Originally Published 2003-10-13 09:15:33 Published on Oct 13, 2003
There are quite a few things which are known about Maulana Azam Tariq, chief of the banned Sunni extremist group, Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP), who was shot dead in broad daylight in Islamabad on October 6. What is not so well-known is that the Maulana and his organisation had a cosy working relationship with Pakistan's intelligence and security forces for more than a decade.
Maulana Azam Tariq
There are quite a few things which are known about Maulana Azam Tariq, chief of the banned Sunni extremist group, Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP), who was shot dead in broad daylight in Islamabad on October 6. What is not so well-known is that the Maulana and his organisation had a cosy working relationship with Pakistan's intelligence and security forces for more than a decade.

Sectarian violence is not new to Pakistan. It blew up in 1990 when Maulana Jhangvi, the SSP founder, was shot dead outside his home in Jhang. His killing was avenged next year by the Sunni extremists when they gunned down Iranian diplomat Sadiq Ganji in Lahore. The city had a sizeable presence of Shias, many of whom held respectable positions in society as doctors, lawyers and lecturers. In the past seven years, 3,951 persons have been killed in sectarian violence in the city-- most of the victims being Shias. The worst year was 1995 when the killings rose to 1,742-the worst months were June (276 killings) and July (233 deaths) The establishment---primarily the Army and ISI-not only looked the other way when Shia doctors, lawyers and politicians were wantonly gunned down in broad daylight in public squares but also colluded with the killers, especially those belonging to the SSP. The reason was the Afghan jihad. A large number of mujahideen (a religious nomenclature affixed to brigands of indoctrinated killers) were recruited from the SSP cadres and the seminaries that flourished in Karachi and sent to training camps in Afghanistan run by the Pakistani Army.

It was at the training camps of the North West Frontier Province and in southern Afghanistan that religious extremist groups developed links with the Taliban and other terrorist groups like the Harkat-ul Ansar and Hijbul Mujahideen. At one point, more than 25,000 recruits from 30 countries attended these training camps run by the Pak military.31 It was a relationship that benefited the sectarian outfits immensely. 32Funds for running the jihad came mostly from Saudi Arabia and Iraq, a sizeable slice of which went to the madrasas and Sunni organisations like the SSP and its splintered ally, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi led by Rias Basra whose gunning down of the Iranian counsel in 1990 started the sectarian war in Pakistan. Basra would often kill Shias in Pakistan and escape to terrorist camps across the border into Afghanistan.

There was another linkage that these religious extremist groups benefited from during their stint at the mujahideen camps that had a telling effect on present day Karachi. One of the by-products of the Afghan jihad was the birth of an international network of criminals dealing in drugs and guns. With the CIA pumping in millions of dollars and plane loads of guns and missiles for the jihadis, a conglomeration of gangsters, the tribal war lords, the ISI and Pak Army officials opened an alternate business of diverting the arms cache to markets like Darra and Karachi where sectarian and ethnic violence had created a frenzied demand for weapons. And as the US Congressional report pointed out, "the availability of weapons, primarily from supplies to the Afghan resistance, turned Karachi into a center for Islamic international terrorism involving Palestinians and a large number of people from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Africa who lived in Karachi as `Muslims'."33

What began as a cosy relationship in the battlefields of Afghanistan developed into a full-fledged network of syndicates in Pakistan, especially in Karachi which had the benefit of being a port and a primary base for various sectarian and ethnic organisations that were already engaged in criminal activities like extortion and hired killings. In fact the drug syndicates, which were already in existence before the jihad, found sectarian organisations like the SSP and ethnic ones like the MQM perfect covers for drug trafficking34 that began from the poppy fields of Afghanistan and travelled to the international markets via the port city of Karachi.

