February Issue 2014
Karachi: The Militant Capital
Karachi has always been a bone of contention between various self-seeking claimants for its ownership and control. From the very early days of the newly found state, the centre and the province had a spat over the city when the passage of a Sindh Assembly resolution against the centre’s interference and an impending takeover of the city had subsequently led to the coerced resignation of Sindh Chief Minister Ayub Khuhro’s government.
The shifting of the federal capital from Karachi to the newly-built Islamabad may have partially ended the decades of political bickering, but the issues surrounding these discontents and claims and counter-claims have not yet been settled. Furthermore, the rising number of people from other provinces who are entering Karachi, especially the Pashtuns, Punjabis and Seraikis, have only added to the problems.
Karachi has witnessed an unprecedented political and ethnic violence in the last three decades. But this erratic situation does not have just one single dimension. The city has been witnessing faith-based killings by violent banned outfits, target killings of opponents and financial crimes by various gangs, including various factions of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), its allies such as Al-Qaeda and sister organisations, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Jundullah.
The city has been a traditional stronghold of the conservative religious party, the Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP), and political Islamists, Jamaat-e-Islami, before the rise of the ethno-political party MQM. However, these parties still wield influence among the middle classes. For instance, in the 2002 general elections, the MMA managed to wrest a few constituencies from the MQM. Similarly, PTI has shown significant progress in broadening its support base, winning a couple of constituencies and garnering an impressive number of votes.
Another alarming development is the increase in the number of votes obtained by the candidates of the banned sectarian militant outfit, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), rechristened as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ). It has raced ahead of the traditional religious party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), which enjoys support among the followers of the Sunni Deobandi sect.
The ASWJ re-emerged, when security agencies attempted to break up the deadly alliance between the TTP and the LeJ, that was behind some of the deadliest attacks on the offices of the security agencies and security installations. Subsequently, the leadership of the LeJ was facilitated and released from custody. The name of ASWJ has been exempted from the list of banned outfits and it has been allowed to join the forum of Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), a conglomeration of religio-political and jihadi outfits like Jamat-ud-Dawah (JuD), Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), JUI-Sami-ul-Haq, JUI-N, Ansarul Ummah (former HuM) and ex-military officers with jihadi links such as Hamid Gul.
The target of all the rhetoric and the propaganda material of the sectarian outfit, ASWJ, is the Shia sect. ASWJ would like to get the Shias declared non-Muslims through a constitutional amendment — it would be almost a repeat of the 2nd Amendment against the Ahmadis.
The JuD chief and jihadi leader Hafiz Saeed makes frequent trips to Karachi and addresses Friday congregations, as well as meetings in different parts of the city, at marriage lawns and banquet halls.
Interestingly, in a city where walls, electric poles and roundabouts are divided among political rivals to assert their sphere of influence, there are no restraints on JuD or ASWJ putting up flags, posters, banners and doing graffiti. Flags of both these outfits can be found across the city, from Lyari to Banaras Chowk to Orangi town.
The madrassas of a particular sect from Karachi have been at the forefront in making, amalgamating or breaking jihadi organisations such as the Harkatul Mujahideen (HuM), Harkatul Jihadul Islami (HuJI), Harkatul Ansar (HuA) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM).
Also, the seminaries of Karachi are said to be the driving force behind Islamic banking in Pakistan, and interestingly the Mudariba scandal (the ponzi scheme) too has been traced to a religious seminary, whose administration and teachers are said to be heavily involved in this scam worth billions.
Various factions of the TTP see Karachi as their financial jugular vein, as well as a place for settling scores against opponents from political parties and rivals from their native areas from other groups. Law enforcement agencies such as the police and the Rangers, too, are on their hit list. In the past few months, 160 policemen have been killed in District West, alone. Dozens of political workers from ANP Sindh and from Swat, Buner, Dir, Bajaur, Mohmand and other FATA areas, who were on visits to Karachi for various purposes, have been killed by TTP militants, who fled their native areas during the military offensives.
It is significant that the ASWJ and JuD have extended their jihadi militancy to the neighbouring province of Balochistan, as well as interior Sindh. In Balochistan, the JuD works in the guise of humanitarian work, while the ASWJ has extended its network to the Lasbella district and other parts of Balochistan and is collaborating with various Baloch lashkars, backed by intelligence agencies, to target Baloch nationalist elements.
In the early seventies, the genuine grievances of East Pakistan and the Bengalis were brushed aside with an air of arrogance. Members of the security establishment answered these concerns with a superfluous narrative that were dispersed through its allies in religio-political parties, like the Jamaat-e-Islami, which could not help on the war front, except by perpetrating sheer brutality and savagery against the populace and justifying it in the name of a narrative woven in a bigoted interpretation of religion that helped further their political agenda.
Perhaps, the state sees this as being the only remedy to address political disputes and resistance arising from discontent with militant proxies, closely connected to the jihadi project, working as an integral part of internal and external threats.
Karachi has come to serve as a militant capital in this jihadi project. A broad network of religious seminaries, with students enrolled from almost all ethnicities of Pakistan, serves as a recruiting ground for the jihadi affiliates. It provides them foot soldiers, upper and lower tier leadership and an endorsement for what they have been doing through the decades.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s February 2014 issue as part of the cover story.
Ali Arqam main domain is Karachi: Its politics, security and law and order