Friday, October 23, 2009

Why Has Karachi Been Able To Escape The Violence Directed Against The Rest Of The Country?

As news of yet another terrorist attack, this time directed at the Air Force complex at Kamra, trickles in, one trend in the recent violence deserves scrutiny: why has there been such little violence in Karachi?

First, some background. Karachi has always been Pakistan's most violent city, but the violence it has experienced has tended to be of three kinds, all very different from what the country is currently experiencing. First, inter-ethnic violence between Mohajirs and Sindhis on the one hand, and Mohajirs and Pasthuns on the other. This was the pattern of violence that started in the 1970s in the former case, in the 1980s in the latter case, and has sporadically spiked since then but by and large has remained dormant.

Second, violence between the MQM -- the party largely representing the interests of middle class Mohajirs in urban Sindh -- and its breakaway faction (called MQM Haqiqi), as well as state security forces in the mid 1990s. This form of violence too has petered out, as the MQM becomes mainstream and an acceptable player on Pakistan's political scene.

The third type of violence has been sectarian violence, between Sunni and Shia militant groups.

By contrast, the rest of the country finds itself squarely in the middle of Taliban violence, which is wrapped up in geopolitical considerations, as well as control for the state. All forms of terrorist violence, but particularly suicide attacks, have been aimed at both civilians and agents of the state -- but have been geographically circumscribed in FATA, the NWFP and Punjab. So what gives?

The piece linked above, by Nadeem Paracha, claims it has something to do with the demographic and political balance in the city -- where different ethnic groups and parties maintain a relative balance of power. I'm not so sure. I think his arguments speak to these organizations not being able to establish a base of operations in Karachi, but that is different from saying that they are unable to launch attacks in Karachi.

To be honest, I really have no clue as to how Karachi has remained relatively peaceful in all this. I have a few hypotheses though:

1. The militants have changed their focus from civilians targets to state targets. Over the last three weeks, the majority of attacks have taken place at military and police headquarters or offices or training centers. The heart of the state, meanwhile, exists in northern Punjab and the center of gravity of the military is also in the NWFP/Punjab arc. As such, Karachi has managed to avoid violence by simple virtue of the fact that it's far away from the things that matter to the militants. So it's about military strategy.

2. Security forces and the police are doing a better job in Karachi than they are in the rest of the country. Attacks aren't taking place because they are being caught before the implementation stage. So it's about the effectiveness of the state.

3. The MQM -- the party with the strongest secular (good) and anti-Pashtun (bad) credentials in the country -- takes the Taliban threat more seriously than anyone else. And as they are in control of Karachi, they are most concerned with taking strong and effective action against militant groups, not allowing them the freedom to operate. Their aggression delivers results for Karachiites. So it's about local politics.

Any ideas, readers?


AKS said...

I'm not inclined to agree with Mr. Paracha. I don't think that demographics and political balance of power have anything to do with the lack of violence in Karachi because for that to be the case then would have to concede that the militants attacking Lahore and Pindi were indigenous to the two cities, they by and large were not. By and large, most terrorists who have struck Lahore and Pindi have come from outside the cities.

I would imagine that there are two main reasons for the lack of attacks in Karachi(so far, fingers crossed!).

1) As you point out, the theater of terror has shifted to the heartland. If you want to attack the state, you attack Pubjab, that is where the war is going to be won or lost. In addition to that, Pindi and Lahore are old garrison towns and have a close relationship with the military elite, Karachi doesn't.

2) I don't know if the Security Forces are doing a better job, but what I do think is that because of Karachi's violent history the Security Forces in Karachi are better equipped at handling terrorism. For one, the police in Lahore and Pindi have little to no experience of dealing with gun battles and militancy, the Karachi police on the other hand is only to aware. Secondly, the state's (PPP, PML(N) and army) uneasy relationship with the MQM, and the MQM's uneasiness with the Pashtuns, has meant that there is little trust between the various political forces and there is great value in collecting information on each other. In turn these information networks, many of which are at neighbourhood levels, may be playing a valuable role in identifying militants.

Then again, the above could be complete BS and we've just been lucky.

Rabia said...

in addition to what you guys have hypothesized, karachi terror cells are also really important for jihadi organizations in carrying out attacks in other parts of hte country (e.g. see this article) it could be that the ttp doesn't want to jeopardize its terror cells in karachi by launching attacks in karachi while important stuff is happening up north?

Akash said...

This has some answers.

Nabeel said...

The New York Times article has a few valid points. So do both NFP and Ahsan. I've been laughed at for suggesting that the Karachi police is actually doing it's job, but I think that it has to be one of the factors contributing to this relative peace. It has indeed learnt a lot from the violence in the years gone by. The MQM's anti-Taliban stance is a factor. I think police intelligence in Karachi is pretty damn good, and a lot of the crime that happens in Karachi is a)politically backed, or b)by organizations more powerful than the police. Because the police is not too well-equipped, and it can't really collection of campaign funds.

