Shamim-ur-Rahman in Himal SouthAsian:
A new extremism has developed in Pakistan’s economic hub, Karachi, a city that is increasingly serving as a safe haven for extremist groups backed by criminal mafias and certain political elements. The reported arrest of a top Taliban leader, Mulla Abdul Ghani Baradar, from the outskirts of Karachi in mid-February has only made this new dynamic clearer, and more ominous. The arrest not only proved that the network of al-Qaeda- and Taliban-linked fighters is well-entrenched and active across the north-south length of Pakistan; but the joint operation, conducted by Pakistan and American intelligence operatives, also sent a message that Pakistan might no longer be the safe haven that it once was. However, if the government fails to address ‘bread and butter’ issues – providing employment, controlling inflation and ensuring the availability of essential items – and the political parties continue to fight among themselves for narrow vested interests, the Taliban could still spring a surprise. If this happened, it would most likely be with the support of the sizeable fundamentalist-minded and generally disgruntled segments of Pakistani society.
The sheer number, scale and consistency of the attacks on Karachi are all adding to the worries of already disoriented city citizens. From October 2009 through mid-February, about 200 people have been killed in both politically motivated targeted killings and extremist blasts in various parts of Karachi, while several hundred more have been injured. Alongside, billions of rupees have been lost due to looting, arson and the closure of businesses during strikes that have been called by various political parties to highlight the lack of security. Yet while extremist attacks are getting much of the headlines and anger, the city has been under particular pressure due to the targeted killing of activists aligned with various political outfits – the Sindh-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of the late Benazir Bhutto, the Pashtun-dominated Awami National Party (ANP), the sectarian Sunni Tehrik, the Islamist Jamaat-i-Islami and others. Incredibly, even as the violence mounts, the MQM, PPP and ANP technically remain in a coalition government together.