February 28, 2020

The war is not over for Pakistan or the US

I sighed with relief when the news broke that Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbotabad, near Islamabad – not just because well, he was dead, but because I thanked my stars as the city editor of Karachi that he wasn’t killed on my turf. Karachi has had its fair share of violence over the years and our team’s good at covering it, but digging for an OBL story would have been a nightmare.
I watched people celebrating outside the White House and thought about all the people who lost loved ones on 9/11. This was probably one of the best things the Americans could have done for them, hunt down bin Laden and kill him. In the newsroom we cracked jokes about how Obama would be re-elected for the next 20 years.
But, as I and many of my colleagues in the newsroom know, it is not that simple. Just a day ago I had helped one of our stellar reporters, Saba Imtiaz, put together the WikiLeaks information on how Karachi is or at least was al Qaeda central. We gave it a double page spread and had a special story done on a hotel downtown where all the operatives used to stay. All the major operatives transited through this city.
The battle has been won, for America, but indeed, the war is not over. A seething city like Karachi – unmapped and unmanaged by its administration – will continue to provide just the right petri dish for terrorism. Anyone can hide here, get guns and explosives and funnel money through it for any organization without being detected. It is like a city on the loose.
And I’m sure the American administration knows that much more work has yet to be done. Osama would have died at some point, either of natural causes or some other. But don’t you think he and his men expected that and prepared for it? I am not a terrorism expert at all, or a defence analyst, but the prospect, and I stress, prospect of this worries me.
Also, we have seen increasing evidence that relatively smaller militant outfits have been hooking up with one another, depending on their sectarian leanings. The pro-Shia groups and the anti-Shia groups are divided neatly. From what anti-terrorism investigators have told my reporters over the years, it is most probably the case that they abet and train each other, depending on their strengths. These outfits are the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jundullah, Sipah-e-Sahaba, Tehreek-e-Taliban etc.
Also, Karachi is just one city – what about Peshawar, Quetta, North Waziristan, the entire stretch of border with Afghanisan, Chaman? Heck, the south of the Punjab has produced the most suicide bombers this country has seen. Jhang is the place where they have emanated from.
That said, I must mention that in Karachi at least, the police have been hard at work trying to bust these networks and have managed some successes. While we were looking at the WikiLeaks data, Saba Imtiaz pointed out to me that after 2003 the number of foreign visitors dropped to Karachi because certain groups had been busted. Just recently, the new chief of Karachi police Saud Mirza told officers from across Pakistan at a seminar that they needed to coordinate more across the provinces to catch these men. I can only hope that our law-enforcement agencies – who have lost an estimated 5,000 personnel in the fight against extremism – will manage to get the funding to meet their challenges.