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Rough Cut
Pakistan: Karachi's Invisible Enemy
City potent refuge for Taliban fighters


sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

A long-time contributor to FRONTLINE/World, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy was born in Karachi and is the first woman in her family to receive a Western education. Most recently she has reported on the growing Taliban threat in her home city and investigated the plight of Pakistan's children caught in the war between militants and the Pakistan Army.

Watch Video

Length: 6:52

This video report was produced in association with The New York Times.

Karachi, a city of 17 million people, is Pakistan's commercial capital. It is dominated by the ethnic group the "Mohajirs," who migrated from India at the time of partition in 1947.

Traditionally, the city has always welcomed migrants from across the region who come here for work. Pathans or Pashtuns as they are more commonly known, the ethnic group that dominates the North West Frontier Province, began migrating in large numbers to Karachi from the Pakistan-Afghanistan tribal belt in the 1950s, seeking economic security.

Today, they are the city's second-largest ethnic group, after the Mohajirs, dominating the transport and clothing retail industry. By some estimates, there are close to 7 million Pashtuns in Karachi.

Initially, the Pashtuns settled in two neighborhoods, Pathan Colony and Sohrab Goth, but as their numbers grew, they spread in to new neighborhoods rubbing alongside other ethnicities. By the mid-1990s, the city was plagued by ethnic tensions, primarily between Pashtuns and Mohajirs. The accidental death of a Mohajir girl, hit by a minibus thought to be driven by a Pashtun, ignited months of Pashtun-Mohajir violence causing at least 1,000 deaths in the city. Since then, there have been other flare ups and contentions between the two groups.

The Mohajirs have long claimed that the Pashtuns are involved in land grabbing and smuggling operations in the city. The Pashtuns for their part say that under the Pakistani constitution their citizens are free to move to any part of the country, so they are well within their rights.

Since 9/11 however, the group's tenuous relationship with the city has taken another turn. The Mohajirs, who are mostly affiliated with the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), one of Pakistan's more progressive center-left parties, launched an anti-Talibanization campaign across the city. This angered the Pashtuns, who felt they were being singled out for victimization. (A note about the video report: The Taliban fighter I interview is not a member of the Pashtuns from the Northwest Frontier Province but from a different tribal area of Baluchistan.)

Two months ago, internally displaced peoples (IDPs) began pouring into Karachi from the Swat Valley. The MQM and other political parties insisted that the refugees be confined to camps established by the government outside the city.

When I talked to Nasreen Jalil, Karachi's deputy mayor, recently, she said the Taliban have definitely infiltrated the city since the September 11 attacks. "They are here, they are hiding in various neighborhoods, and we need to act against them," she said.

Another official, Mazahir Amir Khan, a member of the provincial assembly and the MQM, told me that the government cannot track the displaced people because they now live amongst the local population.

"How do we know who is a genuine IDP and who is a Taliban? The government can only keep tabs if people are confined to a certain area," he said.

When U.S. Adm. Mike Mullen toured one of the largest displacement camps this week, he said the Pakistan Army had regained the upper hand in Swat, paving the way for residents to return. As the first handfuls of wary civilians head back under a guarantee that the Pakistan Army will stay in Swat to protect them, there remains close to 2 million others who fled the region in February when the peace deal broke down.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's largest city faces rising tensions over how to deal with the thousands of Swat residents who are in Karachi and the militants who may be among them. The most recent skirmishes in the city between the two rival ethnic groups left more than 30 dead.

-- Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

For more video stories from Pakistan, including recent reports from Obaid-Chinoy from Swat Valley, visit Conflict Zones, where you will find all our coverage from the region.

Comments for this page are closed.


asif mirza - karachi, sindh
mohajirs are killing pashtoons in karachi becouse mohajirs want pashtoons out of the city so they Mohajirs can control the city

Ali Rashid - Karachi, Sindh
A totally baseless and false propaganda by the Reporter. The man in the veil did not even look/sound like a Pakhtun.

Karachi, Sindh
As far as Karachi and Karachi's people are concerned, they are very noble and free from all sorts of bad politics. They work hard to try to run their city and always welcome those come here in order to make money.

We will bear it as we have done for a long time. But now circumstances have changed. A new element has come, which is called the TALIBAN. They kill Karachi people, they want to occupy Karachi, they want to destroy Karachi business. Bbasically, they want to live a stone age life as they have been living for decades.

Talibanization is a danger for us here.

zephyr - karachi, Sindh
Karachi is the lifeline of Sindh. It has always been a hub of economic activities generating 75 percent of revenue for the country. For years people from all over the country have swarmed in, searching for work and jobs. Karachi has now become over-crowded. It has less jobs, food and amenities, like water and electricity to share. It is now like an over-crowded ship, which is slowly sinking yet passengers continue to pour in.

