IT has been indicated by officials that 7,000 Taliban operatives may have infiltrated Karachi. Media reports have since alleged that the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan have taken over several of the city’s large localities. It has long been known that the Taliban have some presence in Karachi, but the kind of claims that are now being made could prove dangerous for a couple of reasons. For one, Karachi is a tinderbox, and ethnic rivalry is one of the main forces that can set it alight at a moment’s notice. Seven thousand is a significant number, a frightening sound bite that will easily be repeated, but it is unclear where it came from. Add to that the assertion that the TTP is in control of several of the city’s Pakhtun neighbourhoods, and such arguments, if not made carefully, can easily spark violent clashes in the port city. Of course the TTP’s Friday statement, in which the outfit set up a direct confrontation with the MQM, did not help matters. But it is essential to avoid tarring an entire ethnic or linguistic group with the same brush. Criminal elements exist in all communities in this metropolis, and conflating them with specific communities, or overstating the extent of Taliban influence in Karachi, can quickly lead to bloody ethnic conflict.
Secondly, the hype about a Taliban presence can become a convenient way for law enforcement to claim that outsiders who have infiltrated Karachi are making it harder to control crime and violence. The SC has now asked the provincial government to act against the Taliban threat in the city, but where was law enforcement when thousands of Taliban activists were supposedly entering it? Nor is Karachi’s violence entirely a product of outsiders; as a senior bureaucrat in the provincial home ministry said on Friday, all political parties need to rein in their militant wings if law and order is to be restored. The Taliban threat needs to be taken seriously, and law enforcement should act against it with as much discretion as possible. But it should not be used to distract attention from Karachi’s underlying political problems, or to spark an ethnic war.