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 

Karachi’s top bomb-maker is dead

Counterterrorism Department deals major blow to Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent 

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By: Naimat Khan

On April 13, the Counter Terrorism Department of Karachi killed two members of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) in a gunfight in the Gadap Town locality, and seized weapons, explosives and equipment from a bomb factory that they unearthed.  Abdul Saboor and Muhammad Mujtaba died during the encounter, while Muhammad Murtaza was arrested.

During interrogation, Murtaza made some startling revelations.

“About 14 years ago, some militants from the Nazimabad neighborhood of Karachi parted ways with their organization Harkatul Mujahideen following a dispute. They renamed themselves Harkatul Mujahideen al Alami (HUMA), and orchestrated attacks on security forces, diplomatic missions and other targets of global importance,” according to Raja Umar Khattab, a senior cop fighting militancy and terrorism for more than 15 years.

In 2004, HUMA militants rented a shop in an apartment building in the city, and parked a van packed with 400 kilograms of explosives outside the premises to target the convoy of then president Gen Pervez Musharraf. The bomb couldn’t go off because of signal jammers, and the convoy passed safely.

It was the first group to use toy bombs

“The failed plan went unnoticed. The same van was later used in an attack on the American consulate in Karachi,” Raja Umar Khattab told me. The same year, the group orchestrated a bomb attack on a concert by the Indian vocalist Sonu Nigam in the port city. Then, they tried to target Americans staying at the airport hotel in a rocket attack, but the rockets went wayward and fell in Shah Faisal Colony.

HUMA was the first group to come up with toy bombs. The first such device was seized after an encounter with the police in the Kalakot area of the city.

By the end of 2008, most of the members of the group had been apprehended, and their plan to break Karachi’s central prison had been thwarted.

But because of weak prosecution and a lack of evidence, many of these militants were freed. Most of them fled to Afghanistan, where the group’s first chief Muhammad Imran, also known as Imran Bhai, was killed in a US drone strike.

Kamran Atif, the chief of the group’s Karachi chapter, was arrested in 2006 and served a life sentence.

In 2014, the militants associated with HUMA joined the AQIS en masse and took over its Pakistan branch. Their first emir is identified as Zarar, and also known by the names Naseem Bhai, Hanif Bhai and Ayub Bhai. He is stationed in Afghanistan, from where he directs the organization’s Pakistani and Bangladeshi chapters. “HUMA is the face of AQIS in Pakistan,” said Raja Umar Khattab.

Recent acts of terrorism in Karachi linked to the group include the murder of Dr Shakeel Auj and Urdu Blogger Aneeqa Naz, police say.

The AQIS Pakistan has three major wings, investigations have revealed.

One group, responsible for preaching, brainwashing and recruitment, consists of young people who have never been arrested and live normal lives at their homes in Karachi. They are hard to catch, police say, but stopping them is vital for eliminating the terrorist organization.

A second wing participates in militant activity. Most of its members are locals of Karachi, and people of Bengali and Burmese descent who have been born in the city.

The third wing consists solely of experts in manufacturing and planting bombs. Among its key members were a man identified as Hashim (nicknamed Babu) and another militant identified as Muhammad Mujtaba (also known as Rehan). The two men had arrived in Karachi as explosives experts for the group. Hashim, who had 14 years of experience in bombs and explosives, especially car bombs, was killed in a gunfight with police in April last year. Mujtaba – who had put together the bomb manufacturing setup in Gadap town and supplied explosive devices to one Abdus Salam Sindhi of the Liaquatabad neighborhood – was killed in the April 13 encounter.

In January 2016, the group resumed its activities using low-intensity bombs, referred to as crackers. Law enforcement agencies began to notice similarities between various blasts, and investigations led them to the two men killed on April 13.

The AQIS is a distinct organization, separate from another Al Qaeda group in Karachi, and the group of young militants in Karachi who are inspired by ISIS, according to Raja Umar Khattab.

An independent Al Qaeda group led by Umar Jalal began its own journey about the time AQIS was formed. A third IS-inspired group of youth, which attacked American professor Debra Lobo, killed human rights activists Sabeen Mahmud, and carried out the Safoora bus shooting, is a separate entity.

