated threat

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Naimat Khan

Security agencies’ Inability to coup with threat & misinformation and disagreements among the anti-Taliban forces are extra weapons of perilous TTP

KARACHI: The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has now declared a war on ANP, MQM and other forces which, it says, come in their way to impose an “Islamic political system”. The TTP spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan was quoted as saying Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) and Awami National Party (ANP) are their prime targets. He said targeted war had been waged against the two in the city.

It was the recent shooting of MQM lawmaker-Manzar Imam, who was killed in Orangi last month- that brought two arch rivals closer, and thus bringing the issue of Taliban’s growing influence in the city to limelight. “We (The ANP and the MQM) are political rivals, but we stand united against extremism and terrorism”, said ANP leader Basheer Jan, who himself had survived two assassination attempts in Karachi, during the funeral prayers of Imam.

Previously, there was much hullabaloo from their prime target, ANP but the voice gained strength when another secular and ethnic party found a place at Taliban hit list following Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) issued a warning to target MQM after the later announced to hold a nationwide referendum asking people whether they wanted Quaid’s Pakistan or Taliban’s Pakistan. MQM’s referendum scheduled for 14 November 2012 was later postponed in respect for the upcoming Moharram-ul-Harram.

A well known analyst, Dr Rashid Ahmad Khan while representing the other view point wrote a piece in an English daily, stating that by holding the Taliban responsible for the worsening law and order situation in Karachi, the ruling parties were in fact hiding their failure to capture criminals.

One may disagree as who share most of the responsibility of the present lawlessness in the city- political parties and other local criminal elements or the infiltrated Taliban militants-the threat of Taliban can be seen looming over the city. Especially, when Taliban themselves declare it a battleground for attacking two parties, including MQM, the largest political entity of the city and second largest in the province.

Numbers and Threat:

Although, the presence of Taliban in the city can hardly be denied by anyone, their existence in term of physical strength had always been exaggerated, told a Karachi based security and terrorism expert AW Khan who claimed to have visited each and every street of the areas deemed as Taliban’s strongholds in the metropolis.

“There are around 1400 streets in SITE town alone, each with at least on criminal, all posing themselves as Taliban but the real Taliban are no more than 120”, he confidently stated, saying hundreds of groups comprising three to six criminals were carrying out activities in the name of Taliban. He, however, is affirmative that the presence of highly committed Jihadis, always ready to lend their lives for blowing many others, is not a minor threat to the security and peace of the city.

A high rank security official in Karachi, although, doesn’t agree with A.W. Khan, he also does not subscribe to the idea that 5000 Taliban militants have infiltrated into the city.

‘There are differences of opinion viz-a-viz Taliban number but one of the facts compelling all to forge a consensus is that the Taliban militants have overtaken the reign of terror previously held by militants with different identities, e.g. political, ethnic, sectarian and criminal. The Taliban nexus with Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in the city intensifies the threat’, said source.

Signs of presence:

This scribe observed during days’ long visits of these areas that all CD shops and beauty salons were open while the life was in full swing in the areas dubbed as safe havens for Taliban. The only thing missing was the Red flags and ANP offices. But the ANP leader insisted the ANP flags had been full down long ago as a good gesture to normalize the charged atmosphere following ethnic tension in the city.

Further drawing a line between the real Taliban and fake Taliban, the security analyst AW Khan said that Taliban abduction for ransom had always been well calculated while the fake Taliban would kidnap every person making irrational demands.

Taliban were said to be involved in extortion, the only business flourishing in the city, but a Taliban militant, while talking to The Frontier Post refuted this and said they, instead, had been stopping the illegal business. “We distributed handwritten pamphlets with phone numbers for contact if somebody demands extortion money. A few people registered their complaints and we asked them to call the extortionists for collecting the money so that we may teach them the lesson”, he told and added that sensing Taliban’s involvement in the issue, the extortionists didn’t turn up.

Taliban had enormous presence in the city. He informed that after a merger between Hakimullah Mahsood, a hardliner and Waliur Rehman group which tried to avoid targeting Pakistani state, the Tehrik had gained momentum, claimed the Taliban militant who himself had joined the group a few month ago. He said, “Before joining Taliban, I was working in Jaish-e-Muhammad that I had joined in 2005”.

