U.S. Embassy classified cable dated 22 April 2009
Prepared by: Karachi consul general
US embassy cable – 09KARACHI138
SINDH – THE GANGS OF KARACHI
Origin: Consulate Karachi
Created: 2009-04-22 11:52:00
Classification: Tags: PTER ASEC PGOV PK
CLASSIFIED BY CONSUL GENERAL STEPHEN FAKAN FOR REASONS 1 .4 b and d. 1. (S)
Summary: The police in Karachi are only one of several armed groups in the city, and they are probably not the most numerous or best equipped. Many neighborhoods are considered by the police to be no-go zones in which even the intelligence services have a difficult time operating. Very few of the groups are traditional criminal gangs. Most are associated with a political party, a social movement, or terrorist activity, and their presence in the volatile ethnic mix of the world,s fourth largest city creates enormous political and governance challenges.
MQM (Muttahida Quami Movement)
2. (S) The MQM is an ethnic political party of the Urdu speaking community (known as \”Mohajirs,\” which is Arabic for immigrants) that migrated from India at the time of partition; Mohajirs make up around fifty percent of the total population in Karachi. MQM is middle-class, avowedly secular, and anti-extremist (the only party to publicly protest the recent Swat Nizam-e-Adl regulations). It has a long history of clashes with the Pakistan People,s Party (PPP), which controls the Sindh province in which Karachi is located, and with the Awami National Party (ANP), which represents MQM,s rival ethnic Pashtuns.
3. (S) MQM\’s armed members, known as \”Good Friends,\” are the largest non-governmental armed element in the city. The police estimate MQM has ten thousand active armed members and as many as twenty-five thousand armed fighters in reserve. This is compared to the city\’s thirty-three thousand police officers. The party operates through its 100 Sector Commanders, who take their orders directly from the party leader, Altaf Hussain, who lives in exile in the United Kingdom. The Sector Commanders plan and monitor the activities of the armed elements. MQM\’s detractors claim these armed men are involved in extortion, assassination of political rivals, shootings at campaign rallies, and the murder of people from other ethnic communities.
4. (S) Low to middle-ranked police officials acknowledge the extortion and the likely veracity of the other charges. A senior police officer said, in the past eight years alone, MQM was issued over a million arms licenses, mostly for handguns. Post (Consulate) has observed MQM security personnel carrying numerous shoulder-fired weapons, ranging from new European AKMs to crude AK copies, probably produced in local shops. MQM controls the following neighborhoods in Karachi: Gulberg, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Korangi, Landhi, Liaquatabad, Malir, Nazimabad, New Karachi, North Nazimabad, Orangi Town, Saddar and Shah Faisal.
MQM-H (Muhajir Quami Movement-Haqiqi)
5. (S) MQM-H is a small ethnic political party that broke away from the MQM in the mid-1980s. MQM-H has its strongholds in the Landhi, Korangi and Lines Area neighborhoods of the city. The MQM regarded these areas as no-go zones when it was in power during the Musharraf presidency. As a condition for joining the Sindh government in 2003, it asked that MQM-H be eliminated. The local police and Rangers were used to crack down on MQM-H, and its leaders were put behind bars. The rank and file of MQM-H found refuge in a local religious/political party, Sunni Tehrik (see para 9). The local police believe MQM-H still maintains its armed groups in the areas of Landhi and Korangi, and that the party will re-organize itself once its leadership is released from jail.
ANP (Awami National Party – Peoples National Party)
6. (S) The ANP represents the ethnic Pashtuns in Karachi. The local Pashtuns do possess personal weapons, following the tribal traditions of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), and there are indications they have begun to organize formal armed groups. With the onset of combat operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in August 2008, a growing number of Pashtuns fled south to swell the Pashtun ranks of what already is the largest Pashtun city in the world. This has increased tensions between ANP and MQM.
7. (S) If rhetoric of the police and the ANP leadership is to be believed, these armed elements may be preparing to challenge MQM control of Karachi. In March, the Karachi Police Special Branch submitted a report to the Inspector General of Police in which it mentioned the presence of \”hard-line\” Pashtuns in the Sohrab Goth neighborhood. Sohrab Goth is located in the Northeast of the city.
8. (S) The report said this neighborhood was becoming a no-go area for the police. The report went on to claim the Pashtuns are involved in drug trafficking and gun running and if police wanted to move in the area they had to do so in civilian clothing. A senior member of the Intelligence Bureau in Karachi recently opined that the ANP would not move against MQM until the next elections, but the police report ANP gunmen are already fighting MQM gunmen over protection-racket turf.
ST (Sunni Tehrik – Sunni Movement)
9. (S) ST is a small religious/political group with a presence in small pockets of Karachi. The group has only managed to win a handful of council seats in local elections but militarily it is disproportionably powerful because of the influx of MQM-H gunmen after the government crack-down on MQM-H (see above). ST has organized the party and its gunmen along the lines of MQM by dividing its areas of influence into sectors and units, with sector and unit commanders. ST and MQM have allegedly been killing each other\’s leadership since the April 2006 Nishtar Park bombing that killed most of ST\’s leadership. ST blames MQM for the attack. There appears to have been a reduction in these targeted killings since 2008.
PPP (Pakistan People\’s Party)
10. (S) PPP is a political party led by, and centered on the Bhutto family. The party enjoys significant support in Karachi, especially among the Sindhi and Baloch populations. Traditionally, the party has not run an armed wing, but the workers of the PPP do possess weapons, both licensed and unlicensed. With PPP in control of the provincial government and having an influential member in place as the Home Minister, a large number of weapons permits are currently being issued to PPP workers. A police official recently told Post that he believes, given the volume of weapons permits being issued to PPP members, the party will soon be as well-armed as MQM.
Gangs in Lyari: Arshad Pappoo (AP) and Rahman Dakait (RD)
11. (S) AP and RD are two traditional criminal gangs that have been fighting each other since the turn of the century in the Lyari district of Karachi. Both gangs gave their political support to PPP in the parliamentary elections. The gangs got their start with drug trafficking in Lyari and later included the more serious crimes of kidnapping and robbery in other parts of Karachi. (Comment: Kidnapping is such a problem in the city that the Home Secretary once asked Post for small tracking devices that could be planted under the skin of upper-class citizens and a satellite to track the devices if they were kidnapped. End comment.)
12. (S) Each group has only about 200 hard-core armed fighters but, according to police, various people in Lyari have around 6,000 handguns, which are duly authorized through valid weapons permits. In addition, the gangs are in possession of a large number of unlicensed AK-47 rifles, Rocket Propelled Grenade launchers and hand grenades. The weapons are carried openly and used against each other as well as any police or Rangers who enter the area during security operations. During police incursions, the gang members maintain the tactical advantage by using the narrow streets and interconnected houses. There are some parts of Lyari that are inaccessible to law enforcement agencies.
13. (S) A Senior IB officer recently opined to Post that \”All Pashtuns in Karachi are not Taliban, but all Taliban are Pashtuns.\” The size, scope and nature of \”Talibanization\” and true Taliban terrorist activity in Karachi is difficult to pin down, but Post has increasingly received anecdotes about women, even in more upscale neighborhoods, being accosted by bearded strangers and told to wear headscarves in public.
14. (S) There has not been a terrorist attack against U.S. interests in Karachi since 2006. There are several theories about Taliban activity in Karachi and why they have not staged an attack in so long. One school of thought has it that MQM is too powerful and will not allow the Pashtuns to operate in Karachi, and this, combined with the ease of operating elsewhere in Pakistan, makes Karachi an undesirable venue. Another line of thinking claims Karachi is too valuable as a hiding place and place to raise money.
15. (S) In April, the police in Karachi arrested Badshah Din Mahsud, from their Most Wanted Terrorist list, known as the Red Book. It is alleged he was robbing banks in Karachi at the behest of Baitullah Mehsud, from the NWFP, and the money was being used to finance terrorist activity. There is a large body of threat reporting which would seem to indicate the equipment and personnel for carrying out attacks are currently in place in Karachi. In April, Karachi CID told Post they had arrested five men from NWFP who were building VBIEDs and planed to use them in attacks against Pakistani government buildings; including the CID office located behind the US Consulate. CID also claimed they had reliable information that suicide vests had been brought to Karachi.
16. (S) Comment: The importance of maintaining stability in Karachi cannot be over-emphasized. Traditionally, Karachi was at the center of lawlessness, criminal activity, and politically-inspired violence in Pakistan. But with the security situation in the rest of the country deteriorating, the megalopolis has become something of an island of stability. Nevertheless, it still has a number of well-armed political and religious factions and the potential to explode into violent ethnic and religious conflict given the wrong circumstances.
17. (S) The PPP,s decision to include MQM in coalition governments in Sindh Province and in the federal government has helped preclude a return to the PPP-MQM violence of the 1990,s. But the potential for MQM-ANP conflict is growing as Pashtuns challenge Mohajir political dominance and vie for control of key economic interests, such as the lucrative trucking industry. Any sign that political violence is returning to Karachi, especially if it is related to the growing strength of conservative Pashtun \”Taliban,\” will send extremely negative shockwaves through the society and likely accelerate the flight from Pakistan of the business and intellectual elite of the society. End comment. FAKAN