How is it that the Taliban can operate with impunity in Pakistan? Why doesn’t the vaunted Vast Majority of Peaceful Muslims rise up against them? Tiny Minority of Extremists Update: “Taliban Spread Terror in Karachi as the New Gang in Town,” by Declan Walsh and Zia ur-Rehman for The New York Times, March 28 (thanks to David):
KARACHI, Pakistan “” This seaside metropolis is no stranger to gangland violence, driven for years by a motley collection of armed groups who battle over money, turf and votes.
But there is a new gang in town. Hundreds of miles from their homeland in the mountainous northwest, Pakistani Taliban fighters have started to flex their muscles more forcefully in parts of this vast city, and they are openly taking ground.
Taliban gunmen have mounted guerrilla assaults on police stations, killing scores of officers. They have stepped up extortion rackets that target rich businessmen and traders, and shot dead public health workers engaged in polio vaccination efforts. In some neighborhoods, Taliban clerics have started to mediate disputes through a parallel judicial system.
The grab for influence and power in Karachi shows that the Taliban have been able to extend their reach across Pakistan, even here in the country”s most populous city, with about 20 million inhabitants. No longer can they be written off as endemic only to the country”s frontier regions.
In joining Karachi’s street wars, the Taliban are upending a long-established network of competing criminal, ethnic and political armed groups in this combustible city. The difference is that the Taliban’s agenda is more expansive “” it seeks to overthrow the Pakistani state “” and their operations are run by remote control from the tribal belt along the Afghan border.
Already, the militants have reshaped the city”s political balance by squeezing one of the most prominent political machines, the Pashtun-dominated Awami National Party, off its home turf. They have scared Awami operatives out of town and destroyed offices, gravely undercutting the party”s chances in national elections scheduled for May.
“We are the Taliban’s first enemy,” said Shahi Syed, the party”s provincial head, at his newly fortified office. “They burn my offices, they tear down my flags and they kill our people.”
The Taliban drift into Karachi actually began years ago, though much more quietly. Many fled here after a concerted Pakistani military operation in the Swat Valley in 2009. The influx has gradually continued, officials here say, with Taliban fighters able to easily melt into the city”s population of fellow ethnic Pashtuns, estimated to number at least five million people.
Until recently, the militants saw Karachi as a kind of rear base, using the city to lie low or seek medical treatment, and limiting their armed activities to criminal fund-raising, like kidnapping and bank robberies.
But for at least six months now, there have been signs that their timidity is disappearing. The Taliban have become a force on the street, aggressively exerting their influence in the ethnic Pashtun quarters of the city.
Taliban tactics are most evident in Manghopir, an impoverished neighborhood of rough, cinder-block houses clustered around marble quarries on the northern edge of the city, where illegal housing settlements spill into the surrounding desert.
In recent months, Taliban militants have attacked the Manghopir police station three times, killing eight officers, said Muhammad Aadil Khan, a local member of Parliament.
In interviews, residents describe Taliban militants who roam on motorbikes or in jeeps with tinted windows, delivering extortion demands in the shape of two bullets wrapped in a piece of paper.
A factory owner in Manghopir, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear for his safety, said that several Pashtun businessmen had received demands for $10,000 to $50,000. The figure was negotiable, he said, but payment was not: resistance could result in an assault on the victim’s house or, in the worst case, a bullet to the head.
Mr. Khan said he had not dared to visit his constituency in months. “There is a personal threat against me,” he said, speaking at the headquarters of his party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which represents ethnic Mohajirs, in the city center….