KARACHI, Aug 6: Mincing no words, Sindh Home Minister Zulfiqar Ali Mirza denied that ‘Talibanisation’ was taking place in Karachi and said that no one would be evicted from the metropolis without concrete proof of involvement in criminal or terrorist activities.
Dr Mirza was speaking at a press conference on Wednesday at the city’s Central Police Office, flanked by the police top brass, including IG Sindh Sultan Salahuddin Babar Khattak, Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Waseem Ahmed and the heads of the city’s three policing zones.
The press conference seemed to mark a new low in relations between the PPP and its coalition partner in Sindh, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. At a press conference on Tuesday the MQM’s parliamentary leader in the National Assembly Dr Farooq Sattar had accused Dr Mirza and the Sindh chief minister, along with unnamed political and religious parties, of “hiding the truth” about creeping Talibanisation in Karachi.
MQM leader Altaf Hussain has also been issuing regular statements regarding the perceived threat posed to Karachi by the Taliban, asking the government to take action against the militant movement.
“There is no evidence of Talibanisation in Karachi,” the home minister told journalists. “As long as no one is involved in criminal activities, they will not be evicted from the city.
“Illegal, terrorist activities will not be tolerated in Karachi or Sindh as long as I am home minister. I mean business. Our job is to provide citizens peace and security. I am not among those home ministers who sell thanas. I know what I have to do and I shall do it.”
He said all educational institutions – from madressahs to English-medium schools – were being watched for signs of criminal or subversive activities. “There are different types of terrorism: there is religious terrorism and political terrorism. Some elements want to destabilise democratic governments through acts of terrorism.
“However, a terrorist is a terrorist and a criminal is a criminal. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. Religion, language, ethnicity and political affiliation have no standing in the eyes of the law.”
Referring to Dr Sattar’s comments made on Tuesday, the Sindh home minister said: “As responsible cabinet members, our respected colleagues in the MQM gave the impression that the Sindh government is asleep.
“We are not asleep. We are awake. We’ve been on high alert for the past one-and-a-half months.”
The minister said he had raised the issue with the Sindh governor and communicated his reservations about Dr Sattar’s statement. “The cabinet is the proper forum to raise such concerns.”
Dr Mirza also criticised the MQM’s performance in the last government, asking whether the 2002 attack outside a five-star hotel in Karachi, in which over a dozen people, mostly French naval engineers, were killed and several attempts on President Pervez Musharraf’s life happened during the PPP’s watch.
“Our brothers in the government were part of the last set-up. It was out of compulsion to keep peace in Karachi that we invited them to join the coalition government,” he said.
Referring to “Operation Zalzala” launched by the army in January this year against Taliban militants in Waziristan and the subsequent influx of refugees into Karachi from that region, the home minister defended the right of the displaced people to stay in Karachi.
“Pakhtuns are just as much citizens of Pakistan as I am. They are our brothers. They are against Talibanisation. As long as people are peaceful, they can stay in Karachi as long as they want.”
Dr Mirza also claimed that statements such as the one made by Farooq Sattar were scaring away investors.
“With apologies, I want to tell my brothers in the government that these sorts of statements are causing capital flight. Industrialists are packing up and leaving. Please avoid making such statements.”
As for the serial blasts that ripped through Karachi on July 7 this year, the home minister said he was embarrassed to refer to the blast as bombs and said they should instead be called explosions.
“No religious group is responsible. We will tell you very soon who is behind these explosions. The targeting of Pashto-speaking leaders in the city, the (serial) explosions meant to create a rift between Urdu and Pashto speaking citizens and the murder of (Bilawal House security chief) Khalid Shahanshah are all part of a conspiracy to destabilise the Awami National Party, MQM and PPP coalition in Sindh. This will happen over my dead body,” he said.
Responding to questions, he said the MQM was being fed wrong information. To another query he said it was necessary to differentiate between Afghan localities, which had been around for about two decades, and Pakhtun neighbourhoods inhabited by Pakistani Pakhtuns.
When a journalist asked if he was targeting a particular political party, Zulfiqar Mirza said he was not targeting anyone and that his words should not be twisted. He said there was a difference between Islamisation and Talibanisation. “Islamisation, yes, Talibanisation, no,” he said.
When asked about the wall-chalking and posters that have sprouted up across the city warning citizens against the impending Taliban threat, Dr Mirza said it was an “organised campaign to destabilise law and order.”
To a question about Lal Masjid cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz’s wife Umme Hassan’s recent visit to Karachi, the minister said that as a Pakistani she was free to visit the city. “We were watching her. She is not a labelled terrorist.”
Asked about the insistence of some political circles to form citizens’ committees to protect Karachi from the Taliban, Dr Zulfiqar Mirza said no help was needed to maintain law and order. “Personal armies and lashkars will not be allowed.”