In the run-up to Pakistan’s general elections in May 2013, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants displayed their might in the country’s largest city of Karachi. On May 3, the TTP assassinated Sadiq Zaman Khattak, a candidate from the secular Awami National Party (ANP).[1] On May 11, election day, TTP militants tried to assassinate ANP candidate Amanullah Mehsud by detonating a powerful bomb that killed 11 people in the city’s Landhi neighborhood.[2]

Far from their traditional home in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KP), TTP militants have increasingly moved to this bustling commercial hub to escape Pakistani military operations and U.S. drone strikes. Although the TTP’s movement to Karachi has been visible since at least 2009,[3] the group began to escalate violent activities in June 2012, threatening to destabilize one of Pakistan’s preeminent cities—home to the country’s central bank and stock exchange.[4] Today, evidence suggests that entire Pashtun neighborhoods in Karachi are under the influence of TTP militants.[5] In October 2012, a report submitted to Pakistan’s Supreme Court claimed that 7,000 TTP militants have infiltrated Karachi.[6]

This article identifies the various TTP factions operating in the city, explains how the TTP uses extortion to raise funds in Karachi, shows how the group is targeting secular political parties and law enforcement, and then reveals the implications of these developments. It finds that the TTP has increased its influence in Karachi and is escalating violent activities—a trend that could negatively impact Karachi’s economy and put the city’s security at risk.

The TTP’s Karachi Network
Since 2009, TTP militants have moved from FATA and the KP to Karachi. Security analysts attribute this migration to Pakistan’s military operations in the country’s northwest as well as increasingly frequent and deadly U.S. drone strikes in FATA.[7] Karachi is attractive to the TTP because it is Pakistan’s largest city—with approximately 20 million people—and is home to many different ethnic and linguistic groups, making it easier to operate clandestinely.[8] More significantly, approximately five million Pashtuns[9]—the ethnic group to which almost all Taliban belong—live in Karachi, and tribal militants can find sanctuaries in Pashtun neighborhoods.[10] A number of other militant groups operate in the city—such as Jaysh-i-Muhammad, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Jammatul Furqan, Harkat-ul-Jihad-Islami, and Jundullah—some of which are sectarian in nature and generally share the TTP’s more radical outlook.[11] In the early stages of the TTP’s movement to Karachi, the group’s primary purpose was for fundraising, as well as rest and recuperation.[12] Beginning in June 2012, however, the group escalated its violent fundraising tactics and increasingly attacked secular politicians and law enforcement personnel.[13]

As TTP militants moved into Karachi, they organized into three factions: the Mehsud faction, the Swat faction and the Mohmand faction. All three factions operate from Pashtun neighborhoods in Karachi.[14] These areas include Ittehad Town, Mingophir, Kunwari Colony, Pashtun Abad, Pipri, Gulshen-e-Buner, Metrovele, Pathan Colony, Frontier Colony and settlements in the Sohrab Goth area.[15]

The most powerful TTP faction in Karachi is dominated by the Mehsud tribe of South Waziristan. The TTP Mehsud faction in Karachi is organizationally divided into two groups: one is loyal to TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud, and the second one reports to TTP South Waziristan chief Waliur Rehman Mehsud.[16] Both leaders belong to the Mehsud tribe, and within the TTP they each have their own militias but share the same agenda.[17]

The leadership structure of the TTP Mehsud faction in Karachi is relatively unknown. TTP militants and Mehsud tribal elders, however, claim that Hakimullah Mehsud appointed Qari Yar Muhammad as the TTP’s Karachi chief and Sher Khan as the operational commander.[18] Waliur Rehman Mehsud reportedly appointed Khan Zaman Mehsud as his Karachi commander.[19] Other Karachi commanders for Waliur Rehman’s faction include Naimatullah Mehsud, Abid Mehsud and Ghazan Gul.[20] Naimatullah Mehsud, the chief for Sohrab Goth, was killed in the Lasi Goth area of Sohrab Goth during a Pakistani paramilitary operation on April 5, 2013.[21] His successor is unknown.

