The intended target of the terrorists was senior Sindh High Court judge, Justice Maqbool Baqar, who was on his way to the Court along with an escort of four Rangers on two motorcycles and two Police vehicles. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) ´spokesman´ Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed responsibility for the attack declaring, "We attacked the judge in Karachi as he was taking decisions against Shariah and he was harmful for Mujahideen,´´ adding that the judge was targeted for "anti-Taliban and anti-Mujahideen decisions" and that the group would continue to target such elements within the judiciary.
Earlier, on June 21, 2013, a Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) legislator, Sajid Qureshi (50) and his son, Ovais (26), were shot dead by unidentified assailants outside a mosque in North Nazimabad locality. The TTP claimed responsibility for the attack.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, at least 4,488 persons, including 3,888 civilians, 303 Security Force (SF) personnel and 297 militants have been killed in Karachi since 2007, including 884 fatalities, including 747 civilians, 81 SF personnel and 56 militants, in the current year (all data till June 30, 2013). In 2012, the number of such fatalities stood at 1,206; in 2011, at 1,048; in 2010, at 1,038; and 66, 53 and 188 in 2009, 2008 and 2007, respectively.
The rising graph of violence in Karachi is in proportion to the rising brutality of the TTP. SATP data indicates that 58 persons, including 35 civilians, 12 SF personnel and 11 TTP militants (killed by SFs) have been killed in incidents attributed to the TTP in the current year. The number of persons killed in TTP-linked incidents stood at 19 (eight civilians, six SF personnel, five militants) in 2012; 69 (36 civilians, 23 SF personnel, 10 militants) in 2011; 20 (nine civilians, 11 militants) in 2010; and 50 (43 civilians, two SF personnel, five militants) in 2009.
2013 has, thus far, already recorded at least 19 TTP-related incidents of killing in Karachi, as compared to 10 such incidents in 2012; seven in 2011; three in 2010; and two in 2009. These numbers include only those incidents where the TTP has claimed responsibility.
TTP has established roots in various parts of the city over the years. All the five Districts of Karachi - Karachi South, Karachi West, Karachi East, Karachi Central and Malir - have been brought under the group´s influence. A prominent TTP presence has been reported from localities such as Sohrab Goth, Quaidabad, Orangi, Malir town, Kunwari Colony, Sultanabad, Manghopir, Baldia town, Surjani town, Qasba Colony, Peerabad, Shah Latif town, Ittehad town, SITE town and Shah Faisal Colony.
In a report titled ´The Pakistani Taliban´s Karachi Network´, released on May 28, 2013, Combating Terrorism Centre (CTC), an American think tank observed that, in Karachi, the TTP was organised into three factions: the Mehsuds, the Swat faction and the Mohmand faction. All three groups operated from Pakhtun-dominated neighbourhoods that include Ittehad Town, Manghopir, Kunwari Colony, Pakhtunabad, Pipri, Gulshan-e-Buner, Metroville, Pathan Colony, Frontier Colony and the settlements in Sohrab Goth.
TTP, famously known as Pakistani Taliban, has been the deadliest among all domestically oriented terrorist outfits in Pakistan. The creation of the TTP was officially announced in December 2007, under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud. 13 extremist formations united under Mehsud to form the TTP at an undisclosed location in South Waziristan Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The sole objective of this Shura meeting was ostensibly to unite the fractured militant formations under TTP leadership against NATO forces in Afghanistan, as well as to wage a defensive jihad against Pakistani forces. The latter objective became the TTP´s raison d´etre in view of the disastrous Lal Masjid Operation launched in Islamabad by the Army on then President General Pervez Musharraf´s direction, in July 2007. As TTP violence within Pakistan escalated, the Pakistani Army launched repeated operations against the group in areas of dominance, including Waziristan (FATA) and Swat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, even as US drone attacks against the Taliban and elements of the TTP in these areas mounted. As pressure built up, a large number of Pakhtuns, including key leaders of the TTP, migrated to Karachi.
On January 23, 2013, the Advocate General of Sindh, Abdul Fateh Malik, told the Supreme Court that the Government had a list of 5,000 ´Taliban´ who had entered Karachi city. He made the assertion during the Supreme Court´s hearings on a petition on the deteriorating law and order situation in the port city.
Karachi´s demography has helped the TTP consolidate its base. The TTP is a Pakhtun dominated terror outfit, and has a significant support base among Karachi´s roughly five million Pakhtuns. Ibrahim Khattak, a former Intelligence Bureau Director, noted, in November 2012, "The problem is the changing demography of Karachi. Over 2 million IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] came to Karachi after the Swat and Waziristan operations and a lot of them were criminals associated with the Taliban."