The AQIS is directed by Al Qaeda’s central leadership from Afghanistan’s Bramcha area, according to police. But heightened security at the border has made it very difficult, if not impossible, for the network in Karachi to communicate with the Bramcha leadership, Raja Umar Khattab said. “They are now using memory cards, USB flash drives, and unsent draft emails for passing on messages to the network in Karachi,” the arrested man told the investigators. Police believes the killing of Mujtaba is a major breakthrough, but analysts say it may not be enough to eliminate the group.

“To counter transitional militants, such as those involved with the AQIS, the government should form a serious counterterrorism strategy,” says Zia Ur Rehman, a Karachi based author and security analyst. “Identifying and distinguishing such militants is a proper intelligence-gathering exercise, which need strong collaboration among all law enforcement and intelligence agencies.”

For decades, groups like Harkatul Mujahideen have been allowed to change their names and reconstitute themselves, without any reprisal from the government, experts say, and that is where the problem lies.

“As they reconstitute, they look for new friends and allies. Al Qaeda and IS are the easiest choices in today’s plethora of militant groups,” says Khalid Muhammad, the director general of Islamabad-based think tank CommandEleven.

He says weak prosecution is another problem. Tahir Mihnas, the prime suspect of the Safoora carnage, and almost all the current leaders of AQIS including its Pakistani chief, were arrested in the past but have come out of jails.

“A report issued by the US State Department a few years ago discussed this exact issue – the release of hardcore terrorists from Pakistani jails,” says Khalid Muhammad. The report stated that Pakistan’s judiciary had released three out of four terrorism suspects that were brought to courts. “The reasons included loss of evidence, intimidation of witnesses, and fear of violence against the judge and his family.”

Zia Ur Rehman says it is hard to predict if military courts will solve these problems. “Only time will tell.”

 Published in The Friday Times 

HuT forms militant wing

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By: Naimat Khan

KARACHI: Hizb-ut-Tahrir – a global movement for the establishment of worldwide Caliphate – has formed a militant wing in Pakistan, sources said.

According credible sources, the group has formed a separate wing for carrying out terrorist attacks. A police official, on the condition of anonymity, told this scribe that detained members of the group have made this startling revelation.

The wing was formed after an unannounced crackdown against the group’s members, who were unhappy with the group narratives of bringing change through ‘positive’ impact from within the power corridors.

“It’s unclear whether the militant wing of HuT is enjoying the endorsement from its international leadership or it’s locally formed. It’s also not clear whether the wing has been formed by some disgruntled leaders and workers without local approval as well but they [ detained suspects] have told interrogators a group has opted for change through guns”, source told.

“Law enforcement agencies are trying to substantiate the claim of two parallel organizations with Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which strives for ‘change through mind’ without resorting to violence,” source said.

The claim couldn’t be verified from the HT due to ban on coverage of proscribed organizations in Pakistan. However, the development has come to fore when according to sources a joint intelligence work between Pakistan and UK is supposed to be kicked off. Some believe that intelligence agencies of both countries are already working on averting terrorism threat from the group, which is legitimate for UK but banned in Pakistan.

A report published in this daily last month stated the group’s member were exposed to militants organization, including Islamic State (IS) to join their ranks.

“We want to replace the current ‘prohibited’ system of western democracy with Islamic Caliphate,” Pakistan head of HuT Naveed Butt, told this scribe during an interview in Karachi, weeks before his ‘alleged disappearance’ in mid of 2012.

Also read: For the revival of the caliphate

Butt, who was also the outfit’s spokesperson in Pakistan, said the current system, which has popular mass support will be replaced through a ““change of minds, especially of those who have a say in country affairs.”

We don’t subscribe to the views of the Taliban, he said, adding the organisation was working on the “powerful” of the country.

Founded in 1953 as a Sunni Muslim organisation in Jerusalem by Taqiuddin al-Nabhani, an Islamic scholar and a judge, over the years, HuT has spread to more than 50 countries, particularly the United Kingdom, Arab and Central Asian states, with an estimated one million members.

In Pakistan, the HuT was proscribed by former military dictator General (R) Parvez Musharraf in 2004. It is still among the list of banned outfits.

The HuT had a soft corner for Pakistan’s security establishment but turned critical when the military media wing, the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), confirmed on August 2, 2012 Brigadier Ali Khan, Major Inayat Aziz, Major Iftikhar, Major Sohail Akbar and Major Jawad Baseer were facing charges for having links with the banned outfit.

Many HuT activists off the record have confessed that Brigadier Khan, among others were products of the ‘change of minds’ narrative.