Both TTP Mehsud factions are active in Mehsud tribe dominated suburban neighborhoods in Karachi.[22] Before June 2012, these militants operated under the cover of political and religious parties to avoid the attention of law enforcement agencies, but now they have brazenly formed several organizations in Pashtun neighborhoods. These organizations, such as the Sohrab Goth-based Insaf Aman Committee (Committee for Justice and Peace), are increasingly arbitrating small disputes among Mehsud tribesmen over property, family feuds, and business matters according to Shari`a (Islamic law).[23] Due to the long delays of working within Pakistan’s state judicial system, some find the TTP’s arbitration methods more attractive.[24]

Another Taliban faction in Karachi is largely comprised of militants from the Swat Valley who are loyal to TTP Swat chief Maulana Fazlullah. The commander for the Swat militants in Karachi is unknown, but anti-Taliban elders in Swat allege that the Karachi-based group is mainly led by Ibn-e-Aqeel (also known as Khog) and Sher Muhammad (also known as Yaseen).[25] Both of these men are wanted by the authorities in Swat. TTP commander Ibn-e-Amin established the Karachi chapter of the TTP’s Swat faction three and a half years ago in the tribal areas.[26] A U.S. drone killed Ibn-e-Amin in the Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency in December 2010.[27]

Beginning in 2011, Swat militants killed dozens of anti-Taliban elders and political figures from Swat who were traveling to or living in Karachi.[28] In June 2012, however, they began to kill local ANP leaders in Karachi as well.[29] Sher Shah Khan, a parliamentarian elected from Swat, alleged in 2012 that “a number of other Swati political and social figures have also been killed in the streets of Karachi by militants loyal to TTP Swat chief Maulana Fazlullah.”[30]  Unlike the Mehsud faction, however, the Swat faction does not offer arbitration services to settle family and business disputes in Karachi.[31]

The Mohmand chapter of the TTP has also formed its own faction in Karachi, where it primarily extorts workers who have families in Mohmand Agency.[32] TTP Mohmand chief Abdul Wali (popularly known as Omar Khalid) and spokesman Ikramullah Mohmand developed the network to raise money.[33] Qari Shakeel, the deputy to Abdul Wali, calls the Karachi workers himself, threatening to kill their relatives in Mohmand if they refuse to pay protection money.[34] The network, led by TTP commander Haleem Syed in Karachi, has already killed several traders who refused to pay.[35]

TTP Extortion Schemes in Karachi
Since June 2012, the TTP factions in Karachi have become more brazen and violent. Dozens of truckers in Karachi whose families live in South Waziristan, Mohmand and Khyber tribal agencies have paid tens of thousands of dollars during the last year to free their family members from TTP militants.[36] As part of these extortion rackets, TTP militants often threaten a Karachi-based worker, saying that their fellow militants in FATA will kidnap or kill the worker’s family unless “protection” or ransom money is paid. Demands range from $10,000 to $50,000.[37] Many of these incidents go unreported due to threats from TTP militants.[38] In addition to these extortion rackets and kidnap-for-ransom schemes, Pashtun truckers who carry supplies from the port of Karachi on the Indian Ocean to NATO forces in Afghanistan have been forced to pay thousands of dollars in protection money to avoid being targeted by the TTP.[39]

Some argue that the TTP escalated its fundraising efforts due to a shortage of money in the wake of anti-terrorism financing measures taken by Pakistani authorities, which have restricted the TTP’s sources of income from abroad.[40] In response, TTP leaders in the tribal regions reportedly directed their Karachi-based operatives to collect funds through extortion, kidnap-for-ransom, as well as bank heists.[41] In the first four months of 2013, for example, 11 bank robberies netted approximately $800,000, and authorities believe that most of the robberies were aimed at helping the TTP as well as other groups such as Lashkar-i-Jhangvi.[42]

