Taliban 'no-go zones' liberated in Karachi

By AFP
Published: September 14, 2015
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This photograph taken on August 21, 2015 shows policemen taking a position at the destroyed hideouts of Taliban militants in the Manghopir area of Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

This photograph taken on August 21, 2015 shows policemen taking a position at the destroyed hideouts of Taliban militants in the Manghopir area of Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

KARACHI: With a machine-gun in the back seat, his foot on the accelerator and wearing “Top Gun” style sunglasses, Azfar Mahesar pushes deeper into the heart of one of Karachi’s “Talibanised” areas.

“This used to be a war zone, but we have liberated it,” says the slightly chubby policeman with pride as his vehicle races through the city of 20 million, where Afghan intelligence says former Taliban leader Mullah Omar made his home in 2013.

Over the past few years, one word has been on everyone’s lips here: “Talibanisation”.

This photograph taken on August 21, 2015 shows Pakistani police officer Azfar Mahesar speaking during an interview in Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

Read: Where law enforcers fear to tread: The entry fee for these spots of Karachi may be your life

If the remote mountains that straddle the Pakistan and Afghanistan border have been the militant group’s playground, Karachi has been the insurgents’ hideout and cash-cow.

The Taliban dug deep into areas populated by ethnic Pashtuns, creating virtual “no-go zones” and terrorising the local population with extortion and kidnappings for ransom to provide funding for their Mujahideen.

This photograph taken on August 21, 2015 shows Pakistani policemen taking a position at the destroyed hideouts of Taliban militants in the Manghopir area of Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

But, say Pakistani officials, that has all changed now.

“Talibanisation in Karachi has died down,” says Mahesar, a former soldier turned senior police officer in the most dangerous, western part of the city.

“I can say very confidently 70 to 80 per cent (are purged). There are a few remnants in Karachi but they are not as capable of coming back with the efficiency that they had a year or so ago,” he adds.

Today, policemen wearing flak jackets are advancing deep into the bowels of one of the remaining “no-go zones”, through dug-up streets and up rocky hills that mark the city’s western edge.

This photograph taken on August 21, 2015 shows Pakistani policemen taking a position at the destroyed hideouts of Taliban militants in the Manghopir area of Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

Read: PM wants the entire country de-weaponised

“This was a local Taliban HQ,” one says as he stands before a pulverised hovel. The Tehreek-e-Taliban has been the country’s public enemy number one since its formation in 2007.

Last December, the group carried out its deadliest attack ever, on a school in northwestern Peshawar, killing more than 150 people, mainly children.

PHOTO: AFP

The TTP called it revenge for the military operation being carried out in North Waziristan, the epicentre of their movement.

In response, the government gave the police and paramilitaries permission to lay siege to Talibanised areas, killing hundreds of suspected insurgents, without worrying much about due process.

PHOTO: AFP

“Peshawar opened the world’s eyes. We had to act, even if it meant killing a thousand civilians,” says one policeman on the mission.

All this occurred as the military made gains in North Waziristan, from where the Taliban of Karachi received orders.

Read: Karachi operation will be accomplished at all costs: PM Nawaz

“The disconnection between Karachi and Miramshah (capital of North Waziristan) has helped law enforcers to keep the Pashtun parts of the city safe and clear of the militancy,” said Ziaur Rehman, an expert on security in Karachi.

PHOTO: AFP

Taliban fighters instead sought refuge in neighbouring Afghanistan, and Pakistan is now facing its lowest levels of terrorist violence in almost a decade.

In the Manghophir district of Karachi, residents now say business is picking up. Extortion and racketeering by the Taliban — or criminals posing as them — is now almost a thing of the past.

“God be thanked that the Taliban have gone. People were scared, they wouldn’t go out to the markets,” says elderly Fatima, dressed in a large and multicoloured shawl, in front of the shrine of the Sufi Saint Pir Haji Mangho — which serves as a barometer of militant presence.

PHOTO: AFP

Read: Crime rate in Karachi falls by 70%: police chief

Mystic and moderate Sufism were once the predominant forms of Islam practised by people in the country, but the sect is seen as heretical by the hardline Taliban.

This mausoleum, which was last attacked by militants in 2014, is guarded by crocodiles swimming in a green pond.

When the Taliban controlled the area, “the crocodiles barely got to eat,” says their guardian Khalifa Sajjad, a thin man wearing a red hat shimmering with tiny mirrors. “Now the followers have come back, and are giving their offerings of meat.”

