Pakistan: Letter From Karachi
Video and Synopsis

Additional Resources:

Washington Post: Pakistani Refugee Crisis Poses Peril
The Post’s Griff Witte reports that as approximately 2 million Pakistanis are fleeing the fighting in the Swat Valley, some officials fear that refugee camps could become recruiting grounds for the Taliban.

New York Times: Pakistan's Nuclear Scenarios, U.S. Solutions (May 5, 2009)
In The New York Times blog "Room For Debate," experts debate the proper U.S. response to the conflict in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province. Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel claims that the mayor of Karachi told him that the Taliban alliance is threatening to take over the city -- the country's only major port and NATO’s logistical supply line for the war in Afghanistan.

BBC News: Karachi tense after fatal clashes (April 30, 2009)
One day after at least 32 people were killed in ethnic clashes in Karachi, paramilitary troops were out in full force to quell any further incidents. The clashes were said to be between Urdu-speaking Muslims and ethnic Pashtuns. According to the BBC, some politicians have voiced fears of Taliban infiltration of the Pashtun community.

Pakistan: Letter From Karachi
by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

While the war against the Taliban is being fought hundreds of miles away in Pakistan’s northern valleys off Swat and Buner, even in the country’s financial capital of Karachi, there is a growing fear that the Taliban might take over.

Reporter Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy recently returned to her home city to find a new sense of urgency. For years, the war against the Taliban was seen as America’s war. But no longer.

In Karachi, the police are the front line of the war against militants. They are stepping up their efforts against extremist groups who now have Pakistan’s largest city in their sights. For now, the Taliban are trying to stay below the radar. But every so often, the police flush them out, says Deputy Superintendent in Charge, Raja Omar.

“These are all bullet holes you can see,” he tells Obaid-Chinoy, as he examines the site of a militant standoff with police. “This was their hideout. All this rubble is what’s left of the terrorists’ house.”

The house was the hideout for a gang who ran a lucrative kidnap-for-ransom operation that brought in tens of thousands of dollars a year for the Taliban. When the police moved in after a tip-off, the militants put up a fight.

“They fought us for about two-and-a-half hours,” Omar recalls. “We cordoned this entire area. When they saw there was no way out, we asked them to surrender. But they didn’t want to. So they blew themselves up.”

“What kind of mentality do they have to sacrifice themselves like this?” Obaid-Chinoy asks.

“They are convinced that what they are doing is absolutely right,” Omay says.

According to Omar, it is not just Karachi’s poor slums where the militants are able to blend in. They have found a new and surprising recruiting ground -- the district of Malir. Here, families are relatively well off and are able to send their children to government schools and colleges, not the radical madrassas that typically feed the Taliban.

Ferhan is a local businessman who has lived in Malir all his life. Last year, his youngest brother, Junaid, fell under the influence off a local cleric. He suddenly left Malir to join the Taliban in the tribal belt. He was killed soon afterward by a U.S. missile in Waziristan.

“So, he’s all dressed up in a Western jacket, a suit,” Obaid-Chinoy says, looking at a picture of him. “What kind of a person was Junaid?”

“Well, he was certainly the most fashionable one in our family,” Ferhan says. “Everyone called him ‘Little One’ because he was the youngest.”

Ferhan’s brother did not fit the stereotype of the madrassa-educated Taliban recruit.

“He was very independent,” Ferhan says. “He thought that this country is not in a good way. He met some new friends. They persuaded him, and off he went. He thought he needed to defend his country. He thought he was defending Islam.”

For Obaid-Chinoy, Junaid’s story -- that of a well-off young member of the educated classes feeling compelled to fight the Taliban’s fight -- is haunting. The more the central government has been perceived to be corrupt and allied with America, the more the Taliban has positioned itself as a righteous alternative.

“This isn’t just a problem of one neighborhood, this is a problem of the entire country,” says Ferhan. “If people don’t get justice, they will look for alternatives. And then anarchy will spread.”

Recently, Ferhan’s middle class family was pulled deeper into the conflict. Another brother, Sarfaz, disappeared -- not killed, but snatched by Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency, the ISI. Ferhan says that his brother is suspected of involvement in a terrorist plot, but swears he is innocent.