The TTP leadership in FATA monitors the fundraising campaign closely, and has punished operatives who embezzle funds. In early 2013, TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud reportedly ordered his men to kill his former Karachi leader, Sher Zaman Mehsud, for stealing money that was collected through extortion and bank robberies.[43]

Political Killings and Attacks on Law Enforcement
During the past year, the TTP has increased operations targeting secular political parties and law enforcement personnel. In June 2012, TTP operatives sent a message to the ANP’s local leaders demanding that they quit the party, take down ANP flags and posters, and close their offices.[44] According to the ANP, the TTP has killed 70 ANP leaders in Karachi since that warning.[45] Approximately 44 ANP party offices have been closed across the city, and several party leaders have left Karachi and moved to Islamabad due to persistent TTP threats.[46] In addition to targeting the ANP, the TTP has also threatened the secular Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a political party that largely represents the Urdu-speaking Muslim community.[47]

The TTP has not, however, targeted Karachi’s religious parties, such as Jamiat-i-Ulama-i-Islam-Fazlur (JUI-F). According to JUI-F candidate Mullah Karim Abid, who spoke to reporters before the May 11 polls, their campaign was not affected by the Taliban.[48] When asked about the TTP’s strong-arm tactics in the city, he replied, “Taliban? What Taliban? There are no real Taliban on the ground. All these things are fabricated by authorities.”[49]

During the recent election campaign, TTP militants attacked rallies and offices of the ANP, MQM and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in various parts of Karachi, killing and injuring dozens of people.[50] The TTP placed pamphlets at mosques and at polling stations, warning Pakistanis not to vote for the ANP, PPP and MQM candidates.[51] The group assassinated an ANP candidate on May 3, and tried to assassinate an ANP candidate on election day.[52]

TTP militants in Karachi are also targeting law enforcement. Police believe that the TTP has a “hit list” that includes police officers who have been involved in the arrests and deaths of TTP commanders and militants.[53] These police officials include Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Chaudhry Aslam Khan, Superintendent of Police Mazhar Mashwani, SSP Raja Omar Khitab, SSP Khurram Waris and SSP Farooq Awan.[54] Taliban militants have attacked the Sohrab Goth and Mangophir police stations several times, while dozens of law enforcement personnel have been killed in areas of Karachi under TTP influence.[55] According to former Sindh Police Chief Fayyaz Leghari, TTP militants and other banned outfits such as Lashkar-i-Jhangvi killed 27 personnel from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Karachi police between November 1 and December 15, 2012.[56]

The TTP’s escalating violence in Karachi has major security and political implications for Pakistan. Media reports suggest that of the 20 million people living in Karachi, roughly one million live in neighborhoods where the TTP has a presence.[57] Police suspect that Taliban militants in Karachi operate in small cells, each consisting of 10-15 militants.[58] If the group’s attacks on secular society and law enforcement continue, it could threaten stability in a city that earns 60-70% of Pakistan’s national revenue.[59]

On the political front, the Taliban’s growing strength in Karachi will weaken Pakistan’s more secular political parties, especially the anti-Taliban ANP and MQM.[60] The ANP leadership claims that TTP pressure and attacks in the lead-up to election day prevented them from openly contesting the polls in Karachi, and they were forced to limit outreach activities.[61] Perhaps partly as a result of this intimidation, the ANP, which had won two seats out of 42 in Karachi in the 2008 elections, lost both of its provincial assembly seats.[62] The PPP lost two national and three provincial assembly seats that it had won in previous elections as well.[63]

Therefore, if the TTP’s Karachi network grows, it could weaken the local economy, constrain Karachi’s secular parties, and threaten the city’s overall security.[64]

Pakistani security experts, politicians, and law enforcement all agree that the TTP wants to tighten its grip on Karachi.[65] The government is still in the position to roll-back the TTP’s spreading Karachi network, yet Karachi’s police force continues to downplay the TTP threat to the city, insisting that the number of tribal militants operating in Karachi is low.[66] Analysts suspect that the police want to avoid the perception that they have failed to maintain law-and-order in the city. If Pakistan fails to confront these developments soon, the TTP’s Karachi network will weaken the city’s overall security and stability, and this will have a national impact on Pakistan.

