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Understanding the city the Taliban never attacked

world Updated: Sep 24, 2010 01:07 IST

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The one question that most Pakistanis ask about Karachi is why is it that the Taliban has excluded it from their hit list. The city has been mercifully free from the suicide attacks that the rest of the country has been witness to.

That is not to say that the city has seen no violence. But most of this have been ethnic and sectarian strife. The Taliban have not been involved in any attacks or bombings, claims police chief Waseem Ahmed. The last time the Taliban were blamed was when there was an attack on the welcome procession of Ms Benazir Bhutto when she returned to Pakistan.

Shortly after the incident, however, the Taliban issued a rebuttal in which it said that the organisation had nothing to do with the attack. The rebuttal was unprecedented. But the message was clear. The Taliban do not want to be seen as a spoiler in Karachi.

There are a number of theories that are being put forward for this distance maintained by the Taliban.

The most popular one being that Karachi has now emerged as the second home for the Taliban and for Al Qaeda. “The extremist organisations use Karachi as a safe house,” say a police official, adding and a lot of this has to do with the silent patronage by the locals. Many point to the large Pakhtun community and Pakhtun dominated areas where these militants simple melt away.

If Taliban attacks take place in the city, says one observer, and the link is established, the goodwill that the Taliban and religious militants enjoy will be gone. But while the Taliban and its supporters may not be bombing the city, credible evidence exists that they have been behind a number of high, profile bank robberies here.

Early this year, in one of the biggest robberies an equivalent of $37 million was looted. There have also been a string of robberies over the past years.

Last year, another such hefty sum was taken from a money changer by guards who disappeared after the robbery. An intelligence official says that the money changer company’s owner then approached the Taliban to ask them why his company was looted when he was already paying large amounts to the militants. “He went to the tribal areas where about 40 per cent of his looted money was given back to him. The money even had the stamp of his company on it,” said the official who asked not to be named.

The city’s main political party, the MQM, also says that the Taliban,” has infiltrated much economic activity in the city and is now calling” the shots on a number of things. Police officials say that this is an “exaggerated claim”.

So far, these crimes seem to be rising. And local police wisdom suggests that if the culprits are indeed apprehended, the suicide attacks in the city will follow soon after.