KARACHI: “The police are only one of several armed groups and probably not the most numerous or best equipped,” according to a secret assessment of the ‘The Gangs of Karachi’ by then US consul general Stephen Fakan in April 2009.
The assessment focuses on the Pakistan People’s Party, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party, Muhajir Qaumi Movement (H), Sunni Tehreek and “Pashtun terrorists”, besides some armed gangs operating in Lyari and other parts of this megapolis. It states that “the PPP’s decision to include MQM in coalition governments in Sindh and at the centre has helped preclude a return to the PPP-MQM violence of the 1990s. But the potential for MQM-ANP conflict is growing as Pashtuns challenge Muhajir political dominance and vie for control of key economic interests, such as the lucrative trucking industry.
“Any sign that political violence is returning to Karachi, especially if it is related to the growing strength of conservative Pashtun ‘Taliban’, will send extremely negative shockwaves through the society and likely accelerate the flight from Pakistan of the business and intellectual elite of the society,” the report says.
Assessing the overall situation that prevailed in the city, the cable adds that the police consider many neighbourhoods to be no-go zones in which even intelligence services have a difficult time operating.
“Very few of the groups are traditional criminal gangs. Most are associated with a political party, a social movement, or terrorist activity, and their presence in the volatile ethnic mix of the world’s fourth largest city creates enormous political and governance challenges.”
About the presence of armed groups in the city, the US assessment mentions many parties. It says that the MQM’s armed members, referred to as “Good Friends”, are the largest non-governmental armed element in the city and that “the police estimate MQM has ten thousand active armed members and as many as twenty-five thousand armed fighters in reserve.”
According to the cable, the local police believes that “MQM-H still maintains its armed groups in the areas of Landhi and Korangi, and that the party will re-organise itself once its leadership is released from jail. MQM-H had broken from the main MQM and its strongholds in Landhi and Korangi were regarded as no-go zones. It was in 2003 that the MQM, as a precondition to join the government, asked for the elimination of the MQM-H. The local police and Rangers were used to crack down on MQM-H, and its leaders were put behind bars. The rank and file of MQM-H found refuge in a local religious/political party, Sunni Tehrik,” the assessment reads.
The cable goes on to note that the “ST is a small religious/political group with a presence in small pockets of Karachi. The group has only managed to win a handful of council seats in local elections but militarily it is disproportionately powerful because of the influx of MQM-H gunmen. ST has organised the party and its gunmen along the lines of MQM by dividing its areas of influence into sectors and units, with sector and unit commanders”.
About the PPP, the US diplomat comments that “traditionally the party has not run an armed wing, but the workers of the party do possess weapons, both licensed and unlicensed. With PPP … having an influential … Home Minister, a large number of weapons permits were currently being issued to PPP workers.” He quotes a police official as having said that he believes, given the volume of weapons permits being issued to PPP members, that the party will soon be as well-armed as MQM.
The Awami National Party (ANP), says Mr Fakan, “represents the ethnic Pashtuns in Karachi” and has begun to “organise formal armed groups.” Karachi’s Pashtuns, he continues, “do possess personal weapons, following the tribal traditions of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). … With the onset of combat operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in August 2008, a growing number of Pashtuns fled south to swell the Pashtun ranks of what already is the largest Pashtun city in the world. This has increased tensions between ANP and MQM.
“If rhetoric of the police and the ANP leadership is to be believed, these armed elements may be preparing to challenge MQM’s control of Karachi,” the cable adds. “In March  the Karachi Police Special Branch submitted a report to the Inspector General of Police in which it mentioned the presence of ‘hard-line’ Pashtuns in the Sohrab Goth neighborhood.”
This report, according to the cable, said the neighborhood was “becoming a no-go area for the police” and claimed “the Pashtuns are involved in drug trafficking and gun running and if police wanted to move in the area they had to do so in civilian clothing. A senior member of the Intelligence Bureau in Karachi recently opined that the ANP would not move against MQM until the next elections, but the police report ANP gunmen are already fighting MQM gunmen over protection-racket turf.”