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Is the TTP making a comeback in Manghopir (Karachi)? By Zia Ur Rehman in The News, January 05, 2017

7 January 2017 No Comment

Karachi: Clouds of dread are gathering over the Pashtun-dominated settlement near Manghopir – renowned for the Sufi saint Pir Mangho’s shrine, with a huge pond of crocodiles – as pro-Taliban graffiti has appeared in the locality.

The wall-chalking, which appeared in the wee hours of December 8, mentions the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) Waziristan chapter. It reads: “Taliban Zindabad! Sab par nazar hai. [Long live the Taliban! We have an eye on everyone.]”

Until the end of 2014, the impoverished, lower-income neighbourhoods – Sultanabad, Pashtunabad and Afridi Goth – were considered the most dangerous areas of the city because of strong TTP presence.

“I know that the crackdown in the past two and a half years has weakened the TTP factions, and killed most of the key Taliban commanders,” said a Mehsud tribal elder in Sultanabad.

But the pro-TTP graffiti troubles him because the proscribed outfit’s chief, Maulana Fazlullah, had chosen former policeman Daud Mehsud as the group’s Karachi chief just 10 days before the wall-chalking appeared. “I thought the graffiti could be a part of the TTP’s attempt to revive the group.”

However, law enforcement agencies acted promptly to dismiss the perception. The day after the graffiti appeared, Rangers and police officials organised a meeting with community elders and political leaders to discuss the matter. “The meeting agreed that there is no Taliban presence in the area, and some miscreants had tried to spread panic,” said a political leader.

Some media reports suggested that the pro-Taliban wall-chalking was a part of a tussle between the current and former SHOs of the Manghopir police station. However, a high-level investigation into the matter dismissed the opinion. SSP (West) Nasir Aftab said the investigators found the graffiti to be nothing more than mischief. “Wall-chalking is something TTP groups did not do even during their reign in certain areas.”

Former TTP strongholds: Sultanabad, Pashtunabad and Afridi Goth – falling under the jurisdiction of the Manghopir police station – were among the 12 Taliban strongholds in Karachi.

Although various Taliban groups had been operating in the city, the most dominant among them was the Mehsud faction, which set up offices to operate gangs, carry out subversive activities and generate funds through extorting money from traders and affluent Pashtun residents. They killed more than 15 police officials, and repeated attacks forced the Manghopir police station to close several times.

The Mehsud faction was divided into two groups, which started infighting in August 2013 over extortion money. The group loyal to Waliur Rehman expelled the faction loyal to Hakeemullah Mehsud by killing most of its commanders, including the fearsome Sher Khan. After the infighting, the Waliur Rehman group strengthened in Pashtunabad and Sultanabad.

After the Karachi operation was launched in September 2013, the Rangers regularly banned the exit of everyone from the neighbourhoods with the help of the police, and started a door-to-door operation.

However, community elders believe that the December 2014 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar had intensified the crackdown on the TTP. The third day after the school attack, Rangers killed an important commander, Abid Mehsud alias Mucharh, in a shootout in Musharraf Colony.

Mustering support from community elders to make the operation against the TTP successful, the then Rangers Sindh chief Bilal Akbar had also held separate meetings with jirgas of the Pashtun elders and the Mehsud clan.

Muhammad Nafees, a security analyst associated with the Centre for Research and Security Studies, said there was a significant decrease in subversive activities in Manghopir in the past two years. “In 2016, law enforcement agencies carried out 23 encounters in Manghopir, killing 28 suspects. Five bodies were also recovered from the area during the year.”

Manghopir: a profile
One of the city’s oldest rural neighbourhoods, Manghopir was named after the shrine of the Sufi saint Hasan al Maroof Sultan Manghopir.

Around the shrine the settlements of Sultanabad, Pashtunabad and Afridi Goth were established in the 1980s and the 1990s. A large number of Mehsud tribesmen, who were forcibly displaced from South Waziristan after the launch of an operation in October 2009, migrated to Karachi and started living in these inexpensive and impoverished localities.

Manghopir is divided into three union councils of the District Council Karachi, according to the recent delimitation. Manghopir II consists of Sultanabad, Pashtunabad and Afridi Goth.

The shrine and its adjacent Baloch and Sindhi villages are in Manghopir I. Some villages of Manghopir are in the Mai Gari union council.

The TTP did not organise its network in Baloch and Sindh areas of Manghopir, but criminal gangs of Lyari extended their influence to these areas. However, Rangers and police have also killed a number of criminals associated with gangs led by Uzair Baloch and Baba Ladla in the recent months.

Although Pashtun settlements around the shrine gained focus because of TTP presence, the residents complain that the media were constantly portraying Manghopir in a negative light.

Khalifa Sajjad, the shrine’s caretaker, said that whenever any untoward incident occurred in these Pashtun settlements, television channels started mentioning Manghopir. “In the past, devotees who bring meat for crocodiles were reluctant to visit the shrine, and the crocodiles barely got anything to eat.”

Because of security threats from Taliban militants, the shrine was closed for 10 months in 2010 and the Barkati Foundation charity provided meat for the crocodiles, added the caretaker. “However, after successful operations in the neighbouring settlements, devotees have resumed visiting the shrine.”

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