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Creeping threat: Taliban in Karachi

April 01, 2013

The general perception, for a long time, has been that the Pakistani Taliban are nestled away in a remote corner of the country, planning and strategising from their base in the mountains along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

A recent onslaught of news reports, however, indicates otherwise. The Taliban have slowly been making their way to Karachi, the country’s largest city, and the financial hub of Pakistan.

But the militants are not lying low. On the contrary, it seems as though they’re slowing gaining ground –  if not in the typical fashion, as in during a battle or a war. Rather, Taliban from different areas in the north have become involved in the same racket that many of the local groups are already involved in: land grabbing, extortion, thievery and kidnapping.

This not only adds to the city’s almost-anarchic law and order situation, it also adds to different militant groups’ financial and strategic assets, which is arguably even more worrisome. Moreover, the Taliban are attempting to create their own parallel systems of justice, and what’s worse is, people are listening. The equation is simple: If you don’t find the official law enforcers and courts doing their job efficiently, you turn to anyone who’ll get you your money or your property back, by hook or by crook.

Most worryingly, the law enforcement agencies in Karachi as well as intelligence agencies are well aware of this growing threat. The path chosen to deal with it, however, has been erratic.

This is what the Taliban in Karachi have started doing – imposing their own system of ‘justice’ through the barrel of the gun, creating immense fear in some communities and, ironically, a sense of security in others. In the meanwhile, ANP and MQM have been caught in the crossfire for their ‘secular’ parties, and have been consistently targeted by the militants.

While extensive media coverage of this is recent, the issue has been developing for a long time. Most worryingly, the law enforcement agencies in Karachi as well as intelligence agencies are well aware of this growing threat. The path chosen to deal with it, however, has been erratic.

The police, for one, are often unwilling to have a direct confrontation with a group that’s heavily armed. Another theory is, there’s money to be made keeping the fear in the city alive – and a corrupt police force thrives on this.

Politicians, meanwhile, are keen to emphasise that recent operations, such as the one in Karachi’s Mangophir area, for example, led to the rounding up of dozens of militants.

What, then, can be done to counter this threat? If the police isn’t willing to do the dirty work, who is? Should there be an army operation? Greater intelligence sharing? Crackdowns on hideouts? A massive shakeup in the police force? Will such drastic efforts be worth the possibly violent fallout?

 Another measure could be improving the conviction rate of terrorists, which at this point is close to nil. Why do you think arrested suspected militants are often released almost immediately?