By Zia Ur Rehman
January 24, 2013
KARACHI – After the Taliban assassinated two party leaders and amid an onslaught of militant-driven violence against Pakistan’s liberal parties, the rival Awami National Party (ANP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) have united to fight terrorism, leaders of both parties say.
“We [the ANP and the MQM] are political rivals, but we stand united against extremism and terrorism,” said Bashir Jan, the ANP’s secretary-general in Sindh Province. “We have to realise that we have a common enemy that we need to combat together.”
“Friendship with the ANP is a good omen, which would help restore peace in Karachi besides removing misunderstanding between the two parties,” Pakistani Senator and MQM member Tahir Hussain Mashhadi said, referring to a stepped-up campaign by militants to assassinate or attempt to assassinate leaders in Karachi.
The longtime rival parties, who have fought bitter political battles in and around Karachi, have forged a new alliance in the aftermath of the assassinations of Manzar Imam and Bashir Ahmed Bilour.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility.
Imam’s assassination came about a month after Bilour, a seasoned ANP leader and an anti-Taliban crusader, was among nine people killed in a suicide bombing in Peshawar.
Coming Together :
After Bilour’s assassination, the MQM announced three days of mourning for the rival party’s fallen leader. And, in the wake of Imam’s killing, the ANP Sindh chapter reciprocated, with the ANP’s Karachi leadership participating in funeral prayers for him January 18.
“The ANP and MQM realised that the threat of militancy and terrorism requires a collective strategy to counter it effectively,” said Bushra Gohar, the ANP’s central vice-president and a National Assembly member.
Militancy and terrorism are the biggest threats to Pakistan’s liberal political parties, especially the ANP and the MQM, party officials and security analysts say.
Most recently, ANP local leader Muhammad Din Afridi and his nephew survived a January 20 motorcycle bombing in the Khyber Chowk area of Ittehad Town, but four passers-by were injured. Initial investigations led police to suspect TTP militants of committing the assassination attempt, media reported, citing police officials.
Besides targeting the ANP, the TTP also threatened the Urdu-speaker-dominated MQM, which openly denounces killings perpetrated by the Taliban.
Imam’s assassination was the second Taliban attack on MQM activists this month. On January 1, four men died and 40 other people were injured in a motorcycle bombing of an MQM rally near Ayesha Manzil.
“In the beginning, the militants from the tribal areas were in line with a TTP policy to use Karachi only for fundraising and rest and recuperation,” said Hakim Khan, a Pashtun tribal elder based in Karachi. “But now they seem to have changed their strategy and started targeting leaders of political parties.”
Already, law enforcement agencies, the Karachi Criminal Investigation Department (CID) chief among them, are acting on the threats and have arrested several suspected militants in an on-going crackdown on terrorism in the city.
A CID team January 9 arrested five TTP suspects in the Ittehad Town area in connection with the January 1 bombing of the MQM rally and with the August 13 slaying of four ANP members, Ghulam Shabeer Shaikh, a senior CID official, told Central Asia Online January 10.
Curbing ethno-political violence in Karachi
Political analysts see the recent unity of the ANP and the MQM against militancy as a breakthrough, saying it is a step forward in improving the deteriorating security situation of Karachi.
“It is indeed a good sign,” Abdul Waheed, head of the Karachi-based civil society group Bright Educational Society, said.
“We hope the restoration of a good relationship between the MQM and the ANP will help in curbing ethno-political violence and targeted killings in Karachi.”
Politically motivated killings and clashes were a prominent feature of insecurity and violence in Karachi in 2012, according to the Pakistan Security Report 2012, published by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies. As many as 176 incidents of ethno-political violence occurred in Karachi last year, claiming 275 lives and injuring 144 people.
Taking advantage of the ongoing ethnic violence in the city, TTP militants killed dozens of Karachi Pashtun elders and political figures or those who were travelling to Karachi from KP, especially from Swat, Yousafzai said.
“The coalition partners [the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the ANP and the MQM] are not only together against religious militancy but also ethno-political violence in the city,” Najmi Alam, Karachi secretary-general of the ruling PPP, told Central Asia Online. “We will defeat the enemy together.”