ON the evening of March 13, Director Orangi Pilot Project Perween Rahman was shot and killed by masked men half a kilometre from her office just off Manghopir Road in Karachi. The police were quick to point a finger at the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
In an “encounter” the very next day, they killed Qari Bilal who they claimed was a leader of the TTP and the mastermind behind Ms Rahman’s murder. Many in the development sector, however, believe she was targeted because she had fallen foul of the city’s land mafia because she was placing their activities on record. They may both well be right, even if Qari Bilal was falsely accused by law-enforcement agencies.
The latest players in Karachi’s land grab — for long the domain of those with close links to the major political parties and forces amongst the establishment here — are TTP elements who have been putting down their roots in various parts of the city over the past couple of years.
Large swathes of Pakhtun neighborhoods in districts west and east, as well as pockets in districts Malir, central and south are reported to be under the influence of the TTP. While all 30 or so of its factions have a presence in the city, the most influence is wielded by the Hakimullah Mehsud and Mullah Fazlullah factions.
According to local police and residents of the affected areas, elements belonging to the TTP have entrenched themselves in these areas after having terrorised the local Pakhtun population into submission, and driven out the ANP from most of its traditional strongholds.
In the past few years, after it won two provincial seats in the 2008 elections and acquired real political clout in Karachi, the ANP and MQM frequently clashed in a deadly turf war. Both accused the other of killing its workers. In 2010 and 2011, when the MQM began to allege that the Taliban were acquiring a presence in the city, the ANP accused it of trying to use that claim as a pretext to ethnically cleanse Karachi of Pakhtuns. However, on 13th August 2012, when an attack in Frontier Colony killed local ANP office bearer and former UC nazim, Amir Sardar, and two party workers, the ANP did not accuse the MQM. Since then, numerous ANP offices have been shut down, scores of its workers killed and many driven out of Pakhtun-dominated areas. Qadir Khan, an ANP spokesman who has now joined the MQM, says “no political party or group can stand up to these militants”.
The TTP affirmed its presence in Karachi for the first time when the organization claimed responsibility for an attack on The Business Recorder/Aaj TV offices on 25 June, 2012 as a warning to rest of the media houses in the country.
The military operations in Swat and South Waziristan in 2009 triggered the latest wave of migration of Pakhtuns, compelling tens of thousands of residents to flee the fighting. Embedded within the exodus of these desperate internally displaced people (IDPs) were a number of Taliban fighters. Although the urban jungle that is Karachi had been a refuge for the latter even earlier, the untenable situation in their native areas prompted many of them to adopt a more permanent abode here.
The new arrivals, both IDPs and the TTP militants among them, gravitated towards where their compatriots had earlier settled, mostly in katchi abadis. Thus, for example, while natives of Swat moved into places like Pathan Colony in the west and Future Colony in Landhi in the city’s south-east, an influx of Waziris and Mehsuds from Waziristan, adjoining tribal agencies and settled areas moved into Sohrab Goth, parts of Manghopir, areas along the Northern Bypass and RCD Highway. This ultimately determined which TTP faction — usually either Hakimullah Mehsud or Mullah Fazlullah as mentioned before — held sway in that particular area.
The new migrants also took shelter in pockets within the heart of the city. According to one of Karachi’s most senior cops, there are more than 7,000 fresh Mehsuds in Sultanabad locality adjacent to the PIDC Bridge.
In 2010 and 2011 TTP elements were still gaining a foothold in the city, but last year saw them flexing their muscles to establish control over areas where they had a presence.
Let us just take the area on the northern side of Manghopir hills, where Ms Rahman was murdered on her way home. The militants are so well-entrenched here that confronting them is becoming exceedingly difficult even for law-enforcement agencies.
The SHO of the Pirabad police station discovered this to his peril one night in the spring of 2012. The official had received information that several militants were attending shab-e-dars inside Masjid-e-Tayyaba on the stretch of Qasba Road that is locally known as Ghausia Road. He arrived with a contingent and arrested the imam, Qari Fazal, and the nine militants who were present. However, while his men swept the building looking for more that may have been in hiding, he realised they were being surrounded by armed men. When the SSP Orangi received his SOS, he headed to his SHO’s support with additional police. Calls to other law enforcement agencies and relevant authorities within police for backup were met with refusal. The outnumbered police officials were roughed up by the militants and finally had to negotiate their release and that of their men, as well as set free the nine heavily armed militants they had apprehended.