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Launch point for Mumbai attacks, Karachi faces rising militancy

City officials fear Pakistan's commercial capital could be paralyzed if militants become more unified.

By Huma YusufCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / January 14, 2009

Karachi: City officials worry that militants could band together and destabilize the key city.

Ali Azhar/PPI Photo/Newscom

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Karachi, Pakistan

Karachi has long been described as the Paris of Asia, Pakistan's City of Light – a pulsating metropolis of finance, media, fashion, and telecom industries.

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But now, the country's most liberal city is becoming a battleground for Pakistan's spreading militant threat. Those responsible for the attacks in Mumbai, India, reportedly left from Karachi Port and phoned a coordinator here during the assault. Murmurings have risen about "Talibanization" – and its use as a fund-raising point for militants based in the northern areas and tribal belt.

Some 5,000 trained militants reside in the city, says a senior police official with the Karachi-based Crime Investigation Department (CID), speaking on the condition of anonymity. And, of course, it is known as the place where journalist Daniel Pearl was murdered.

Deputy Mayor Nasrin Jalil says Karachi has long been "vulnerable to religious extremist sentiment." And concerns are running high that militants, with the financial and logistical support of Karachi's 3,000 seminaries, might organize under the banner of the Pakistani Taliban or Al Qaeda to paralyze Pakistan's commercial capital – rocking the financial sector and destabilizing trade flows in ways that could affect the entire country.

For now, the CID official explains, these militants have not united. Instead, they maintain affiliations with militant groups that were banned after Sept. 11, 2001. Some elements emphasize anti-India sentiment. Others promote sectarian infighting, while yet others hope to establish the writ of Islamic law within Pakistan.

Despite the diffuse nature of Karachi's militants, the city government insists that "Talibanization" is under way. Last November, shopkeepers selling pirated CDs and DVDs received warnings of arson and deadlines from the Taliban to close down. Meanwhile, transporters who distribute imported goods from Karachi Port to the northern areas also feel threatened by Karachi-based Taliban.

According to the CID official, criminals with links to militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have been instructed to sabotage activities that support US efforts in Afghanistan. As a result, "goods carriers are feeling increased pressure from the Taliban, or from people connected with the Taliban," says Noor Khan Niazi, president of the Karachi Goods Carriers Association. He points to an incident in December in which trucks costing millions of rupees were burned at Karachi's New Truck Stand.