The outfit´s ´success´ was helped further by political parties - particularly the MQM and the Awami National Party (ANP) - as they used the group´s ´services´ against each other. Indeed on May 24, 2009, ANP central leader Haji Adeel had alleged that TTP and MQM had a ´shared agenda´, since both were doing the same job: "It seemed as if Taliban and MQM were lending support to each other as Taliban had never targeted any leader of MQM." Similarly, MQM leader Altaf Hussain had alleged that the TTP was securing its presence in the city, with the help of the Pakhtun-dominated ANP.
Despite this collusive relationship, though inevitably, leaders of the MQM and ANP in Karachi, along with prominent members of the Pakistan People´s Party (PPP), have now been ´informed´ by the TTP that they are on its ´hit list´. The TTP has defended its attacks on politicians, claiming that they were targeting ´liberal´ political parties for their ´secular ideology´ and support to military operations. In a statement on April 29, 2013, TTP spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan declared, "The first reason for attacking political parties is their secular doctrine. The second reason is that they were responsible for burning FATA, Swat and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa." He added, further, that the PPP, ANP and the MQM were responsible for the "displacement of millions of people, the plight of the Pakhtun, for abandoned villages and destroyed mosques," and that the TTP would "avenge the oppressed".
Karachi also holds particular attraction for the TTP also because of its tremendous financial potential as the country´s commercial capital, providing ample resources to the outfit to carry forward its jihad. Karachi has emerged as one of their major sources of financial accumulations through criminal activities such as extortion, bank robbery and abduction-for-ransom. According to partial data compiled by SATP, Karachi has recorded 142 incidents of bank robbery and 138 incidents of abduction-for-ransom since 2008, most of them attributed to the TTP. According to the CTC report, in the first four months of 2013, 11 bank robberies worth USD 800,000 took place in Karachi alone, and authorities believe most of these robberies were aimed at helping the TTP. Highlighting TTP´s motives for penetration into Karachi, the CTC observed:
In the early stages of their movement, the militants´ primary purpose was to raise funds as well as rest and recuperate. In June 2012, however, the group began its violent fund raising tactics and increasingly attacked secular politicians and law enforcers.
As TTP gains strength in the outskirts of Karachi, a new agenda of sectarian attacks has gained prominence. At least 48 persons were killed and another 70 were injured in a huge explosion that ripped through a Shia-majority neighbourhood in Karachi on March 3, 2013. Worshippers were offering Maghribain prayers at an Imambargah (Shia place of worship) in Abbas town when the bomb went off. On March 15, 2013, Police arrested six TTP militants from Karachi and seized heavy explosives and weapons. "Those arrested included Bashir Ullah, who was a mastermind of the deadly bombing in Abbas Town neighbourhood," senior Police official Shahid Hayat said.
Meanwhile, the SFs have recorded some successes against TTP. On May 14, 2013, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) arrested the ´chief´ of TTP´s Karachi chapter, Ameer Sahab, during targeted operation in the Kemari area. Giving details of operational successes against the perpetrators of violence across Sindh, a report sent to Inspector General of Police (IGP, Sindh) Shahid Baloch, on June 30, 2013, indicated that as many as 662 police encounters took place in Karachi. Media reports, however, indicate that four terrorists, 50 dacoits (armed robbers) and 17 kidnappers were killed in these 662 encounters, from January 1 to June 27, 2013. The Karachi Police also arrested 9,548 accused, including 4,694 absconders, 473 proclaimed offenders, 23 kidnappers, 65 terrorists and 4,403 dacoits/criminals. The city Police also neutralized 46 gangs in various operations against criminals. Two Light Machine Guns (LMG), two G-3 rifles, 111 shotguns/repeaters, 80 rifles, 3,068 pistols/ revolvers, four suicide jackets, 203 hand grenades, 51 bombs, two rocket launchers and 1,458 kilograms of explosives were recovered in these raids. The impact of these various ´achievements´, however, has been negligible on the terrorist infrastructure in Karachi, and the TTP remains a formidable force in the city.
Given Islamabad´s chronic failure to act decisively against Islamist terrorist formations, the ongoing violence in Karachi is likely to create further spaces for the TTP´s consolidation. There seems little prospect that TTP´s growth in Pakistan´s commercial capital will be checked in foreseeable future.
(The writer Anurag Tripathi is Research Associate; Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not RDI IBNS)