The arrest of a senior Afghan Taliban commander in Karachi, made last week and revealed Tuesday, adds to growing reports that militants are using the Pakistani city as an organizational hub and safe haven.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the second in command to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, was apprehended in a joint raid by Pakistani and American intelligence agencies, though a Taliban spokesman denied this.
Home to top Taliban members?
In recent months, local and international media have reported that Taliban commanders fleeing military operations in Afghanistan and in Pakistani tribal areas have relocated to Karachi, which is the country’s largest city and has largely avoided the bomb attacks that have struck the northwest and other major cities.
Karachi also has a large population of Pashtuns, the ethnic group to which most members of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban belong. Though the city’s ruling party takes a tough line against the Taliban, militants are able to conceal their activities within the city’s sprawling slums.
In recent months, US intelligence officials quoted by the Washington Times and a diplomat based in Kabul have said that Mullah Omar himself was hiding in Karachi, but the Pakistani government denied this.
Earlier this month, Taliban sources told the Los Angeles Times that Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who had been injured in a US drone strike in January, died en route to Karachi for medical treatment. Uncertainty still swirls around Mr. Mehsud, however. US and Pakistani officials have said they believe Mr. Mehsud is dead, but Taliban sources say he's still alive.
A network of militants
According to a police investigator with the Special Investigation Unit, tasked with counterterrorism operations, not only leaders but also other militants are present in Karachi.
“There is a network of [Pakistani] Taliban fighters scattered across the city,” the SIU officer says, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He estimates that about 150 Taliban militants from the tribal region reside in Karachi. They include recruiters and financiers, who coordinate with local criminal gangs and sectarian groups to smuggle arms to the tribal areas and arrange funding, he says.
Some Taliban members also visit Karachi to recruit locals for an attack or theft, the officer continues. “The Taliban here are like fixers. When they’re planning an attack or robbery [in Karachi] men are brought in from the tribal areas” to carry it out.”
A few dozen suspected militants currently sit in police custody awaiting trial in the Anti-Terrorism Court, he adds.
A place to raise funds
Since 2008, Pakistani police and intelligence agencies have claimed that the Taliban use Karachi, the country’s financial capital, to raise funds for militants based along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Last December, the main suspect in the largest bank heist in Pakistani history, which occurred in Karachi’s financial district, was found to have links to the Taliban. According to a recent statement from the Interior ministry, of the dozen bank robberies that occurred in Karachi in 2009, 80 percent could be traced back to individuals based in the tribal areas who were believed to have links with the Taliban.