During interaction with Taliban militants, it emerged that the TTP didn’t intend to launch large scale terrorist activities instead the lethal group had prioritized targeted actions against ANP and MQM, both at the top of the hit list in Karachi.

Bashir Jan who gave 80 percent credit of crimes and lawlessness in the city to Taliban also accepted that many professional criminals had branded themselves Taliban for committing crimes.

He said there was clash between ANP, MQM, Sunni Tehreek and sectarian groups but it were Taliban who raised lawlessness to the present alarming level.

“There are no Taliban courts and no Taliban processions but Taliban are present”, said Jan and added that “Rehman Malik says there are no Taliban. Suppose he is right but he cannot deny the presence of terrorists in Karachi. We demand military operation against the terrorists whether Taliban or otherwise.”

He said the guns and murdering people had become a hobby of those private Jihadis recruited, trained and armed by our establishment. “They deem Afghanistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa a way to Jannah. The terrorist is a terrorist, no matter he has beard or he wears pant”, he added.

Problem areas:

It is believed and reported that the Taliban militants are hiding in the Pashtoon dominated areas like Manghopir, Bhangi Para, PMR, Sultan Abad, Pakhtunabad, Kunwari colony, Mian Wali colony and Nusrat Bhutto colony of the central districts and Gadap, Sohrab Goth, Jhanjal Goth and Afghan Basti in district east. But Bashir Jan doesn’t fully agree with the claim.

“All top leadership of the TTP and its associate militant groups are Punjabis residing in the posh vicinities of the city including Gulshan-e-Iqbal”, Mr. Jan claimed, arguing since they held their meetings and did planning in the posh areas, they had chosen the slum areas, mostly Pashtoon dominated for operational activities.

Mr. Khan, a security and terrorism expert also endorses the view of Mr. Jan saying Taliban were not totally a Pashtoon problem. PPP Senator Taj Haider goes a step further and blames PML-N, especially CM Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif for allowing Taliban, to which he refers as Punjabi Taliban and their associate sectarian groups to make sanctuaries in Punjab.

“The most important question is from where do they come? Where are their sanctuaries and safe heavens? Both PML-N and Taliban are the remnants of Ziaism. He said Taliban are presently persuading a three steps line of action, “come, hit and leave” the city.

Media and Taliban:

 The media is blamed for glorifying Taliban and militancy but on the other hand the Taliban militants are ungrateful to media for what they call “misreporting the events and propaganda against TTP”. “They never point towards the killers in Liaquatabad and Gulistan-e-Jauhar where political parties are killing the people”, told a Taliban militant, adding, when explosive was found in a house inhabited by a Taliban militant, Sher Khan, media created an “explosive manufacturing factory” of it.

 

Threat weighed officially:

 SSP CID Chaudhry Aslam khan sees the TTP a great threat to the peace of Karachi in particular and stability of Pakistan in general. “They want to create chaos in order to capture the power for imposing their brand of Islam”. He said it is dreadfully perilous than any criminal and terror group operating in Karachi.

Eliminating Taliban:

 A security official in the city known for his daring handling of the local terrorists confirmed with the condition of not to be named that it was difficult, rather impossible to eliminate Taliban militants from the city.

“It is expected that the people making the world lone Super Power and its allies on run, will be defeated by the law enforcement agencies meant for maintaining law and order and not fighting wars”, he argued while rejecting the views of eliminating the menace with sheer force.

He said the TTP Karachi chapter has been divided into many small groups comprising 3 to 5 militants. “If we nab a militant, he doesn’t give us any clue to go after the high ranks due to his lack of knowledge about his own group”, he maintained.

Insisting that military operation is the only solution, the ANP Sindh leader Bashir Jan holds the constitution even allows a deputy commissioner to call in army in his district. The administration has not only failed but has become nonsensical. “The military operation and deweaponization is the only solution to the issue”, said Jan.

After the murder of its member Sindh Assembly, the MQM, while demanding the state machinery to mobilize to bring the culprits to book said, “We want to tell the terrorist that they cannot deter the MQM and its activists”.

Security apparatus, MQM and ANP, all three are divided as to how to deal with Taliban. On the other hand, Taliban groups have recently joined hands. In such a situation, to defeat the most dangerous Jihadi force in city would be nothing more than just a dream.

Publish on February 5, 2013

http://www.thefrontierpost.com/article/205755/