National and International Issues

Karachi Operation: An Appraisal

Karachi is the only true megalopolis to Pakistan’s credit. This overly populated, poorly managed, ethnically diverse and politically volatile urban centre is an interesting case for an enquiry in the domains of politics. The tussle to hold the reigns of the city dates back to the inception of Pakistan, with ethnic tension dominating the wide range of conflicts. In the recent past, a new player had altered the conflict dynamics of the city. The non-state actor, i.e., Taliban, having identified Karachi perfectly suitable for rest and recuperation, started using the city’s resources to fund their pursuits and this continued unabated till they enveloped the city, using the shield of the historical Mohajir-Pushtun conflict and the more recent Mohajir-Sindhi strenuous politics to its advantage to a point where they controlled one-third of Karachi and were responsible for 90% spike in terrorist attacks in the city.

Prior to the operation in September 2013, the city’s economic activities were severely hampered by the violent disruptions caused by ethnic and sectarian groups, terror outfits and criminal mafias. From 2008 to 2013, 9322 people were killed in Karachi, 708 cases of kidnapping for ransom were reported, 29477 four wheelers and 109078 two wheelers were stolen along with 104 cases of bank robberies. The traders and industrialists were forced to pay Rs. 80 million to Rs. 100 million per day to the extortionists. Moreover, the citywide daily strikes over the past few years caused a daily loss of about Rs. 15-20 billion to the economy. On average, 30,000 acres of the land of Karachi was grabbed by the land grabbers. Over Rs. 830 million were daily extracted from the Karachiites through extortion, land grabs, encroachments, kidnapping for ransom, electricity thefts, bribery, street crimes, etc. The deteriorated law and order situation in the city forced more than 30,000 traders to flee the city. Some industrialists relocated their units to UAE, Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia.

Two-and-a-half years down the lane, there has been a significant improvement on the ground. The city has witnessed a decrease of 70% in target killings and 65% in dacoities. Cases of kidnapping for ransom have also gone down by 62%. The business of extortion came down by 84% and bank robberies by 72%. Cases of car thefts also hit a 14-year record low in 2015. Moreover, 71% Pakistanis believe that Karachi operation has led to decrease in crimes in the city.

However, the violence matrix of Karachi is not about law and order. The law and order situation is just a by-product of essentially two underlying factors and their resultant implications, which include:

• The demographic convulsions the city has experienced.

• Conflict under development trap.

Karachi: A Demographic Pressure Cooker
Karachi’s growth is parallel to none; no other city anywhere else in the world, at any time in human history, has ever experienced such an enormous growth rate. Historically, post-colonial megacities’ premier economic status contributed to an enormous increase in their populations. Karachi, following the trend, experienced a population growth rate of 432%; from a city of 450,000 in 1947, it has turned into a demographic pressure cooker of 22 million inhabitants in recent times.

Post-independence, the migration from India paved the way for migration from the northern parts of the country. Karachi’s ability to absorb exodus of population and provide them sustenance continues to-date. According to recent estimates, 350,000 persons still move to Karachi every year. This resulted in the share of the Urdu-speaking population peaking to a 54% in 1981, and falling to 48 % in 1998, but now there is a third prominent player – the Pashtun – whose share of the population has continued to rise and reached 11 % in 1998. Drone attacks, surgical strikes and fear of operations have further accelerated Pashtun migration into the city in the last 10 years. The share of Pashtun population is estimated to reach 31% by 2045, with the relative share of the Urdu-speaking population estimated to fall up to 29%.

Karachi’s population grew more than 80% between 2000 and 2010 alone. Presently, an estimated 5 million residents are Pashtun which make about 25% of city’s entire population. Interestingly, at present there are more Pashtuns in Karachi than in Peshawar, Kandahar or Kabul. According to the UN High Commission for Refugees statistics there are some 71,000 Afghan refugees in the city. But experts working with Afghan refugees estimate that the actual number is around 700,000. The flow of population continues.

The Karachi Operation
The deteriorating law and order situation led to the 2013 Karachi operation against the militants. It had the ownership of all the political parties, the very vocal powerful business community of Karachi and the civil society with the sole objective of restoring peace in Karachi and ridding it off the Taliban. Two-and-a-half years down the lane, the same operation is being seen by few as controversial. Political fragmentation has become very profound. There is an atmosphere of complex confrontation between Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) and blame game between the Federal Government and Government of Sindh. The confrontation between MQM and PPP has just deepened with MQM’s blames on the PPP and the federal government for not doing enough to protect them against the operation which they now see as being politically motivated. The Sindh government blames the federal government of using the operation to target the PPP. The leadership of the two major political forces of the province has given statements against the operation hinting of it being biased and politically motivated. The reservations of the Sindh government are indicated by their feet dragging in extending special power of Rangers in Sindh on more than one occasion. The activities of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) are also seen in the same light.

The issue now is: what is the mandate of Rangers in Karachi? There seems to be lack of consensus on it. The murky politics of the city threatens the operation, whereas the political parties want the operation to work for their respective interests. The general understanding in Sindh is that the mandate of Rangers is restricted to elimination of non-state terror, extortion and kidnapping for ransom. The Rangers’ dabbling with the corruption-terror-nexus and the nexus that exists between politics, crime and terror including providing political cover to terror organizations did not go down well with the political parties of Sindh. What further aggravated the situation are now the allegations of established links of political parties with spy agencies like RAW.

Although law enforcement agencies and the Rangers claim for nabbing several suspects belonging to banned militant outfits in the Karachi operation, started since September 2013, leaders of political parties, especially Awami National Party, Muttahida Quami Movement and Pashtun residents see less focus of the law enforcement agencies on banned religious terror outfits during the operation.

However, the recent statements made by the ISPR offer a counter-narrative which is encouraging. According to ISPR, the Karachi operation is moving in the right direction. DG ISPR in his statement on 12 February 2016 disclosed that “three major terrorist networks are working in Karachi namely Al-Qaeda in the Indian Sub-continent (AQIS), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. The groups collaborate with each other to carry out terrorist attacks. 97 terrorists of the three groups have been arrested so far in major crackdown across the country, 26 out of them were proclaimed offenders, highly wanted by the agencies and had huge money on them.” He has also told that among the arrested are explosive experts, suicide bombers and financiers of the groups. The non-state militancy is like a hydra, you cut one head and several others come up. The recently identified Afridi Group, functioning in Pushtun majority areas of the city Sohrab Goth, Ali Town, Keamari and Banaras, is one of many. This is their modus operandi; they regroup and resurface with new faces and new names but with the same objective. Karachi’s demography and economic paradigm give the requisite cover, financial foothold and the recruits they need.

Conflict Under Development Trap
One third of Karachi is extremely poor and it may be categorised as one of the biggest slums in the world. Poor neighbourhoods house about 50% of Karachi’s total population and 89% of people live below the poverty line. The rich-poor divide marks every group’s interest that exists in Karachi, be it political parties, ethnic communities or religious parties.

The city has been in the grip of turmoil and violence for the last three decades. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) first major report on lawlessness and violence in Karachi was issued in 1995, since then, the only peace that Karachi has witnessed is absence of active violence. Lately, low intensity violence carries on without any gap. The life in Karachi gets a jolt only when killing, crime and violence cross a certain limit. The city’s violence dynamics threaten to destabilise Pakistan and have foreign policy implications. The urban and more dangerous face of the violent non-state actors have gradually turned Karachi into its epicenter and its growing role in regional and national terrorism cannot escape observation. According to The Economist on August 5, 2008, a spokesman for Mr. Mehsud threatened to bring jihad to Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city and home to many poor Pashtuns.

Prior to 2007, the TTP existed in Karachi, but its activities were confined to fund raising, rest and recuperation. The operation by Pakistan government in the valley of Swat in 2007 and 2009 resulted in internal displacements. Thousands left their homes and Karachi was the obvious choice, already home to some 5 million Pashtuns. This trend gained momentum in 2009, when the military operation reached South Waziristan, Mohmand Agency, Bajaur and Dir. In the beginning, they wanted to blend in so they cut their trademark long hair, shaved their beards and worked as petty labourers.

Gradually understanding the politico-ethnic-religious nexus of violence in Karachi, they started carrying out their war in this megacity, which provided them with the perfect cover. Swati militants assassinated pro-government Swati residents and targeted the leadership of the ANP and got away with it. “Killing influential Pashtun elders is a key strategy of Taliban groups, successfully carried out in Afghanistan, the FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and now in Karachi,” according to Kahar Zalmay, an Islamabad-based security analyst who monitors the network of TTP across the country. He also added that, “through an organised campaign of killing influential Pashtun political leaders and elders in Karachi and forcing the ANP to vacate most of its traditional strongholds and, “now all Pashtun-majority areas of the city are under varying degrees of TTP influence.”

The Taliban used to generate millions of dollars through criminal activities in Karachi, with one-third of bank robberies and 10% of kidnapping linked to the Taliban, an average ransom ranges from Rs. 60,000 to Rs. 250,000. Large swathes of Pashtun neighbourhood in district East and West, as well as pockets in district Malir, Central and South were reported to be under the influence of TTP. All 30 plus factions of TTP have presence in the city; most influence is wielded by the Khan Sajna and Mullah Fazlullah factions.

During 2010-11, Taliban were gaining foothold in the city. The militants had employed a covert strategy and worked under the cover of political and religious parties to escape the attention of law enforcement agencies. In 2012, Taliban presence in Karachi made headlines when the organisation claimed responsibility for an attack on a private media channel office as a warning to the rest of the media houses in the country. They continued to make inroads and started flexing their muscles. Since 2013, the TTP has been acknowledged as an established threat to the security of Pakistan; and has been reportedly functioning from Karachi. Confronting them was becoming exceedingly difficult; they were defiant, and would hit back with vengeance.

The Pakistani Taliban were held responsible, by the law enforcing agencies and Citizens Police Liaison Committee, for a 90% spike in terrorist attacks in the city. The criminals caught increasingly claim to be working for the Taliban even when they have no actual ties with the group.

In the areas under their control, the TTP started levying a tax on residents and businesses, according to a businessman in Sohrab Goth, a Taliban-run neighbourhood just north of the city center.
The militant group had set up courts in neighbourhoods to resolve disputes, which handed down judgments, handling matters that include disagreements over land ownership and regulating levels of theft from power lines that they allow, residents revealed. "The Taliban milk money from their own communities," the businessman said. "They have calculated the worth of every person here.”

By 2013, the citizens were at the mercy of mafias, the most prominent being land, water and transport mafia; the government had failed miserably. These mafias were also infiltrated by religious militants, who used them to generate funds for their nefarious designs. The most glaring issues for Karachi included dysfunctional institutions, bad governance and a very weak justice system. There was also a complete breakdown of state-society relations.

The informal governance role that was initially filled by the city mafias controlled by the militant wings of political parties had been taken over by the Taliban, at least in the Pashtun-dominated area. They were the new strong men on the block. Huma Yusuf, a Karachi-based researcher, stated that the rise of Taliban influence made the city more ungovernable. The conflicts between politically and ethnically-based groups in the past could have been resolved by arbitrators who had financial and cultural stakes in the city. The Taliban were accountable to none of them. Thus, the Taliban prior to the operation had emerged as an invincible entity, challenging the writ of the state, in the most populous city of the country controlling one third of its area. The TTP dominated 33 of Karachi’s 178 administrative units. Their immediate objective was financial gain. However, the long term goals were gaining control and improving their negotiation power in the peripheries and elsewhere.

Post-September 2013 operation, the security agencies have paved the way for liberation of Taliban “no-go-zones” in Karachi; also referred to as ‘war-zones’. The Taliban had dug deep into the areas populated by Pathans, creating virtual “no-go-areas”, terrorizing the local population. Now the LEAs claim to have a complete control of these areas, especially of the most dangerous western part of the city. They also claim that 70-80 % are purged. The Talibanization of Karachi has died down. Pakistan now has the lowest level of terrorist violence in almost a decade.

Despite these successes, religious militancy in Karachi and rest of Pakistan is deeply entrenched and has many a manifestations which must be addressed. This politico-religious configuration gives militants the operational space that can’t be addressed by the Rangers operation alone. The Rangers’ operation has done the ground preparation and has pushed the Taliban to a position of weakness. However, two impediments remain: lack of a political post-operation strategy, and, the perception that the operation could be politically motivated.

The Resilient Karachi 
Karachi is a resilient city, however, its descend into chaos started in the 1980s. Politically motivated policies, unrestrained migration, religiosity, break down of law and order and last but not the least complete lack of response and understanding of the deteriorating situation by the successive governments. In spite of all of above, the city has functioned and delivered.

Karachi contributes to almost 60% of the country’s economy and is home to State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), the Stock Exchange and head offices of national and multinational companies including banks, financial institutions and real estate companies. In addition, major media houses in Pakistan have their head offices in Karachi. According to Federal Government’s figures, Karachi generates about 15% of the national GDP, 42% of value added in manufacturing sector and 25% of the revenues of the Federal Government. Karachi Stock Exchange accounts for 80 to 90% of Pakistan’s capital market. The city’s economy is large and diversely driven, greatly benefitted by the presence of the largest and most dynamic industrial giants in the country like the Sindh Industrial and Trading Estate (SITE), Korangi Industrial and Trade Estate and North Karachi Industrial and Trade Estate. The productions include a wide variety of goods from textiles to chemicals to steel and machinery. Owing to its geo-strategic significance, Karachi is ideally positioned for businesses and investment.

In February 2007, the World Bank identified Karachi as the most business-friendly city in Pakistan. A study by Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PWC) (2007) estimated that Karachi’s GDP was expected to touch 120 billion mark by 2020, at a growth rate of almost 6%. It was predicted that the city would maintain its dominant role as the major industrial and commercial center of the country over the next decade, provided peace and stability remain intact. However, for Karachi it proved to be a lost decade. There was a complete breakdown of law and order and governance; Karachi became known for daily death tolls, war zones and no-go areas. This resulted in flight of capital, shifting and slowing down of business activities and in extreme cases closure of industry. It was categorized as one of the most dangerous cities of the world. Diplomats, businessmen, and professionals shunned Karachi. The city which in 2007 was described as one of the most business friendly cities with a growth potential of 6% per anum, was being economically strangulated. Foreign investment in Pakistan was $5.4 billion in 2008, which slid to $1.6 billion in 2011 and further reduced to $1 billion in 2012. The secular liberal face of the city was fast disappearing and last but not the least it was frequently quoted as one of the most dangerous cities of the world.

The Contemporary Situation
In 2016, the third year into the operation, normalcy has returned to Karachi. There is an upsurge in economic, social and cultural activities. 
The port city is now experiencing increased economic activities. Karachi retail outlets reported record sales during the Eid festival in the year 2015, breaking a ten year record with Rs. 90 billion Eid-ul-Fitr sale. Karachi in the same year spent around Rs. 30 billion on sacrificial animals during Eid-ul-Adha. The Independence Day celebrations in August 2015 saw a lot of zeal and fervor by Karachiites. Chairman All Karachi Tajir Ittehad said, “sales recorded in August 2015 crossed Rs. 5 billion, breaking the sale records of past 40 years.”

This has been further endorsed by the international observers and media. The Washington Post stated that ‘Karachi has now become a safer place.’ The World Bank in its report “January 2016 Global Economic Prospects” stated that ‘macro-economic adjustments and crackdown on violent crimes in the country’s industrial and commercial hub of Karachi are supporting investors’ confidence.’

On the local front, the Karachi operation has positively impacted Pakistan’s real estate sector. New developments are expected to increase two to three fold in the future, according to the recent survey conducted by a real estate website, It concluded that the Karachi operation has created a very positive environment for business. The law and order agencies are eliminating the Qabza mafia from the city and people are now getting possession of their homes, plots and files. It also contributed in increasing the confidence of investors and has resulted in increased Foreign Direct Investment. Overseas Pakistanis are also seen investing back in their homeland with increased investment directed towards the renowned Defence Housing Authority (DHA) and upcoming real estate hotspots such as Gwadar. The brokers and developers reported an increase in property prices of Karachi after the operation, especially of posh areas such as DHA, Clifton and DHA City. The property values of DHA City increased by almost 20 % in the last two months and this trend is expected to continue. The data below depicts the recent economic statistics of Karachi for the year 2015.

The city is returning to its past glory, said Dr. Ishrat-ul-Ibad, the longest serving governor of Sindh. The unprecedented success and response to events like the Karachi Literature Festival and Children Literature Festival by Oxford University Press, the massive turnout of the people at the Karachi City of Lights Festival, Karachi Mubarak Festival in May 2015 and Food and Tea festivals are just some of the examples. Karachi has also witnessed, in the last two years, a revival of the cinema-going trend at all hours and the revival of performing arts especially theatre and a flurry of activities and entertainment for the fear stricken commoners of the city. The civil society initiatives are also encouraging, the most prominent being, I Am Karachi; United for Peace, the reclaiming of public space by the Karachi artists to replace hate graffiti with paintings and messages of peace and tolerance. Karachi is once again attracting tourists to its vast beaches and camel rides, to Port Grand and Kemari, Mazar-e-Quaid, Mohatta Palace, PAF Museum and the variety of cuisines it offers. Karachi, once again, is becoming a city that never sleeps.

Karachi’s conflict matrix is very difficult to address. Three decades of violence has taken its toll on the social fabric of Karachi. The operational side of addressing the conflict situation has met with successes in post-Karachi operation. The figures are indicative of the strides made to break the infrastructure of the terrorism in Karachi, which also had political and international linkages. The backbone of the terrorists has been broken, main infrastructure dismantled, sleeping cells are now being targeted and lots of pre-emptive intelligence based operations are being carried out in Karachi. However, what has made the task of addressing the conflict matrix of Karachi more daunting and challenging is the resurfacing of the hardcore realities: first, the criminal groups; armed groups and the non-state actors have overt and covert support of the political parties, second, this has resulted in the operation supposedly acquiring a political dimension, which is being resisted and resented by the mainstream political parties of Sindh as well as Karachi. The sustainability of the operation lies in addressing the issues of politicization of over stretched and under-funded police, lack of political will to take difficult decisions and the ability of political parties to clean their ranks and files and the issue of governance and de-weaponization of the city.

Measuring the success of the Karachi operation in terms of drop in incidents is a very myopic way of looking at things. Unless long term multi-prong strategies are put into place to address the root causes of what plagues Karachi, none of what is being done will last.

Hassan Abbas, the author of ‘The Taliban Revival’ categorically says, “The people of Pakistan are resilient, but state institutions are failing them. The institutions of Sindh are one of the weakest.” The long term solution lies in addressing the multiple political, institutional and operational challenges that Karachi continues to face.

Dr. Huma Baqai is an associate professor in the Department of Social Sciences, IBA . She is also associated as a foreign and current affairs expert with Radio Pakistan and a private TV Channel.

[email protected]

& Maria Hassan is an Assistant Professor & Director Ardeshir Cowasjee Centre for Writing.

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