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Karachi turns against Taliban terror

world Updated: Jan 09, 2010 01:37 IST
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The bearded clerics who run Jamia Binoria, a large seminary in a shabby industrial zone, might seem to have much in common with the Taliban.

They come from the same Deobandi strain of Islam, which rejects Western values and seeks to create a pure Islamic state. They require students to memorise the Quran and live an austere, regimented life steeped in religion.

But the leaders of Jamia Binoria insist that they want nothing to do with the Taliban and regard its members as barbaric extremists. They say the recent surge in Taliban suicide bombings across the country have only complicated their lives, leading Pakistani and Western officials to brand seminaries such as theirs as potential terrorist schools and making it harder for them to chart a course between modern education and traditional faith.

“They say we all teach Kalashnikov culture, but that is a wrong image,” said Mufti Muhammad Naeem, the seminary director, who expressed pride in its new computer lab and its large number of female students. “The hard-liners accuse me of being a front for American interests, and the Americans harass me at the airport,” he said. “We reject Talibanisation and we want to be a model for the future, but we get pressure from all sides.”

Karachi, a cosmopolitan port city in far southern Pakistan, seems a far cry from the rugged Taliban sanctuaries of the northwestern tribal belt, but officials say it has often served in recent years as a financial conduit, immigration safety valve and religious pipeline for extremists.

Now, however, the city of 18 million is finding new motives and means to turn against the Taliban, especially after a bombing late last month killed 44 people during a Shia religious procession. The strong secular party in city hall has made it a priority to rid the area of Taliban influence.

And Pashtuns, a large ethnic minority, are facing social and political ostracism because they share linguistic and tribal roots with the Taliban.

“Karachi has been on a fast track to Talibanisation,” said Farooq Sattar, a former mayor from the ruling Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM). “They already had a base here from the Afghan war. There were a lot of sleeper cells, and they used the city for rest, refuge and raising money.”

More recently, he said, Taliban gangs have carried out dozens of robberies and kidnappings for ransom and have begun seeking new urban recruits.

Sattar and others said local officials have employed a variety of methods to track and curb Taliban support.

They have rewarded moderate seminaries such as Jamia Binoria, to which they donated the computer lab, and have registered more than 2,000 seminaries in the area, many of which had never been catalogued or monitored by the government.

Police investigators have moved aggressively to uncover and crack down on underground networks that commit crimes for extremist groups, and experts have worked with local banks to better scrutinise informal, large or frequent money transfers, especially to small businesses, individuals or organisations in the tribal northwest.

Internal documents from one bank, made available by Sattar, spoke of the “urgent need to strengthen due diligence” on suspicious cash transfers “to and from areas considered prone to financing illegal activities including terrorism.”

Public support for the Taliban in Karachi has generally been limited to conservative religious groups such as Jamaat-e-Islami and gritty enclaves of Pashtuns, including hundreds of thousands who have migrated from the Taliban-plagued northwest.

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