When extortionists ruthlessly killed a widely respected business leader of Peshawar earlier this year, it cast a lurid light on the murky shenanigans of a group of militants out to make corrupt fortunes. The murder of the chief of Qissa Khwani Bazaar Traders’ Association, at the hands of a blackmail gang associated with the TTP, brought into sharp spotlight a crime otherwise being committed with relative ease and in a hushed manner. The episode sent shockwaves through the provincial capital, sowing panic among citizens. But to think that in the lucrative trade of extortion, the Pakistan-based Taliban are the lone participants is to indulge in a fallacy. Their Afghan cousins, it now increasingly emerges, also take a hefty piece of the pie by pulling strings from across the border.
The Afghan Taliban, aka Islamic Emirate, have been found to be involved in at least nine major cases of extortion in Peshawar in 2015. And two of its factions are among the 12 militant groups involved in the crime in the district. A top police official went so far as to claim that the Afghan Taliban, viewed by many as friendly to Islamabad, have been engaged in extortion since day one. Using Afghan SIMs, they make calls to demand cash from affluent but hapless businessmen of Peshawar. The police officer was at pains to shatter the myth that the Afghan Taliban are not involved in terror, extortion or kidnapping for ransom on Pakistani soil. The lurid truth is quite the opposite. All this is indeed worrisome. Whether it be locals or Afghan-based, the militants must be dealt with an iron hand to dismantle their elaborate networks. Far too often in the past, the distinction observed between so-called bad and good Taliban inflicted incalculable damage to our interests. The law-abiding businessmen of Peshawar deserve to be protected against extortionists who have made their lives a living hell.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2016.
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