Nevertheless, although the TTP’s influence in Karachi is alarming, the city will not “fall” to the Taliban. Karachi is home to powerful liberal secular elements, as well as progressive political parties such as the MQM, PPP and ANP.[67] It does not share a border with either Afghanistan or the tribal areas, which will at least slow the TTP’s ability to infiltrate the city. These factors will help restrain the TTP from rapid advances.

Zia Ur Rehman is a journalist and researcher who covers militancy and politics in Pakistan. He has written for The Friday Times, The Jamestown Foundation, The News International, The National and has contributed to the New York Times. He is also the author of the book Karachi in Turmoil.

[1] “Taliban Claim Responsibility: ANP Candidate, Son Shot Dead in Karachi,” Dawn, May 4, 2013.

[2] “Poll-Related Violence Claims 38 Lives,” Dawn, May 12, 2013.

[3] For the past decade, Afghan and Pakistani Taliban factions have used Karachi for fundraising purposes. After Pakistan’s military operations in the Swat Valley in 2009—as well as operations in South Waziristan Agency and Mohmand Agency—TTP militants expanded operations in Karachi. The scale of their operations increased dramatically beginning in June 2012.

[4] Karachi generates at least 60% of national revenue. For details, see Declan Walsh and Zia Ur Rehman, “Taliban Spread Terror in Karachi as the New Gang in Town,” New York Times, March 28, 2013; Zia Ur Rehman, “Taliban Bringing Their War to Streets of Karachi,” Friday Times, August 10, 2012; “Karachi Contributes 60-70pc of Revenue,” The Nation, July 25, 2010.

[5] Rehman, “Taliban Bringing Their War to Streets of Karachi.”

[6] “SC Orders IG Sindh, Officials to Submit Report on 7,000 Taliban Infiltrating Karachi,” Express Tribune, October 3, 2012; Fahim Zaman and Naziha Syed Ali, “Taliban in Karachi: The Real Story,” Dawn, March 31, 2013; “Taliban Flex Muscle in Karachi Ahead of Pakistan Vote,” Agence France-Presse, May 11, 2013.

[7] Syed Aarfeen, “Karachi Main Security Idray Baihis, Mukhbar Qatal, Intelligence Khatm Hogai,” Daily Jang [Karachi], February 2, 2013; Ali Arqam, “The Taliban in Karachi?” Pakistan Today, April 4, 2013; personal interview, Chaudhry Aslam Khan, senior Karachi police official, Karachi, Pakistan, February 25, 2013.

[8] Salman Masood, “New Exodus Fuels Concerns in Pakistan,” New York Times, May 15, 2009; personal interview, Chaudhry Aslam Khan, senior Karachi police official, Karachi, Pakistan, February 25, 2013.

[9] Farrukh Saleem, “Why Karachi is Bleeding,” The News International, October 21, 2010.

[10] Personal interview, Sohail Khattak, a journalist based in Karachi who has covered militancy in the city extensively, Karachi, Pakistan, April 12, 2013.

[11] Amir Mir, “Karachi Taken Hostage by 25 Jihadi Groups,” The News International, November 5, 2012.

[12] Zia Ur Rehman, “Taliban Recruiting and Fundraising in Karachi,” CTC Sentinel 5:7 (2012); personal interview, Chaudhry Aslam Khan, senior Karachi police official, Karachi, Pakistan, February 25, 2013; personal interview, TTP associate in Karachi who identified himself as “Mohsin,” Karachi, Pakistan, April 8, 2013.