Though HuT’s activities were never open, it somehow interacted with important circles, which came to an end after the conviction of Brigadier Khan and the disappearance of Butt. Law enforcers apprehended a number of outfit’s activists in the following days.

The proscribed organisation claims several of its activists have been arrested despite the claim that their movement for implementation of Shariah was “never violent”. Recently, police authorities disclosed the arrest of two of its senior members.

On Tuesday October 6, 2015, police told media they had arrested an engineering and business graduate, Ovais Raheel from the city’s Boat Basin area. The suspect, police claimed, was targeting educated youngsters in the Defence and Clifton areas to use them “for illegal activities” with a view to implementing “Caliphate” in the country.

“The suspect has been arrested under Section 11EEEE (1) of the Anti-Terrorism Act,” Mazhar Mashwani of the Counter-Terrorism Department told media during a press conference. The suspect’s wife claims her husband is innocent.

Later on Friday, November 27, 2015, CTD claimed to have arrested the HuT’s Karachi chief, Hisam Qamar. The suspect, police said, was working in K-Electric as a deputy general manager.

Fifteen days before the police disclosed his arrest, Hisam family held a news conference at Karachi Press Club, claiming he was ‘abducted’ by LEAs a few days ago.

Besides arrests for distributing pamphlets in favour of the militant group, wall chalking related to IS has appeared in Quetta and Lahore. Lahore police claims it was done by Hizb activists.

Army General Raheel Sharif, who reportedly sought British government’s help against the outlawed HuT during UK visit in January last year, has also time and again said “not even a shadow of Daesh” will be tolerated in Pakistan. Similar stance has been conveyed by the country’s Foreign Office.

“Though no proper connection between the two has been established, workers of HuT remain vulnerable to IS, which has the same goal but through the use of force,” says Muhammad Amir Rana, security analyst, who is also a director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) in Islamabad.

Published in The Frontier Post

Growing threats in Northern Sindh away from Security radar

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By Naimat Khan

KARACHI: Though one of the most dangerous Zones, comprising Jacobabad – the city that was hit by violence this Moharam – , Shikarpur and Sukkar, it has always been put behind while doing planning for maintaining of peace in province, insiders in police force and Sindh homes office say.

Away from the capital, bordered by the troubled Baluchistan with growing evident presence of Indian spy agency, RAW and having unskilled law enforcing force, the cities of Northern Sindh, including Jacobabad, Sukkar and Shikarpur, are fast becoming safe heavens of terrorists, a senior police officer, better called whistleblower, told The Frontier Post on the condition not to be named.

On the contrary, the police official told, there was no planning rather willingness to plan anything for the troubled Zone, which is most likely to become another Waziristan in near future.

Currently, a police team is present in the Jacobabad city to probe the mourning blast this Moharam on 24 October, which left 20 people died besides hurting many others.

Earlier this year in January, a suicide blast in Shikarpur city, some 40 kilometers away from Jacobabad, had left 57 people died. One of the bloodiest terrorists, the blast, was later believed to the work of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the sectarian outfit killing people of the opposite Shia sect.

In January 2013 a blast near the shrine of Ghazi Shah, some ten kilometer away of Shikarpur city, had killed four, including a Gaddi Nasheen of the Dargah, police said. A large number of devotees from Baluchistan and Sindh visit this Dargah, which belonging to Shia school of thought.

A month later the car of Pir Saeen Hussain Shah, an elder of the Barelvi School of thought, was attacked with the bomb in Jacobabad area of the Sindh. Shah escaped assassination the bid, which took the life of his grandson.

In May 2013, reports state, a suicide bomber had attacked the convoy of politicians Ibrahim Jatoi, however, he remained unhurt in assassination bid due to his bulletproof car.

On 24 July 2013, the office of ISI was attacked in Sukkar. Two bombers were also killed in the attack. The proscribed Teheek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s Mehmand Chapter had claimed responsibility of the blast. On 17 December 2010, two police personal and the suicide bombers were killed when the later tried to enter the ‘mourning Majlis’ arranged by Jatoi family of the Shikarpur, a report stated.

If this turbulent past was not enough to alert the authorities, who focused their attention on big cities like Karachi and Hyderabad, there were clear information that the troubled region, comprising Shikarpur, Sukkar, and Jacobabad, will be attack.