For people migrating from other provinces, it is a matter of days to secure a Karachi domicile and NIC and then they claim jobs and electoral benefits. The task is easy for them because their 'men' are in all the government and business departments. Once entering Sindh, making a home is no problem. Furthermore free boarding houses in the shape of "madarsas" are everywhere to board them.

Government is giving assurance that proper registration of these IDPs is being carried out and there are no Taliban with them. But till now the procedure of registration has failed and Talibans under the shelter of IDP's are easily sneaking into the city. The questions are, will government be able to curtail them in camps? And finally when the war is over, will they ever return back?

Let me remind you that during the Afghan war, Afghan refuges were accepted by the then Gen. Zia's regime. They brought with them arms and drugs. Today thousands of Afghanis roam the streets of Karachi and other cities 'openly' as legal citizens of Pakistan. They refuse to go back to their home country because they feel that they are in safe heaven here.

The generosity and hospitality of the people of Sindh is an acclaimed fact. As in every natural disaster, people of Sindh have always stood with their brothers. The MQM in particular along with other social welfare organizations always played a model role in these situations, they remain a steps ahead in dispatching relief goods to the effected areas as well as sending their voluntary medical teams and workers.

People of Sindh acknowledge the sorrows and hardships of IDPs and pledge to continue their moral and monetary support for them. But their rehabilitation in Sindh province at the cost of their endurance is unacceptable.

I know that 99 percent of the Taliban are Pakthuns, but not all Pakthuns are Talibans. Two glaring facts. The supposedly Taliban in black on the cover was not a Pakthun; being a Pakhtun I can smell one. Secondly, the lady in the camp was not a Pakthun either!

One thing I agree upon, why would a true IDP move all the way to Karachi? Another thing; Karachi is still Pakistan and Pukhtuns are still Pakistanis.

It's not a matter of being merciful and generous, it's actually the amount of pressure Karachi can take. Do we have enough resources to fulfil the current demand and supply of the city? The answer is NO. Then how can we further unbalance the demand and supply equation in the city?

We have other cities in the country where these IDPs can be accommodated, Lahore and Peshawar being two major cities. We Karachis have to strive to get the basic facilities, like light, water, etc, despite paying taxes. For God''s sake have mercy on us and let us share our meager resources amongst ourselves! We simply cannot afford any more mercies...let other cities and provinces contribute too!

Furqan Khan - Karachi, Sindh
An eye opener article, which covers the really threat to Karachi, which is to our rights and freedoms.

That is exactly what is being said by MQM, the only political party that really in a true spirit represents the voices, feelings and emotions of this beautiful city.

We do understand what the Taliban sort of people represent, who know much less about the teaching of Islam and Muhammad. The only thing these fraudulent, brutal hard line Talibans know is hatred.

What is going to happen to this city? The people of Karachi are aware of this and there may come a time when we have to fight the terrorism in our own city.

We once again would alert the government about the potential crisis of Taliban hitting this peaceful city.

U.S., U.K. NATO and all the International Community should take steps to save the people of Karachi from these Talibans as the government of Pakistan and its agencies in the past have relations with them. The Taliban can be used to dilute and eliminate the power of Urdu speaking Majority of Karachi.

I urge the International community to take steps and pressurize the Pakistani government to save Karachi from the Taliban animals.

siddiqi sanaullah - karachi, pakistan
Talban and Talibanization is a danger for us here. Stop this as soon as possible.


Ammad Hamid - Karachi, Sindh
When I talked to Nasreen Jalil, Karachi's deputy mayor, recently, first of all, he said please correct this mistake: This is not a new problem for us Karachians, we have been observing it for long time. Mr. Altaf Hussain also pointed that a problem is occurring but no one is noticing it. Now it is useless to cry over the spilled milk. The saying is nip the evil in the bud, but because we didn't take it seriously, the same threat is present on the edge of IDPs. Mr. Altaf Hussain advised putting the refugees in a separate place -- i.e. out of city -- but this again was not taken seriously. Now Karachians have to pay for it. May Allah protect and help us. -- Amen.

This is again typical Muhajir mentality. Despite the Western education and journalism training, the reporter provides propaganda against the Pushtun in Karachi and in this region. Sharmeen i am sorry this is your vision.

You have only reported what a few MQM officials have to say the refugee siuation. It is the demographic change that is the foremost factoron people's minds. Has anyone seen the terrible conditions the children of poor people are living in in Karachi, picking garbage all over the city and eating the leftover food in the same garbage bins? Karachi's elites must see the lurking rebellion of these people in the near future and start behaving as human being and stop exploiting the situation.