By Susanne Koelbl in Karachi, Pakistan
It is not just in the manicured capital Islamabad that the threads of power come together in this country of 171 million people, but also very much here in Karachi. One of the largest cities in the Islamic world with its 18 million inhabitants, Karachi is where the deals and the profits are made.
Without the port of Karachi, the NATO mission in Afghanistan would be almost inconceivable. The heavily guarded containers of war materials, sand-colored Humvees, food and gasoline stand in endless rows on the piers. Almost 80 percent of military supplies for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) pass through Karachi.
The logisticians of terror also use the city as a hub, a place to recruit fighters, handle financial transactions and pass on news and attack plans. The Karachi underworld is the extremists' money machine. Extortion and bank robbery are second only to donations as the most lucrative sources of income. The money flows back to the militants' training camps in the tribal areas.
The maze of Karachi's suburbs is the ideal hiding place for terrorists. Mullah Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, is believed to hide at times in Karachi. In 2002 al-Qaida fighters kidnapped and beheaded US journalist Daniel Pearl here. The group of terrorists that murdered 166 people in Mumbai in the fall of 2008 set out from Karachi. In February of this year, Karachi security forces arrested Mullah Baradar, the Taliban's second-in-command.
Determined to Fight Corruption
Karachi is also the place where counterterrorism specialist Omar Shahid, who recently escaped the attack on his office, lost his father 14 years ago. He was the director of the city's electric utility and was murdered by a contract killer after he discovered that senior members of the dominant MQM party had not been paying their electricity bills. Shahid's father was determined to fight corruption.
In those days, women would often find the bodies of their husbands, brothers and sons who had been murdered by MQM killers in the morning on Khajji Ground, a football field in the Nazimabad neighborhood near downtown Karachi, hanging from the goalposts.
Shahid's father was shot to death. "The murderer was an MQM militia member," says Shahid. He searched for the killer and found him, and the man was put on trial. Despite the objections of powerful backers, the killer was sentenced a few years ago and is now in prison.
The verdict validated Shahid's conviction that a criminal must pay for his crime, even in this country, and even in Karachi. That was why he became a police officer.
Asif Square in Sohrab Goth in the northwest of the city is one of the most dangerous areas on his beat. It is a long, dusty rectangle with a large clock tower and a few food stands in the middle, flanked by a row of rundown apartment blocks. This is where the Pashtuns meet.
They are good businesspeople. They trade in heavy construction equipment and transport gasoline to Afghanistan for the NATO mission there in their brightly decorated trucks. But the Taliban and other extremist groups also recruit fighters from this ethnic group. The Pashtuns can be anything from liberal and secular to violent and radical.
Fazal Elahi, 25, is sitting in a snack bar consisting of fiber mats and woven benches. A Pashtun from a town on the Afghan border, he is one of the many minor supporters of the great war against the infidels.
A red pennant from the Pashtun party, the ANP, hangs from the streetlight, signifying that the area is off-limits for the rival MQM, but also for the government. Not even the gasman is willing to venture into this rundown neighborhood.
Elahi is wearing a long white shirt. He is thin and has a hook-shaped nose. He feels completely safe. He smiles self-confidently as he eats his plate of pulao, a traditional dish of mutton with rice and raisins. He never looks at the female reporter during the entire conversation.
Elahi's militant group was only founded a few years ago. It calls itself the "Mujahideen Islam" and reflects a new form of globalized jihad in which everyone cooperates with everyone else. Elahi's leaders either fought in Afghanistan or as underground fighters against India in Kashmir. Later they turned against the Pakistani government.
Of course, says Elahi, his first goal is to "liberate" his brothers in Afghanistan, but he also has sympathy for the al-Qaida militia that committed the attack on Omar Shahid's police station a few days ago, as well as Muslims in Palestine, Somalia and Yemen. Elahi works for the worldwide caliphate. He helps wherever he can.
He passes on messages, sends money and arranges meetings. His family owns a three-room apartment on Asif Square. They are cattle traders, the perfect cover for Elahi's real business. "We are on the right track," he says. "The Americans are almost ready to leave the country. They can't hang in there forever. You don't have to be an academic to understand that."
There is a small police station diagonally across the street. These days, no police officer dares to venture into the notorious Pashtun district on foot. Only the best man at the station, Major Irfan Bahadur, patrols the neighborhood -- in two SUVs with machine guns mounted on them.
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