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By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times, September 25, 2015

 

Law enforcement agencies picked up more than 60 suspects, including about 30 Afghan nationals, in a number of raids in Islamabad on September 18. They seized weapons and ammunition from the dreaded stronghold of Imtiaz Khokhar – popularly known as Taji Khokhar – and arrested 20 suspects, according to news reports.

Imtiaz Khokhar is the brother of former deputy speaker of National Assembly Nawaz Khokhar, who belonged to the People’s Party but was reportedly expelled in 2002. He is the uncle of former minister for human rights Mustafa Nawaz.  Imtiaz Khokhar had been accused of using armed men at his disposal for extortion and to illegally occupy people’s land, and was also facing a trial for allegedly murdering a woman over a land dispute. Imtiaz and his aides – including his sons and employees – were sent to Adiala Jail in 2013. The judge hearing the murder case was found dead in his house last month. Police claim they have arrested the killers.

But religious circles respect Imtiaz Khokhar as a kind, magnanimous and God-fearing man. If insiders are to be believed, Khokhar’s son is married to the daughter of a famous hardline cleric. That explains the nexus between crime, militancy and religious entities.

The reports, followed by explanations from his elder brother Nawaz Khokhar, reminded me of my eye-opening meeting with Taji Khokhar in January 2011.

Following are some excerpts from my diary after that eventful visit:

“On the chilly evening of January 30, 2011, I had a meeting with Maulana Shah Abdul Aziz, a former legislator whom the Supreme Court had acquitted of involvement in the abduction and eventual murder of a polish engineer.

“I had been chasing Aziz for some time to figure out his role as a religious cleric from Karak, an underdeveloped district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He was said to be a go-between for Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), until the latter was killed in August 2009 by an American drone.

‘They love to suck fresh blood’

“He asked me to meet up at the farmhouse of Haji Imtiaz Khokhar on the edge of Islamabad, near the Benazir Bhutto International Airport. Khokhar has been accused of leading a gang of land-grabbers, mostly in the rural areas of Islamabad, and of sheltering criminals. Khokhar is also implicated in about 22 murder cases and has hardly left his compound in more than three years. The idea of meeting with Aziz at a dreaded place like that was scary, but I decided to take a chance.

“The moment I entered the 200 by 200 walled compound guarded by a dozen gunmen all around it, I saw a pair of lions restlessly pacing up and down their cage to my right. Barely 10 meters away sat Khokhar in a shabby outfit, with a full-grown flying beard and moustache. Next to him sat the Maulana.

“We eventually retreated into the living room for an uninterrupted conversation. During our chat about his area and the Polish engineer case in which he had received a clean chit a day before, Maulana Aziz said: ‘Haji Khokhar is a God-fearing man. He is supporting us and has also provided almost Rs 10 million in donations for the reconstruction of the Red Mosque’s hostel.’ Aziz also explained how Khokhar and his brother, a former national legislator, had helped the inmates of the besieged Red Mosque in July 2007.

“The 36-year-old Aziz runs a large seminary in the Karak district set up by his father in 1956. His father’s disciples are now running hundreds of seminaries across FATA regions.

“As we sipped tea in the presence of two police officials with walkie-talkie sets, we heard the screams of a goat. All eyes turned in the direction of the goat, which had been thrown in front of the hungry lions. They love to suck fresh blood, Taji Khokhar told me.

“Aziz also showed me a black Land Cruiser, which he said Haji Khokhar had just ‘imported’. He wouldn’t say what role he had in the import of this armored vehicle. Traders and smugglers from FATA usually help in the smuggling of expensive vehicles for influential politicians. Parked in the compound were another dozen Land Cruisers and 4×4 trucks.

“Aziz refused to answer questions about his links with the TTP. He also refrained from commenting on criminal gangs working under political patronage, or about providing a safe passage to trucks carrying NATO goods to Afghanistan.

“Those were the days when Haji Mangal Bagh, the don of criminal gangs in Khyber Agency, also reportedly pocketed money for providing safe passage to the US and NATO cargo. Until August 2007, when the religious-political alliance MMA ruled the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that borders FATA, not a single foreign truck was attacked. Their cargo was stolen mostly by criminals disguised as Taliban, who would usually set the trucks on fire. Most of the military hardware would also be torched, until the truckers reached an agreement with Mangal Bagh some time in early 2010.”

Four years later, Taji Khokhar and two of his sons sit in jail. For some, this became possible because Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has been relentless against criminals and militants. For others, familiar with local politics, it is the consequence of political rivalries.

Regardless of the motive, the development proves that if the state wants, it can take action against organized crime flourishing in Sindh, Rawalpindi and Balochistan.

The writer heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad, and is the author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbu Tahrir’s Global Caliphate.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk