Counter-Terrorism: The Hidden Menace In Pakistan


June 5, 2014: Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan is largely a Pushtun problem and is rarely noted outside the region. Pakistani Islamic terrorists are most often noticed when they kill people or blow something up. Most of this mayhem is caused by the Taliban, an organization formed by the Pakistani military in the early 1990s inside the Pakistani tribal territories. The membership was almost entirely Afghan Pushtuns living in refugee camps. After 2001 a Pakistani branch of the Taliban (staffed by Pakistani Pushtuns) was formed. Largely unnoticed (outside of Pakistan) is the fact that the Pushtuns have also been responsible for a lot more of the non-Islamic criminal activity inside Pakistan as well as most of the Islamic terrorism..

What is remarkable about this is that the Pushtun tribes comprise only 15 percent of the Pakistani population and are also the poorest and least educated minority. A unique feature of Pakistan is that it's 165 million people are all minorities, although the Punjabis (44 percent of the population) are the dominant one (not just in numbers, but in education and income as well). Closely allied with the Punjabis are the Sindis (14 percent), and together these two groups pretty much run the country. Karachi, the largest city in Pakistani, is in Sind, but contains residents from all over the country. Then there are Seraikis (10.5 percent, related to Punjabis), Muhajirs (7.6 percent, Moslems who came from India after 1947), Baluchis (3.6 percent) and other minorities amounting to about five percent. The Seraikis and Muhajirs live in Punjab and Sind.

Since September 11, 2001 there have been a lot more Pushtun fleeing to Pakistan's largest city, Karachi. This metropolis contains eight percent of the nation's population (14 million people) and produces a quarter of the GDP. Islamic radicals have long been present in the city. The Taliban have established a presence among the two million Pushtuns there. But a lot of the criminal gangs in Karachi are Pushtun and these are the gangs the Taliban often work closely with. Moreover there are now more murders in Karachi than in the tribal territories and this has been a trend since 2010. Finally, in 2013, the number of terrorist deaths in the northwestern tribal territories fell below 2,000 and the murders in Karachi rose above 2,000. Pakistani security forces are acutely aware of who is doing most of the mayhem.

A lot of the violence in Karachi is the result of the Taliban trying to prevent the police from stopping the Pushtun radicals establishing save havens in Karachi. The Taliban are succeeding at this, and many Islamic terrorist attacks in non-tribal Pakistan (where over 90 percent of the population is) are coming out of Karachi Pushtun neighborhoods. The Pushtun gangsters cooperate with the Taliban to keep the police out of Pushtun neighborhoods.

Currently some 20 percent of Karachi neighborhoods are controlled (to one degree or another) by Pushtun gangsters or Islamic terrorists. Poverty and Islamic radicalism are driving more Pushtuns out of the tribal territories and into the cities and the Taliban are following. The government is fighting back but with all the corruption and mismanagement in Karachi (and Pakistan in general), it’s a losing battle so far. The Karachi government is so corrupt that there are calls for the federal government to appoint a new city administration. But a new group would likely end up as corrupt as the old one.

In 2009 there was a sharp increase in Islamic terrorist bombing in Pakistan, but nearly all of them took place in the tribal territories (in the west and northwest, along the Afghan border). Nearly all the terrorists are Pushtun tribesmen, or al Qaeda foreigners (from Arab nations, Central Asia or Chechnya). In response the Pakistani armed forces went to war, with over 100,000 troops converging on the tribal territories, and killing thousands of Taliban gunmen, and scattering the terrorist militias that, earlier in the year, considered themselves invulnerable. Taliban safe houses and weapons storage sites have been captured, and police and soldiers are going door to door looking for senior Taliban members.

Naturally, one would expect most Taliban to flee for the hills, especially for distant kin, and a place to wait out the army offensive. Instead thousands of Taliban have fled to Karachi. That's because the city is home to over two million Pushtuns. About half these Pushtuns are Afghans (refugees from the 1980s war with Russia) and their children. Since Pushtuns, as a group, are ill equipped for urban living (low literacy, and few technical skills), most are poor. The low rent neighborhoods are full of Pushtuns, who are also overrepresented in criminal gangs. But the Pushtuns are closely watched by the police, and have earned some peace by not encouraging or supporting terrorists. Whenever this understanding is violated, as it is from time to time, the police lock a lot of people up, and even expel Afghans from the country. This last threat is much feared, and there's really no way to protect yourself from it, other than having done the cops some favors in the counter-terrorism department. But since 2009 this understanding has been wearing thin and the Pushtun are feeling more assertive in Karachi.



Article Archive

Counter-Terrorism: Current 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close