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Karachi's newest threat

By Imtiaz Gul

Fridat Times, November 12,2010

Thursday's combined arms attack on the criminal investigation department (CID) in Karachi, which has so far killed 18 people and injured over 100, underlines a new reality; Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) is now Pakistan's sworn enemy.

Earlier in the week, CID agents arrested six LeJ activists allegedly connected with past and future potential acts of terrorism. Officials said the suspects were being held at the CID office when the building was attacked on Thursday.

Although the vicious Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the al-Qaeda linked militant group based along the border with Afghanistan, claimed responsibility for the bloody incident, the presence of LeJ activists in the building would seem to indicate at least a level of LeJ involvement in the attack, if not responsibility; Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said as much yesterday,adding that the attack showed that the TTP and LeJ "have penetrated into the city. It seems as though these people have gained strength in Karachi."

This attack demonstrates the growing cooperation between these two groups, despite their different origins. Founded in 1996, LeJ is an offshoot of the anti-Shia Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), a group founded in the early 1980s to counter the expansion of the Iranian culture in the aftermath of the 1979 Iranian revolution. Later, the group went wild in its attacks on Shia Muslims in Pakistan, particularly in the central Punjab province, where the SSP and other radical Sunni outfits have been headquartered since their creation in the early 1980s. 

The LeJ's founder, Riaz Basra, wanted on multiple murder charges, had taken refuge in Afghanistan under the Taliban. He was eventually killed during a visit to his hometown of Jhang in 2002. The Taliban had previously refused to hand over Basra, saying he was not present in Afghanistan at all.

Moreover, the attack in Karachi is likely to revive memories of a spate of high-profile attacks insurgents have staged within the last 12 months on installations of Pakistan's army, police and intelligence services as well as on Shia and Sunni religious processions. In the most spectacular of these raids, a team of gunmen stormed the General Headquarters (GHQ) of Pakistan's army in the city of Rawalpindi on October 10th last year. Both LeJ and the TTP were implicated in the GHQ attack. 

The continued ease with which the TTP and LeJ can organize sophisticated attacks far from their traditional bases near the Afghan border (or even from Punjab and Sindh provinces) represents a new challenge for Pakistani authorities, who have been claiming tactical victories against the TTP and affiliates in the last few months.

The well coordinated, bloody operation has left intelligence and police officials groping for explanation into the growing boldness and capability of these militants, who have repeatedly shown an ability to strike into the heart of the security establishment. This latest incident points to the continued networking between the TTP and the LeJ not only on the border but in the country's important financial and cultural centers. And keeping the peace in the teeming, diverse, and on-edge city of Karachi, never an easy job, will only be more dangerous from now on.

(The author heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk