By Zia Ur Rehman
KARACHI – As the start of the Shia Muslim holy month of Muharram approaches on November 26, the banned militant organisations Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP) have become active again in Pakistan’s commercial capital, selecting victims on the basis of their religious sect, senior police officials and analysts say.
A string of killings
On November 14, doctor Abdul Rehman was fatally shot in his clinic in Babar Market in the Landhi area. Authorities had already suspected he belonged to a banned militant outfit. “The police have yet to confirm which group Rehman was associated with, but it is confirmed that he had once trained in Afghanistan,” Mazhar Awan, in-charge of Landhi police station, told Central Asia Online.
On the same day, Maulana Abdul Hafeez, a senior member of Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jammat (ASWJ), was killed near Nipa Chorangi, while his friend Qari Hafeez ur Rehman was wounded. ASWJ is the name that the SSP adopted after authorities banned it.
Similarly, Zain-ul-Abidin was gunned down outside his residence in the Gulshen-e-Hadeed area November 5. Zain was closely related to retired senior Justice Zawwar Hussain Jafri and had survived another attempt on his life two days earlier, police said.
On October 28, Kausar Zaidi, former secretary of the Shia Ulema Council, was gunned down in the Pakistan Chowk area, media reported.
“The possibility of sectarian grounds could not be ruled out in these killings. Nothing could be said about the affiliation of the suspects with the banned organisations as the investigations are under way,” said Javed Odho, a senior police official of Karachi East Zone.
Law enforcement agencies have found many pieces of evidence regarding the killings and will arrest the main culprits involved, he said.
64 sectarian killings in Karachi this year
Sectarian violence has reached an alarming level this year in Karachi, with at least 64 slayings so far, media report, adding that the victims include members of the Deobandi and Shia sects.
Activists from banned outfits like the LeJ, SSP and SMP carried out the majority of the recent killings, a report in Pakistan’s The News November 14 revealed, citing police investigators.
During the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) operations against the banned outfits, a number of suspected militants have been arrested, according to the report. They include Akram Lahori, Ata Rehman, Waseem Baroodi, Abdul Wahab alias Khalid and others. The two important militants (Baroodi and Lahori) were arrested in August 2010 and in July 2002, respectively. Karachi has a history of sectarian violence dating back to the 1980s and 1990s that has turned the city into a battleground, security analysts say.
With Muharram approaching, the trend of sectarian violence is alarming in a city that saw anti-Shia suicide bombings twice in late 2009 and early 2010, said Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based think tank.
One bomber killed 43 people in an Ashura procession December 28, 2009, followed by a twin bombing February 5, 2010, that targeted a Chelum procession and claimed 22 lives, media reported.
Sectarian killers target professionals from different sects, especially doctors, lawyers and government officials, Rana said, adding that recently they have been assassinating witnesses in cases of sectarian violence.
The recent killing spree is worsening Karachi’s already shaky law-and-order situation, said Brig. (ret.) Shoukat Qadir, a security analyst.
Banned sectarian militant outfits have taken advantage of pre-existing ethnic and political violence to kill each other’s workers and sympathisers, Qadir told Central Asia Online.
LeJ and SSP collaborate with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda and usually send young members from Karachi to Waziristan and Afghanistan for training and subversive activities, while SMP is a Shia militant organisation with support from abroad, said Raees Ahmed, a Karachi-based political analyst.
Banned organisations re-surface :
Law enforcement agencies have shattered those Karachi organisations’ network in the past, but the recent political violence in the city has enabled them to re-surface there, he said.
May attacks on the Saudi consulate in Karachi were an effort to re-ignite Sunni-Shia discord in Pakistan, particularly in Karachi, Raees added.
To ensure fool-proof security during Muharram, authorities will set up control rooms at the Commissioner’s House and offices of all deputy commissioners, said Karachi Commissioner Roshan Ali Sheikh, while presiding over a meeting to draft a comprehensive security plan for Muharram in collaboration with clerics and police officers.
“The government would provide all possible facilities for mourners during the sacred month,” Sheikh said, adding that the police have acquired four special vans that have video cameras and links to the central control room for monitoring the processions on the 9th and 10th days of Muharram.