The ISI has rounded up more than 1,000 Pakistanis since 2001, and continues to arrest those suspected of militant sympathies. Many are held for years without charge.

“What do you think the impact of this disappearance is going to be on the children?” Obaid-Chinoy asks Sarfaz’s wife, Asfia.

“They’re going to get up some day,” Asfia says. “They’re going to go, and they’re going to do something. If this government doesn’t do anything, these children will go some day and, you know, just go and kill somebody. They’ll just go crazy. I know that. And I’ll make them go crazy. I’ll make them do mad things if they don’t find my husband. I’ll make them do mad things.”

Hundreds of miles north of Karachi, the army is launching a spring offensive to crush the Taliban. And the people now seem to have more will to fight this war to the end.

But the battle for hearts and minds will not be easily won. Pakistan is the world’s sixth most populous country and is armed with nuclear weapons.

A nervous world is watching for signs of success against the Taliban. The alternative is unthinkable.


share your reactions

honolulu, hawaii
My thoughts on this: I hope that America would open its eyes and see how it is being lured in by the Taliban. Where is the pakistan army on this? They have enough soldiers to drive them out. Bring the US soldiers back and concentrate on our borders and allied countries. Its like trying to stop graffiti or drugs. You stop it here and it will show up elsewhere.

David Walker
Vancouver, BC

A frightening but very interesting documentary. Ms. Obaid-Chinoy is a soul of incredible courage. Many thanks to her.

Westlake Village, ca
a remarkably brave report. This third world problem -- poverty -- is now the first world's problem. Religion is the hope and curse of the poor. To see children turned into murderers at the hands of insane religious zealots makes me think that the consequence of our military and financial successes are now coming home to roost. We have to change, perhaps more than they. Great Journalism. Thank you.

Abdul Basir Kazi
Manhasset Hills, NY

Impact of recent environment (mhajir /pushton conflict) is extremely serious. This story by FRONTLINE/ PBS is a true picture of Karachi. Recently I made a very short stay in Karachi and I feel very strongly that soon a revolution is inevitable.

>p>After the shape of Pakistan is unpredictable and one can only visualize how many millions of innocent life will be effected. My prediction is that this disorder will not be possible to continue for more than 5 years. Something will happen soon. And that something is very frightening.

I hope I am wrong in my prediction but every day stories are making us wonder why most educated people of my previous homeland Karachi are falling under the influence of brain washers. These brain washers are working under the flag of their twisted religion, and showing some fake hope of justice prosperity and higher place in janah under their umbrella.

I wish we could do some thing, but every day the atmosphere is going from bad to worse for Karachi.

ramin tayebi
tustin, ca

Thank you for great work.

Houston, Texas
This should come as no surprise. My thesis is: When justice is not available, when security is not provided, and when educational opportunity is denied due to corruption -- regardless of what the religious belief may be or where in the world this happens -- people will come out in the streets and take the law in their own hands.

During the 20th Century, Communism provide that hope, now religion is doing the job. Be it Islam, Christianity or Judaism, or Hinduism. Lets not forget. We are connected, via TV, Satellite, and Internet. The world is now more connected and thus open to knowing both positive and negative.
In Pakistan, the prevalent conditions are being used by the rogues and thugs in collusion with the homegrown Taliban.

washington, dc
we owe Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy a debt of gratitude for putting herself at risk to report this. i watched this episode shell-shocked, wondering "What are we to do?" i cannot blame people for being angry at a government they feel has failed them and yet, I cannot ever support the inhumanity of the Taliban. If we fail to provide an alternative that serves the interest of the powerless, we shall all be lost.

Bedford, NH
Talibans or their mentors ie, the ulemas and mullahs, are hardcore criminals. Their so-called jihad means going on a killing spree, where as jihad is a word derived from juhd that means effort to wipe out all ills using the laws of God. Why have sympathy with these devils in disguise?

The Taliban take refuge after bomb blasts and massacres inside mosques where they hoard weapons. They are using the mosques as safe havens, which we fools hold so sacred.

The army doesn't have to use drones or bombs to kill innocents in Swat. Check inside and mark all mosques in every province and get these criminals out for they are spreading violence.

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