Hindu Vivek Kendra
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Gangster writ runs in city of death

Gangster writ runs in city of death

Publication: The Telegraph, UK
Date: May 9, 2002
URL: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2002/05/09/wpak109.xml&sSheet=/news/2002/05/09/ixnewstop.html

Ahmed Rashid explains why it is so easy for al-Qa'eda and its supporters to operate in Pakistan

LOCALS call Karachi the city of death. Yesterday's car bomb that killed 15 people, including 12 French nationals, is only the latest in years of ethnic, sectarian and gang-related killings.

It also underlines how Pakistan, and in particular Karachi, has become the front line of the war against al-Qa'eda and its supporters.

Passengers at the international airport come under the eye of the latest American technology: a camera mounted on a snake-like spring capturing their faces at passport control.

The image is then sent to a nearby building occupied by dozens of American FBI agents and from which Pakistani police are barred.

The FBI's aim is to prevent members of al-Qa'eda leaving the country.

But it can do little to curb home-grown terrorism and the dozens of militant Pakistani Islamic groups with close links to al-Qa'eda and the Taliban.

That should be the task of the military regime led by President Pervaiz Musharraf. So far it has clearly failed.

While police and senior ministers tried to pin the blame for the car bomb on India, the government has done little in the past six months to curb Pakistani militant groups, especially in Karachi.

Two thousand militants arrested in the early days of the US-led war in Afghanistan have been freed without a single terrorism charge being brought against them.

The leaders of the militant groups are either free to make thundering speeches condemning Gen Musharraf for siding with the "satanic" United States, or are under lax house arrest that allows them to receive visitors and make telephone calls.

Omar Sheikh, the alleged killer of the American journalist Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and killed in Karachi, is now on trial in the city of Hyderabad.

He has often threatened judges by making a slitting motion under his chin. The judge hearing the case has been changed three times.

Sheikh has also issued a public warning that his supporters will carry out revenge attacks that will shake the foundations of the regime. He belongs to several terrorist groups, all with close links to al- Qa'eda - yet their leaders and supporters roam freely in Karachi.

In March a grenade attack on a church in Islamabad killed five people, including the wife and daughter of an American diplomat. Their killers have yet to be found.

Yesterday the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan was brave enough to call the government's bluff on pinning the blame on its neighbour and rival.

It said: "Unless genuine commitment is shown to tackling militancy, rather than making merely cosmetic gestures under international pressure and rounding up low-level activists, violence will continue to grow."

The 12 million citizens of Karachi have been going through their own hell, with little of the international publicity attached to yesterday's bomb. Sectarian killings by Sunni and Shia extremist groups have claimed about 70 lives this year alone.

Seventy of the city's doctors - all of them Shia - have been assassinated in daylight in the city over the past four years. Nine of them were killed this year and hundreds of doctors are preparing to abandon Karachi for other countries.

"Musharraf calls a cabinet meeting because the poor French have been killed," said a prominent surgeon who was operating on wounded Frenchmen last night.

"But he has never called a cabinet meeting when our doctors are gunned down. Now the medical system in the city is collapsing because the doctors are terrified."

Money laundering, drug trafficking, car theft, armed robbery and protection rackets have all spawned their own mafias in which elements of the police are often involved.

"This is a military regime, but the crime wave in the city continues unabated," said a retired bureaucrat in Karachi. "Nobody is caught and nobody is punished because every mafia has its own protectors in the establishment."

Adding to Karachi's plague of problems, the militant ethnic group Muttaheda Qaumi Mahaz, which was responsible for thousands of killings in Karachi in the 1990s, has declared its opposition to the regime after two of its senior officials were shot dead in Karachi two weeks ago.

The MQM, which draws its support from Urdu- speaking migrants from India, of which Gen Musharraf is one, supported the regime until recently.

Now it has done a U-turn and has pledged to force the regime to accept its terms for greater autonomy for Karachi. That promises more violence and death in the days ahead.

Because of a boycott demand by the MQM, there was a turnout of less than four per cent in Karachi on April 30 for Gen Musharraf's referendum asking the people to give him a further five-year mandate as president. The government claimed a 70 per cent turnout.

Karachi's other mainstream parties are also vehemently opposed to the military regime.

Relative stability and some political support in the city have always been essential to any regime's survival. It is the country's largest port and industrial and commercial centre and is the barometer of the flagging economy.

As news of the bombing broke, the Karachi stock exchange fell by three per cent and businessmen predicted that foreign investment would dry up.

Karachi, with its complexity of problems, will continue to remain the test of whether Gen Musharraf can bring stability to Pakistan while trying to counter terrorism.

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