There are parts of Karachi where women cannot move around without the burqa and men cannot wear Western attire. These are the mainly Pakhtoon areas of the city, beyond what is known as Katti Pahari (Divided Mountain) which demarcates the city’s Pakhtoon and Mohajir areas.
“Its just like Afghanistan under the Taliban,” says Jamshed Dasti, a senior police official who oversees this area of the city. Dasti says that policemen do not venture in the area which is run by a Shuhra — or council of elders.
In this area, women do not come out to vote, girl students do not go out to school and more recently boys and men are forced to go to the mosque for prayers.
What makes this place more surreal is that many houses are carved out of the mountain, and are no more than little caves.
The majority are Pakhtuns from the tribal areas of Pakistan and from cities and towns of the Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province. Most of them have fleed over the years from the earthquake, from the Taliban takeover of large areas including the Swat valley, from the fighting between security forces and Taliban militants, and more recently from the floods.
For thousands of other Pakhtuns, the find security in the area which in run by the Shuhra. In exchange, the Taliban-like edicts are in force. People here insist that this is not the Taliban but local Pakhtuns who have set the rules.
In a city where only some kilometers away, women move around in public in sleeveless clothing and western clothes, such a situation can best be termed bizarre, say observers.
While the Karachi-based MQM party calls attention to the “Talibanization of Pakistan” by Pakhtoons, the main worry here is for the secular Awami National Party which claims to have the vote of the Pakhtoons in Karachi. “For them the rise of religious forces is a source of worry,” says political analyst Yusuf Khan.
Khan says that the ANP wants to appear strong against the MQM because it wants the Pakhtoons to see it as their party. But more than the MQM, it is the Taliban the party worries about now.