The rise of the Taliban, the fall of Karachi


Phat Cat
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Feb 23, 2009
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n the national interest

Monday, March 30, 2009
Kamal Siddiqi

The writer is editor reporting, The News

Earlier this week, a family friend got off from her car and walked to a chemist’s shop in a busy shopping area of Karachi. She was wearing a normal shalwar- kameez suit that most Karachi women wear in public areas. Nothing out of the ordinary. As she walked to the shop, a man approached her and showed her a pistol.

But instead of robbing her, he gave her a chilling message: “Next time you come in public, cover yourself from head to toe.” This happened in full public view on a busy Karachi street. But no one seemed to notice and the man did not in any way seem in any hurry or worry.

The reference of this incident happening to a family friend has only been done to make people understand that this is not an urban myth but a reality. It is happening in Karachi, the country’s largest and possibly most open city. There are more worrisome incidents than one can recall.

Many businessmen have received calls on their cell phones in which the caller does not identify himself but does confirm the name of the person he has called. After a couple of days comes another call. And then another. The businessman is told to contribute a certain amount to the Tehreek-e-Taliban.

One businessman shrugged this off as a hoax. But soon enough there were men who called at his house and made the same demand, only this time they also mentioned that they not only knew where he lived, but where he worked, which schools his children went to, and other details.

The man ended up paying. No one knows who these people are. Some say they are criminals who are using the name of the Taliban. Who knows?

A family in Clifton last month received a notice which was addressed to the father. In it, he was told to ensure that his daughters — who were described in the letter in very negative terms — should be told to stay home since they were seen to be of loose character. The letter warned the father to take action, otherwise the mosque will have to “do something.” The crime of these girls apparently was that they were seen too frequently moving around and that too in Western clothes.

The writers of this threatening letter even disclosed their identity. The claimed to be from a prominent mosque, situated in the market area of Clifton. The shaken family did as they were told. Many families have received such letters and in most instances they have complied. No action or questions have been asked of the people at this mosque. The police shrugs this off as nothing important.

Last year, this mosque was identified by the MQM when it made an outcry on the rise in Talibanisation in Karachi. But the People’s Party government has been denying the rise of extremist forces in Karachi for the year since it has been in power. Some say that the motives of the MQM are suspect. Their agenda is more political. But then again, who is right and who is wrong?

Stories continue to surface of the growing influence of such elements. Women who travel without their heads covered in public transport have been spat upon. In some instances by other women.

The media has helped confuse the people even more. Programmes aired by our leading channels on religious issues sometimes misguide instead of guide. They play on the sentiments of people only to get better ratings. After all, one of the most prominent religious show hosts ended up becoming a minister.

The tragedy, if one may call it that, is that there is a growing number of people in Karachi who welcome the arrival of the purveyors of quick and cheap justice. And are willing to defend, fund and shelter them. They sympathise with the soldiers of their brand of Islam because the government has let them down. And they are frustrated over the growing incidents of crime and lawlessness and have no hope in the government addressing these issues. Both the military junta and the elected peoples representatives are seen more interested in protecting and enriching themselves than providing good governance to the people. This is the public perception.

Two video clips that have been circulating on the Internet only add to people’s fear and plays on their insecurity. One clip, which is perhaps one of the most watched and forwarded clips in Pakistan this week, shows how a man is mugged while he is taking money out of an ATM in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Karachi.

The clip, which was taken off a security camera of the bank, clearly shows the face of the man, the two men who rob him and the look of frustration and helplessness on the victim’s face once the deed is done. While there is no violence, except where the robber shows the poor man a gun and then hides it, it leaves one disturbed and it is chilling for anyone who has any care for Pakistan. Is this what we have been reduced to, and where do we go from here?

The other clip, which has not been seen by as many people, is violent and much more chilling. This clip was made from a mobile phone by the accomplice of a man who is currently in police custody. This is now known as the “Hajiano case” or the “White Corolla case.” This man robbed people and raped women at will for a year. This clip relates to one incident where a woman is being assaulted.

The clip numbs the brain and makes one bay for blood. After seeing this video, people have said that an exemplary punishment should be given to the perpetrator. One hopes this is done, but there are many who have expressed fears that the case will soon be forgotten. The women’s rights organisations which had earlier come out on the streets now seem to have been lulled into silence. Let us hope for justice. There are some who say that this matter would have been settled had the Taliban been in charge.

These are worrisome sentiments. In his speech this week, President Obama has committed more money to Pakistan to crush Al-Qaeda. He said in his speech that the Al-Qaeda and its extremist allies (like the Taliban) are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within. The problem is that many Pakistanis do not see it like that anymore.

To defeat extremist elements, the US and Pakistan have to do more than pump in more military and economic assistance which never reaches the common man. There is a larger battle, for the hearts and minds of the people of Pakistan, which needs to be fought. This is not being done.

We do not want any more VOA-TV type propaganda that, in its condescending way creates more enemies then friends. We want a proper dialogue with the US and the West over what its goals are and whether these are our goals as well. Whether we like it or not, the battle for a safer America cannot be won if the people of Pakistan are not convinced. This is the stark reality, no matter how many drone attacks are carried out on the one hand and assistance is given to our government on the other.

It was true of the Musharraf government and is becoming increasingly true of the Zardari government too. The people of Pakistan are not seen as stakeholders in the battle against militants and extremism. It is too often said that while the West talks to our leaders, Al Qaeda and the Taliban talk to the people. Sadly, this is an issue President Obama has not addressed.

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