[13] Personal interview, Shahi Syed, Sindh president of Awami National Party and a member of Pakistani Senate, Karachi, Pakistan, April 7, 2013. Syed said that before June 2012, there were only a few cases of the TTP threatening Pashtun traders and leaders at the organizational level. For more details, see Zia Ur Rehman, “Taliban Collect Funds Through Extortion, Forced Zakat, Officials Say,” Central Asia Online, August 1, 2012; personal interview, TTP associate in Karachi who identified himself as “Mohsin,” Karachi, Pakistan, April 8, 2013.

[14] Zia Ur Rehman, “Karachi Police Continue Crackdown on TTP,” Central Asia Online, December 3, 2012.

[15] Personal interview, Sohail Khattak, a journalist based in Karachi who has covered militancy in the city extensively, Karachi, Pakistan, April 12, 2013; Aarfeen.

[16] Personal interview, TTP associate in Karachi who identified himself as “Mohsin,” Karachi, Pakistan, April 8, 2013.

[17] Some media reports suggest that the two leaders are on poor terms due to prior disputes over TTP leadership succession. See “A New Pakistani Taliban Chief Emerging?” Dawn, December 6, 2012.

[18] Personal interview, TTP associate in Karachi who identified himself as “Mohsin,” Karachi, Pakistan, April 8, 2013; personal interview, former leader of the ANP from the Mehsud clan, Karachi, Pakistan, April 12, 2013.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] “Taliban Commander Killed in Sohrab Goth Raid,” The News International, April 6, 2013; “‘TTP Man’ Killed in Lasi Goth,” Dawn, April 6, 2013.

[22] Zaman and Ali.

[23] “‘TTP Man’ Arrested in Sohrab Goth,” Dawn, April 11, 2013; Salis bin Perwaiz, “‘Commander’ who Recruited 50 Youths for TTP Arrested,” The News International, April 11, 2013.

[24] Personal interview, Ali Muhammad, Pashtun transporter in Karachi, Karachi, Pakistan, April 12, 2013; “‘TTP Man’ Arrested in Sohrab Goth”; “Pakistan Taliban Setup Sharia Courts in Karachi,” The News Tribe, January 31, 2013; Ahmed Wali Mujeeb, “How the Taliban Gripped Karachi,” BBC, March 21, 2013.

[25] Zia Ur Rehman, “Karachi Targeted Killings of Pashtuns Tied to Militant Groups,” Central Asia Online, April 1, 2011.

[26] Personal interview, TTP associate in Karachi who identified himself as “Mohsin,” Karachi, Pakistan, April 8, 2013.

[27] “Extremist Commander Killed in Khyber,” The News International, December 20, 2010.

[28] Rehman, “Karachi Targeted Killings of Pashtuns Tied to Militant Groups.”

[29] Personal interview, Shahi Syed, Sindh president of Awami National Party and a member of Pakistani Senate, Karachi, Pakistan, April 7, 2013; Javed Mahmood, “TTP Warns ANP Workers to Quit Party,” Central Asia Online, July 7, 2013; Sohail Khattak, “Settling Scores: Taliban on a Killing Spree in Karachi,” Express Tribune, August 16, 2012.

[30] Rehman, “Taliban Bringing their War to Streets of Karachi.”

[31] Personal interview, TTP associate in Karachi who identified himself as “Mohsin,” Karachi, Pakistan, April 8, 2013.

[32] Ali Arqam, “The Taliban in Karachi?” Pakistan Today, April 4, 2013.

[33] Rehman, “Taliban Bringing Their War to Streets of Karachi.”

[34] Ibid.

[35] Personal interview, timber trader in Karachi from Mohmand Agency, Karachi, Pakistan, April 10, 2013.

[36] Rehman, “Taliban Recruiting and Fundraising in Karachi.”

[37] The ransom amounts are reportedly negotiable, but payment is not. See Walsh and Rehman.