The end of jihad in Afghanistan in 1989 stopped the pipeline of funds and arms from the benefactors, a move which forged hitherto unheard of alliance between the Haqiqi faction of the MQM and the SSP in Karachi and elsewhere primarily to share the stake in the drug-gun trade with the criminal syndicates. Thus under the protection given to sectarian outfits by the State in cities like Karachi, the criminal syndicates developed a vested interest in stoking the fire of sectarianism for their own benefit. The participation of hardened criminals (some of whom were members of groups like the SSP and trained and supported by the ISI, thereby enjoying the patronage of both the State and religious organisations like the JUI) was one of the reasons for Karachi's fast transformation into a haven for international terrorist networks, "a dangerous zone", as the US State Department* would put it on July 26, 1995.

The police and security agencies in Karachi were extremely wary of arresting SSP activists and more often preferred to collude with them in the killings and criminal activities rather than invite the ire of the State. 35During a Ramzan procession in Karachi's Gulshan-e-Iqbal, a group of SSP activists indulged in violence and vandalism and several of them were as a consequence locked up by the Senior Superintendent of Police (East) Captain Mir Zubair. Soon enough, he got a call from his seniors asking him to release the SSP activists. When he refused to do so, his senior personally intervened and had the SSP cadres freed. Zubair was transferred out the next month.36

One of the most serious and ominous incidents that exposed the complicity and apathy on the part of the Karachi Police was the shooting of two US diplomats at a busy intersection of the city on March 8, 1995. As two masked gunmen ambushed the US consulate's car, the traffic constable, Tanvir Ahmed, spotted a police patrol car with a mounted machine gun in the adjacent lane and called for help. The officer in the vehicle refused to help and said ``stupid, shall we get killed by chasing people?'' The patrol car drove six minutes to the nearest police station before reporting the incident.

Many a time it was the not the fear of reprisal or pressure from the higher ups that motivated the police to collude with the sectarian-criminal gangsters. They too had hand in the till. It was more lucrative and safe for the police in Karachi to work with these criminal and extremist groups than against them. Very often, it was the local police who tipped off these groups about possible targets and then conveniently remained invisible till the crime was executed. The primary reason for this complicity lay in the ethnic and political considerations that got them jobs in the force.. For instance, in 1990 the then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan's son-in-law, Arfan Murwat, was appointed as the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Karachi. He recruited a large number of criminals into the force that only resulted in several dacoities and thefts in the city. Three years later, Sindh Chief Minister appointed Aftab Nabi Khan as the DIG on the recommendations of the MQM. A little more than a year later, the Benazir Bhutto government brought in Shoaib Suddle and Wajid Durrani as the DIG and Senior Superintendent of the Police, both of whom were close to Benazir's husband Asif Zardari and were later implicated in the killing of Benazir's brother, Mir Murtaza Bhutto.

Besides the money coming in from extortion rackets and drug peddling that goes on in Karachi, religious extremist groups like the SSP had an abundant source of funds. One of the financial secretaries of the SSP, Karachi, arrested by the police divulged that they received about Rs 52 lakh (more than a million dollars) as donations and contributions from Karachi's businessmen alone that, he said, were used to post bail for arrested activists and assist families of slain or jailed members of their group. Some of this money went to the law keepers in Karachi. A telling incident was the arrest of Abdul Ghafoor Nadeem for the murder of Syed Adeel Raza Jafri on June 18, 1994. Released on bail, he went on to kill six worshippers in a New Karachi mosque a month later and was caught again but only to be released on bail. He was the chief of Karachi's SSP unit.

In 2001, heavy sums were paid to the police to release another SSP terrorist, Arshad Polka, who, three days later, killed the chief of Sunni Tehreek, Saleem Qadiri. Polka too was killed in the attack. Under a twisted logic, the Karachi Commissioner, Mr Shaifqur Rehman Khwaja announced a compensation of Rs 20,000 to the family of Polka for being a victim of terrorism. Although the hue and cry raised in the media thwarted him from carrying out his wishes, the incident shows the extent to which the police and local administration has been compromised by the growing might of the sectarian-criminal mafia working in collusion with security and intelligence agencies that has come to rule the streets of Pakistan.

The author is with the Observer Research Foundation. His recent book on Karachi: A Terror Capital in the Making exposes the nexus between extremist groups and Pakistan's intelligence agencies.
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