In the hardscrabble Metroville district, where children bounce on a trampoline that has seen better days, Abdul Razzaq Khan, chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami political party in west Karachi, hails the anti-Taliban operation.

PHOTO: AFP

Read: Operation Zarb-e-Azb in final stages: Army chief

“God knows where they’ve gone. They’re maybe hiding out here, or they’ve returned to where they came from, that’s an unanswered question,” he says, though he still believes criminals posing as Taliban were a bigger threat than the group themselves.

But for Rauf Khan, a member of the secular ANP party, who last April survived the latest of several attempts on his life by militants, there is no doubt things have changed drastically.

“Now we are mentally liberated. It somehow hasn’t felt this way in 15 to 20 years,” he said.

“Yesterday, I went to the cinema and came home late. I haven’t done that in years.”

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Reader Comments (8)

  • LOL
    Sep 14, 2015 - 11:40AM

    One Man: The Lion, Raheel.Recommend

  • Haider Rehman
    Sep 14, 2015 - 12:10PM

    Pakistan Zindabad!Recommend

  • Sep 14, 2015 - 2:22PM

    Thanks to the fallow Pakistani in uniform.They put their life on line for the safety of the nation. now we can sleep with out any fear and for a better hope for tomorrow.Lets hope we learned from this brutal episode which is behind us. With the end of this operation our leaders must make some social and political reconciliation so all Pakistani can leave under one tree with out any suspicious for a brighter Pakistan. Because military is not the long time solution and we may not get a 2nd chance.Recommend

  • Napier Mole
    Sep 14, 2015 - 4:26PM

    This carries good sound bytes with foreign press but the real Karachiites know that the taliban and religious element has been touched only lightly. Places like Al Asif Square remains a no go area. As regards Taliban, the question that arises is why were they allowed to settle in the first place despite warnings by local politicians. Conspiracy theorists would argue that the cat first let the mice population build up so that it can earn back the respect and trust of the inmates who no longer considered the cat worthy of the milk.Recommend

  • Sep 14, 2015 - 5:02PM

    Viva! Bravo! Shabash Mujahidon! ET! You have published good news and an article with clarity supported by fotoz. This is what we wanted to hear and see. My best respects to the LEAs and your staff that made this article.
    Thanks to the brave men in uniform and to the one we know as the COAS. Salams Recommend

  • bash gul
    Sep 14, 2015 - 5:13PM

    Abdul Razak Khan, head of Jamat e Islamai, Karachi Dist West, is actually an Afghan, he is responsible for verifying CNIC for Afghans, so that his vote bank is increased. No wonder, he wins because of the so many Afghans residing in Metroville. Even the head of PPP in Metroville is an Aghani. These are all sleepers.Recommend

  • US CENTCOM
    Sep 14, 2015 - 9:41PM

    It is wonderful to see the hard work of Pakistani security forces paying off in the largest city of Pakistan. The importance of Karachi cannot be overstated as it is the financial and commercial capital of Pakistan. Terrorist organizations like the TTP have long been conducting their terrorist activities throughout the country including Karachi. Thousands of lives have been lost at the hands of various terrorist organizations. The deteriorating security situation throughout the country left the Pakistani security forces no choice but to take swift action against those who continue to wreak havoc with their acts of terror.
    We remain fully optimistic regarding the future of Pakistan, and fully support the government of Pakistan in its quest for peace. It is simply in the best interests of our nations to see peace prevail throughout the region.

    This is what the ISPR tweeted after the COAS Gen. Raheel Sharif met with General Lloyd J. Austin III, Commander, U.S. Central Command last month:

    Tweets from Inter Services Public Relations officer @AsimBajwaISPR stated: “Comd US CENTCOM,Gen Lloyd Austin called on #COAS in GHQ. Matters of mutual interest, Regional security discussed- Acknowledged Pak Army sacrifices & efforts in war on terror 4 bringing peace in Pak & the region. Paid homage to Pak martyrs, Laid floral wreath”

    Ali Khan
    Digital Engagement Team, USCENTCOMRecommend

  • John
    Sep 15, 2015 - 4:46AM

    @Napier Mole:
    By real Karachites, do you mean Altaf Hussain’s apologists? Secular terrorists are as much of terrorists as religious terrorists , both are violent and kill and both have no place in a civil society. But the only parties who are not happy with the current peace in Karachi are TTP,MQM,PPP,ANP,ST and Lyari Gangsters so that pretty much explains who were/are the owners of the violence in this city.Recommend

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