[38] Personal interview, Pashtun transporter in Karachi, Karachi, Pakistan, April 12, 2013.

[39] Ibid.; Saeed Shah, “Sprawling Karachi Becomes an Islamic Extremist Melting Pot,” McClatchy Newspapers, June 9, 2010.

[40] Personal interview, Chaudhry Aslam Khan, senior Karachi police official, Karachi, Pakistan, February 25, 2013; Javed Mahmood, “Pakistani Banks to Issue Alerts About Suspicious Transactions,” Central Asia Online, September 9, 2012.

[41] Saud Khan, “Rs 76.4m Looted in 11 Bank Heists This Year,” Daily Times, May 2, 2013; “‘Taliban Bank Robber’ Held,” The News International, May 8, 2013.

[42] Ibid.

[43] “Karachi: Taliban nay Raqam ke Tanazeh par apnay commander ka sar qalam kardia, Express to video Mosool,” Daily Express [Karachi], March 11, 2013.

[44] Maqbool Ahmed and Mansoor Khan, “Troubled North-West Comes to Town,” Herald, December 16, 2012.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Personal interview, Shahi Syed, Sindh president of Awami National Party and a member of Pakistani Senate, Karachi, Pakistan, April 7, 2013.

[47] Urdu-speaking Muslims migrated to Pakistan when the country became independent from the British in 1947, and they largely settled in Karachi and Hyderabad in Sindh Province. The MQM has openly denounced the TTP in the past. See Zahir Shah Sherazi, “Pakistan Taliban Threaten to Target MQM,” Dawn, November 2, 2012; “Pakistani Taliban Claim Responsibility for MQM MPA’s Killing,” Dawn, January 17, 2013.

[48] “Taliban Flex Muscle in Karachi Ahead of Pakistan Vote.”

[49] Ibid.

[50] “Taliban Attack on ANP Meeting Kills Ten in Karachi,” Dawn, April 26, 2013; Imran Kazmi, “Attacks on MQM, PPP in Karachi; Five Killed,” Dawn, April 28, 2013.

[51] “Plan B for ANP Candidates: Live the Country,” Express Tribune, May 11, 2013.

[52] Mansoor Khan, “Taliban Bullets Kill ANP Candidate, Son in Karachi,” The Nation, May 4, 2013; Salis Bin Perwaiz, “Explosions Rock Karachi; Punjab, KP Remain Relatively Peaceful,” The News International, May 12, 2013.

[53] Zia Ur Rehman, “Karachi Police Determined to Eliminate Terror Network,” Central Asia Online, December 12, 2012.

[54] Personal interview, Chaudhry Aslam Khan, senior Karachi police official, Karachi, Pakistan, February 25, 2013; “Police Officers Were Receiving Threats from Terrorists in Karachi: Sources,” Samaa TV, September 19, 2011.

[55] Aarfeen.

[56] Zia Ur Rehman, “Karachi Police Determined to Eliminate Terror Network.”

[57] Zaman and Ali.

[58] Ibid.

[59] “Karachi Contributes 60-70pc of Revenue.”

[60] Ali K. Chishti, “Terror Threat Looms in Karachi,” Friday Times, April 12-18, 2013.

[61] Personal interview, Younas Khan, an ANP candidate contesting elections from Karachi, Karachi, Pakistan, May 10, 2013.

[62] Ibid.; Tahir Hasan Khan, “PPP and ANP Lose their Share in City,” The News International, May 13, 2013.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Personal interview, Abdul Waheed, president of Bright Education Society, an NGO working in Pashtun neighborhoods of Karachi, Karachi, Pakistan, April 16, 2013.

[65] Personal interview, Shahi Syed, Sindh president of Awami National Party and a member of Pakistani Senate, Karachi, Pakistan, April 7, 2013.

[66] Aarfeen.

[67] Personal interview, Muhammad Nafees, a Karachi-based independent security analyst, Karachi, Pakistan, April 16, 2013.

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