None other than Director General Rangers Major General Bilal Akbar, while briefing the meeting, a day before the 9th Moharam, informed that in Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Sukkur and Khairpur 104 vulnerable points have been identified, a handout stated, which was also emailed to this scribe.

“Though senior investigators from Karachi are present in Jacobabad to investigate the suicide bomb, it’s hard that their efforts may yield any concert results”, said a source, adding the highly untrained police staff had already spoiled the evidences due to lack of experience.

The troubled region, police sources said, required immediate attention due to three important elements. The cities are near Balochistan border whereas no check post has been setup to filter the influx of terrorists from the south-western province, with huge presence of agents of Indian intelligence agency, RAW, sources said.

The authority has never paid attention to this point.

There is only one forensic lab in the province, in its capital Karachi, which takes hours to be reached from the troubled Zone. No training regarding how to collect forensic evidences, how to preserve them and how to transport them for 100 percent accurate results has been provided to any officials deputed in the region. “As a result the evidences are spoiled” a whistleblower said.

Most of the trained investigators are deployed in the Karachi, which is away from the northern part of the city, sources said.

Published in The Frontier Post

Abandoned by families, youths become vulnerable to terrorist inclinations

Alienated Youths vulnerable to terrorist inclinations, say experts 

KARACHI: Although the youth’s growing inclination towards extremism and terrorism is widely believed to have a direct link with hate literature and poverty, at least three young men from Karachi have had other reasons, which pushed them towards radicalization.

“The letters written by Saad Aziz, a former IBA graduate and prime suspect in Safoora Goth massacre and Sabeen Mahmud murder case, reveal the fragile relationship he had with his family members, which led him, closer to the militants,” says Raja Umar Khattab, a senior counter-terrorism officer who unearthed a group of highly educated terrorists in the city.

As if Saad’s breakup with his girlfriend was not enough, his sister’s continuous squabbles, and apathetic behaviour of his mother further alienated him, thus becoming vulnerable for the terrorists to enfold him in their circle, adds Khattab.

According to Aziz’s writings, his father had no or little say during family fights, and he was getting disillusioned by the day. There was no one to listen to his point of view, he told investigators.

Aziz, during interrogation, confessed to have killed Mahmud – director of popular cafe – the Second Floor Café (T2f) – in city’s Defence area.

But Aziz is not the only case highlighting how important family bonds are to keep the youths away from extremist inclinations.

On October 11, Karachi police held two men – Bilal Rind and Zain Shahid after the latter’s failed attempt to fly to Turkey and then Syria to join the Islamic State – in their fight against Bashar Al Assad – the Syrian ruler.

Police say there is no local presence of IS, and both the men were recruited through Twitter. Both, recruited separately, were introduced to each other before they left for Iran with a human trafficker.

Shahid and Rind were arrested in a remote Iranian town along the Turkish border. They were later deported by Iran and handed over to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) which handed over them in the detention of the Sindh police’s Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD).

However, since they had so far done no harm to anyone, and regretted their decision because of being fully ‘brainwashed’, were released on probation.

Bilal, who settled in Karachi in 2013, was born in Dubai in 1986 and had got his education the American University in Dubai in 2006. Zain was born in Saudi Arabia and upon his return to Pakistan got his bachelor degree from Iqra University.

With no Madrassah or Pakistani educational background the economically sound youths were living in families least concerned about their kids, investigators say. “During examination by forensic psychologists it emerged that lose family bonds and indifferent attitude of the family was a major cause of the drastic shift in their lives” the police officer said.

According to the police, Bilal Rind was a ‘party boy’ and had spent his life abroad. Even a young preacher can bring a  180 degree shift in their thoughts, says Khattab, adding as soon as Rind was contacted by IS men, he was abandoned by the family, and it took him no time to become a Mowlvi.

Shahid’s case is no different, adds the counter-terrorism officer.

“Broken families that are not with separated parents but still their mornings start with squabbling, affect the teens, pushing them towards destructive thoughts”, says Dr Fateh Muhammad Burfat – founding chairman of the department Criminology University of Karachi.

“An anti-crime society has to be developed to eliminate the menace of extremism for which proactive families – where the kids share every problem with their parents and elder brothers – and education based on societal ethics is to be ensured”.

Published in The Frontier Post 

ANP leader seeks asylum in US amid fears of arrest in Karachi

Bashir Jna, former General Sec ANP Sindh
Bashir Jna, former General Sec ANP Sindh

MODESTO, CALIFORNIA: Fearing arrest at home for his alleged part in ‘crime economy’ of the city, the Awami National Party’s former Sindh general Secretary Bashir Jan has applied for asylum in the United States of America, highly credible sources told The Frontier Post.

