Are Pakistani Taliban finding new foothold in south?
Analysts say political leaders could strengthen militants' appeal if they do not manage deep ethnic tensions – which resulted in clashes that killed 30 people last week.
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"The MQM has been after our lands and jobs for years and now they're trying to make everyone scared of us," says Yahya Khan, a Pashtun truck driver who lives in Orangi – Karachi's largest slum, where both Pashtuns and Mojahirs live.Skip to next paragraph
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Karachi's mayor, Mustafa Kamal, flatly denies that the MQM is using the warnings of Talibanization to pick an ethnic fight. He says that 90 percent of the $2.5 billion the city has spent on infrastructure in recent years has gone into Pashtun pockets.
But, he says, city leaders cannot just wait "for the disaster to take place," and have urged police and residents to work together to root out Taliban.
"I am not saying that the Taliban is here – everyone is saying that the Taliban is here," says the mayor.
He produces newspaper clippings over the past 14 months reporting the arrests of more than 75 Taliban, Al Qaeda, or other Islamist suspects.
He also points to a leaked memo sent by city police to their provincial superiors. The memo cites "reliable sources" that Taliban under the command of Naib Ameer Hassan Mehsood are taking shelter in a neighborhood called Sohrab Goth.
"After every 30 to 35 days, 20 [to] 25 Mehsood [Mehsud] terrorists come from Waziristan – for rest as well as for generating funds," reads the document, labeled "top secret." They raise money, the document charges, through kidnapping for ransom, bank robbery, and street robbery."
The report also warns of danger to the mayor and other MQM leaders, and says that late at night, everyone except Mehsud militants are barred from entering the Super Market area.
Pashtuns come for 'place to stay'
However, the police chief who oversees Sohrab Goth downplays the concerns.
"It is not true that militants have infiltrated this area," says Irfan Bahadur. "People think that all the refugees who have come [from FATA] are Taliban. But most of them are villagers who had family in Karachi and came here because they knew they would find a place to stay and help finding a job."
Despite the recent ethnic violence, he says, "no new elements are causing trouble [and] the situation has not drastically changed in recent weeks."
Still, there's a recognition on all sides that ethnic street violence should not be allowed to fester. To that end, Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani came to Karachi on Friday to meet with politicians and police.
MQM wins anti-Taliban plaudits
Right now, the moderate Awami National Party (ANP) largely represents the Pashtuns in Karachi, and when it comes to Talibanization, the ANP and MQM disagree.
"There are no Taliban in Karachi," says Muhammad Amin Khattak, general secretary of the ANP in Sindh Province.
He says the MQM has latched on to the issue to raise their status from a regional party to one that can play on the national and international stage. Indeed, the MQM has already won recognition as the only party in Pakistan to vote against the government's peace deal with the Taliban in Swat, which is now defunct as the Army moves back into the area.
Yet the ANP and MQM did agree with Mr. Gilani to form a joint investigative team to more effectively crack down on criminal gang activity before it can escalate.
"We see a pattern emerging here, with small incidents building up to major conflagrations," says Javed Jabbar, a former federal minister and lecturer at University of Karachi. "Ethnic trouble in Karachi doesn't happen out of the blue. It is always part of a sequence of events."