From the day Pakistan military launched Zar-e-Azb against the TTP in North Waziristan, Sindh Government in general and MQM in particular started to raise their concerns that the militants might try to flee from FATA and KPK to Karachi in the guise of IDPs. One may question the concerns shown by Karachiites about the inflow of IDPs from the northern areas into the metropolis? I have tried to answer this important question below on the basis of TTP’s long existing and well organized network in Karachi.
Karachi attracts TTP because it is Pakistan’s largest city, with approximately 20 million people and is home to many different ethnic and linguistic groups, making it easier for them to operate clandestinely. More significantly, approximately five million Pashtuns, the ethnic group to which most of the Taliban belong, live in Karachi, and tribal militants can find sanctuaries in Pashtun neighborhoods. A number of other militant groups also operate in the city, such as Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, and Jundullah — some of which are sectarian in nature and broadly share the TTP’s more radical outlook.
In the early stages of the mass movement to Karachi, TTP’s primary purpose was fundraising, as well as rest and recuperation. Beginning in June 2012, however, the group escalated its violent fundraising tactics and increased attacks on the liberal politicians and law enforcement personnel.
As TTP militants moved into Karachi, they organized into three factions: the Mehsud faction, the Swat faction and the Mohmand faction. According to the intelligence agencies these three factions still operate from Pashtun neighborhoods in Karachi. These areas include Ittehad Town, Mingophir, Kunwari Colony, Pashtunabad, Pipri, Gulshen-e-Buner, Metrovele, Pathan Colony, Frontier Colony and Pashtun settlements in the Sohrab Goth area, where they could defend themselves as well as disturb law enforcement agencies (LEAs).
According to the intelligence agencies, the TTP factions in Karachi have become more brazen and violent since Jan 2013. Dozens of truckers in Karachi whose families live in South Waziristan, Mohmand and Khyber tribal agencies have paid tens of thousands of dollars during the last year to free their family members from TTP militants. As part of these extortion rackets, TTP militants often threaten a Karachi-based worker, saying that their fellow militants in FATA will kidnap or kill the worker’s family unless “protection” or ransom money is paid. Demands range from $10,000 to $50,000. Many of these incidents go unreported due to threats from TTP militants. In addition to these extortion rackets and kidnap-for-ransom schemes, Pashtun truckers who carry supplies from the Karachi port to Afghanistan have also been forced to pay thousands of dollars in protection money to avoid being targeted by the TTP.
Some argue that the TTP escalated its fundraising efforts due to a shortage of money in the wake of anti-terrorism funding measures taken by Pakistani authorities, which have restricted the TTP’s source of income from abroad. In response, TTP leaders in the tribal regions reportedly directed their Karachi-based operatives to collect funds through extortion, kidnap-for-ransom, as well as bank heists. In the first six months of 2014, for example, 19 bank robberies netted approximately $1100,000, and authorities believe that most of the robberies were aimed at helping the TTP as well as other banned outfits such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
In recent times TTP has also increased operations targeting liberal political parties and LEAs. In addition to targeting the law enforcement agencies, the TTP has also threatened political parties such as Awami National Party (ANP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a political party that largely represents the Urdu-speaking community. The TTP has not, however, targeted Karachi’s religious parties and those parties which are soft towards Taliban, such as Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazlur Rehman (JUI-F).
TTP’s escalating violence in Karachi has major security and political implications for Pakistan. Media reports suggest that of the 20 million people living in Karachi, roughly one million live in neighborhoods where the TTP has a strong presence. Police suspect that Taliban militants in Karachi operate in small cells, each consisting of 10-15 militants. If the group’s attacks on secular society and law enforcement continue, it could threaten stability in a city that earns 60-70% of Pakistan’s national revenue. On the political front, Taliban’s growing strength in Karachi will weaken Pakistan’s more secular political parties, especially the anti-Taliban MQM and ANP. Therefore, if the TTP’s Karachi network grows, it could weaken the local economy, constrain Karachi’s secular parties, and threaten the city’s overall security.
Pakistani security experts, politicians, and law enforcement all agree that the TTP wants to tighten its grip on Karachi. The government is still in the position to roll-back TTP’s spreading Karachi network, yet Karachi’s police force continues to downplay the TTP threat to the city, insisting that the number of tribal militants operating in Karachi is low. Analysts suspect that the police want to avoid the perception that they have failed to maintain law-and-order in the city. If the government of Pakistan and our security agencies fail to confront these developments soon, the TTP’s growing Karachi network will not only weaken the city’s overall security and stability but this will have a disastrous impact on the already ailing economy of Pakistan.