Sidelined by the party leadership as part of its ‘operation cleanup’ in Sindh, Bashir Jan arrived in the US before Eid-ul-Fitar but sensing a possible arrest in the ongoing action by Rangers, he applied for asylum, a source based in Berkley, California told this scribe.

“The former ANP leader has cited several attacks on his life during different periods of time as ground for obtaining asylum along with other nine immediate members of his family” source said.

Despite several contacts, Bashir Jan didn’t respond to confirm or refute the news but contrary to his earlier claims of going back to Pakistan on August 20, the ANP leader is still in California State of America, sources told. On Wednesday, Sep 2, 2015 Bashir Jan updated his Facebook status, telling his son, Aimal Khan, has started his school at Martin Luther King Middle School Berkeley, California.

After developing differences with Shahi Syed, he also mulled over to change sides and join either PTI or PPP but later his friend and former MPA Aman Mehsud joined PPP and Jan opted to wait for better time and offer.

Another ANP source told that Bashir Jan had changed his mind after some mutual channels assured him to remove his differences with Shahi Syed but after crackdown against different politicians in Karachi, he opted not to go back and settled down here. It was after this final decision that Jan winded up his business in Dubai and decided to settle in the US permanently.

Several MQM and PPP leaders, including Qadir Patel and Nisar Morai, have left the country due to fear of possible arrest but Bashir Jan was the only known ANP leader who escaped the country. Some activists have left Karachi for other parts of the country.

Luckily, Bashir Jan had several attacks on him, mostly attributed to or claimed by Taliban, making his case for asylum strong one. On August 16, 2012 unknown attacker’s hurled crackers or hand-grenades at his car before opening fire on him in Site area of Karachi. He remained safe in the attack.

On April 26, 2 at least 11 people were killed and 40 others including children injured after a blast went off near the election office of Bashir Jan in Karachi. Jan luckily survived in attack in Mominabad area of the city. Taliban claimed responsibility of the blast.

These attacks have been cited as basis for his permanent stay in the US, source said.

Aimal Khan Son of Bashir Jan -  first day at King School of Berkeley ( September 02, 2015, Photo source Facebook page of Bashir Jan)
Aimal Khan Son of Bashir Jan – first day at King School of Berkeley ( September 02, 2015, Photo source Facebook page of Bashir Jan)

The 51 years on Bashir Jan was born in Guratai,Barikot, Swat but later moved to Karachi. He got his education from Karachi University in 2003 but continued his own business as shopkeeper of the unstitched clothes in Metroville.

Before joining the ANP, he was associated with the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party. He was appointed as Deputy General Secretary of ANP Sindh in 2004.

He sustained the post till 2010 after which he was appointed as General Secretary but after he developed differences with the incumbent Sindh Chief Senator Shahid Syed, he lost his seat to current General Secretary Younis Buneri.

Highly credible sources close to Shahi Syed told this scribe that Bashir Jan was sidelined by Sindh chief at the advice of some forcers who thought Bashir Jan’s character might land the whole party in trouble when law enforcement agencies would enter to the final phase of Karachi operation.

Started his commercial life as a small shop keeper, the accounts of Jan witnessed a sudden surge during the period when activists of ANP and its student wing, Pakhtun Student Federation (PSF) were found involved in extortion and land grabbing.

Highly credible sources in Karachi told that Jan was suspected for a murder in Karachi and the security agencies have already arrested some suspects in this connection.

Originally Published in The Frontier Post, Karachi

Burden of proof

How will the PPP respond to corruption allegations in Karachi?

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An anti-terrorism court on Monday granted bail to Aamir Khan – an MQM leader picked up by Rangers in the predawn raid at the party’s headquarters in Karachi on March 11, along with 26 wanted suspects. According to the court, it was “due to faulty investigation into the allegations against him”.

Before he was handed over to police on June 4, Aamir Khan remained in the custody of the Rangers for 85 days. The Rangers can detain an individual for up to 90 days under the Protection of Pakistan Act of 2014.

Last week, the federal government led by the PML-N extended a similar power to the FIA. A day later, there were reports that the agency raided the house of Ali Hasan Zardari, a close relative of Asif Ali Zardari, in Ghulam Haider Shah Colony in Nawabshah, and seized seven ambulances that were given to the district administration to assist flood victims. It was a joint operation by NAB Sindh and the FIA. The ambulances were being used as passenger vans, said the reports.