Nabeel said...

The demographics could also play a role, because Karachi and its outskirts may well host less safe havens for the Taliban than Lahore and its outskirts.

Bm said...

It's not so much about security forces being able to contain terrorism in Karachi that has me worried, but the aftermath of such an attack. The civil defense infrastructure is really weak [I'm not so sure about now, but it was threadbare the last time I read about it in 2005] in Karachi and the fire department is not equipped to deal with the kind of three-pronged attack that took place in Lahore.

In any case, I do agree with how the MQM's stance has been the only non-equivocal stand against Taliban-related insurgencies [obviously due to the ingrained ethnic antagonism], and that security forces in Karachi have experience dealing with more urban militancy than the security personnel in other major cities.

Sarah said...

Hahahahahahahahahaha at the second hypothesis. Sorry I'm a skeptic on this, I've lived in Pakistan way too long to believe otherwise.

But, seriously the only reason I think Karachi is no longer in the limelight as far as terror attacks go is just because of a shift in the game plan. I still think we are very vulnerable.

takhalus said...

calm before the storm? Have you forgotten the attack on the corp commander in Karachi during Mushs time? Interestingly Waziris and Mahsuds tend to migrate to Karachi more than other Pakhtuns so the TTP should have some active cells in place and much of the Taliban leadership have been trained in karachi madrassahs..

foolsparadise said...

I don't know, but its really good isn't it?

lala pathan said...

the shift in the game plan dats the reason i think , they have'nt really paid attention to karachi yet . It started out against MUSHARRAF and army and their heart is in punjab . and we have been lucky also . I know for a fact that police is no better then it was 10 yrs ago .

Ahmed said...

They are not hitting Karachi because it provides them with the funds as well as the R&R destination on their time off.

Salman Latif said...

The only reason Karachi is safe, I believe, is simply that Karachi doesn't fall within the convenient target circuit. I mean for now, the militants are chiefly targeting army, as well cited by recent incidents. That renders Islamabad/pindi the best option for them to do a blast at.

Moreover, maybe Karachi's too far from Waziristan or Swat, the main areas of recent turbulence and alleged havens of terrorists.

And not forgetting the term recently been coined for these terrorists, namely 'Punjabi Talibans', if they indeed are the rebel factions of the Jihadi organizations of our yester-years, then they are lot more 'at home' here at Punjab playing their moves than elsewhere.

Salman Latif said...

And I am really skeptic about Karachi's 'superior security' in playing any part in the relative peace that reigns there. If we are talking about terrorists that seized GHQ offices for hours at end and assaulted at military's top brass without major failures, right within an arm's length of our intelligence headquarters, surely it would be quite naive to hypothesize that Karachi police has anything to do with it's remoteness from this reign of terror.

Hamza said...

I disagree with both Nadeem Paracha's argument and the three hypotheses advanced by Ahsan.

It seems that the Taliban have made a conscious decision not to attack Karachi. If they sent 10 suicide bombers from Waziristan, even the best police intelligence or the strongest anti-taliban stand by the MQM would make no difference. I had read that a majority of the Taliban's fund raising is conducted through Karachi. First, their fund-raising from the Gulf is routed through Karachi. Second, Taliban affiliated criminals are responsible for the very lucrative kidnapping (Satish Anand's kidnapping, for instance) business and robberies in the city. Destabilizing Karachi would severely undermine their fundraising setup.

Finally, as someone has already mentioned, many Taliban fighters use Karachi as a place to get medical treatment, and recuperate when they are not fighting in the Tribal Areas. One of my uncles is a doctor in Karachi and devotes a fair amount of time to working in low income communities. I remember him telling me that he always suspected that a lot of his patients (working class Pushtuns seeking medical care) were members of the Taliban. Prior to 9/11, they would identify themselves as "Taliban", and now more recently, when seeking medical treatment, they identify themselves as "Talib".

zeyd said...

Number 3 for me. They (the taliban) don't have a strong enough support system in Karachi to carry out their attacks. Funding, planning etc have met impediments that have directly or indirectly been set up by the MQM.

They've certainly tried (as reported to me by my pathan dealer), initially targeting sheeri jinnah colony with pamphlets, but the response has been muted. Most of the pathan truck drivers can't be bothered; the taliban problem does, after all, impede the transport industry.

So, they don't get support from their 'own', and they certainly aren't supported by the MQM, hence, I believe, the limited focus on Karachi.

Anonymous said...

agree with hamza - why attack where the vast majority of your funding comes from?

all the other supposed reasons are moot points and way off the mark.