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The ambulances were being used as passenger vans

Amid criticism that the law-enforcement operation in Karachi was targeting the MQM and the PPP, Rangers and NAB have expanded their operations. “Some senior officers of security and intelligence agencies have also been picked up for their role in the crime economy,” says Imtiaz Khan Faran, a veteran journalist who covers political and security issues.

On June 23, the Rangers issued ‘criminal profiles’ of eight workers of Sunni Tehreek – a largely Urdu speaking Barelvi group – detained during a midnight raid on at their central secretariat in Karachi on June 17.

According to Maj Sabtain – the spokesman of the Rangers – a total of 11 men were arrested during the raid, of which eight are wanted for murder, and the rest are accused of serious offenses, including extortion and street crimes.

But unlike the raid on MQM headquarters Nine Zero – where a central leader of the party was detained for sheltering criminals – Sunni Tehreek leaders Sarwat Ejaz Qadri and Shahid Ghori were allowed to go after “brief interrogation”.

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NAB too is now probing cases involving leaders of PML-Q and PML-F, the latter a coalition partner in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s federal government. According to reports, the bureau has questioned Kamran Tessori, a central leader of the PML-F, and former Sindh minister Arbab Ghulam Rahim, who is now part of the PML-N.

Imtiaz Khan Faran is skeptical. Many politicians and bureaucrats will get plea bargains, he says. Some are relatives of NAB officials.

But NAB’s recent action against former military officers, especially Brig Amjad, brother of former army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, dispels that notion.

“Over 2,000 corruption inquiries are pending in the Sindh region for the last fifteen years. Islamabad has directed the regional office to complete them in weeks,” said a NAB official, asking not to be named because he is not allowed to speak to reporters.

After Asif Zardari’s recent tirade against the army backfired, the PPP has now devised a counter-strategy, analysts say, which includes fighting NAB in the courts. They will be encouraged by the release of Aamir Khan.

On June 16, Sindh High Court granted bail to Syed Ali Mardan Shah, the provincial population welfare minister, who is facing a NAB inquiry for misuse of power and embezzlement of public funds. Former minister of education Pir Mazharul Haq, information secretary Zulfiqar Shahlwani, and Mansoor Rajput have also secured pre-arrest bails.

Shams Keerio – a local journalist who has been covering the Sindh government for two decades –

says the PPP has decided to ask Zamir Ghumro, Mardan Shah’s counsel, to help its leaders as an independent lawyer. Ghumro is known to be a critic of the PPP.

Rangers can detain an individual for up to 90 days

On June 18, NAB arrested Sehwan Sharif town municipal officer Sajawal Mumtaz Zardari, and three town officers – Zahoor Ahmed Shahani, Rehmatullah Mamon and Engineer Idrees on charges of corruption. The next day, a court handed them over to NAB for another 14 days, on a remand. The men were reported to be close to the PPP.

Also on June 18, Rangers detained Fishermen Cooperative Society vice president Sultan Qamar Siddiqui. He was produced in a court on June 19, where the Rangers said he would be detained for 90 days. According to unverified reports in the media, he told interrogators that he carried out extortion on behalf of the PPP.

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Reports on June 19 also said the FIA had stopped Zardari’s brother-in-law and Sindh education secretary Dr Fazlullah Pechuho from leaving the country. The same evening, Syed Owais Muzaffar, a close aide of the former president, was stopped at Karachi airport and questioned for 36 minutes before being allowed to go to London via Dubai.

Asif Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur also left for Dubai earlier this month. Speculation had just begun in the media before Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who had accompanied his father to Dubai, returned to Karachi on June 26. Insiders say the former president will also return soon.

In an unexpected move, Sindh Local Governments Minister Sharjeel Memon suspended 37 town municipal officers on June 30, on charges of corruption. He had issued show-cause notices to 109 TMOs in September last year, asking them to provide audit details of their funds. Thirty-seven of them did not respond. Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah has ordered corruption cases against them.

The move signals that while the party is ready to battle it out with law-enforcement agencies in court, it realizes it needs to show resolve against corruption.

The writer is a freelance journalist

Email: undisclosedtruth@gmail.com

Twitter: @NKMalazai

Published in The Friday Times