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Latest update : 2010-02-26

Karachi, Taliban haven

Several senior militants from Afghanistan have been captured in Karachi in recent weeks, including the Afghan Taliban's second-in-command, Mullah Baradar. The arrests show the city has become a refuge for Afghan Taliban leaders. Yet at the same time, observers suggest Pakistan is becoming more willing to crack down on Karachi's growing militant population.

The recent arrests of several Afghan and Pakistani Taliban leaders show yet again that the militants are omnipresent in Pakistan’s largest city.

"My name is Abdullah, they call me Abu Waqas". The man is chained and his face concealed in front of Pakistani television cameras. He was arrested a few days ago by the Karachi police, who present him as a Taliban commander responsible for recruiting and training female suicide bombers.

There’s no way of knowing exactly where and how "commander Abdullah" was captured; that’s not the point of this media "show" from the Pakistani authorities. But this arrest comes a week after that of Mullah Baradar, the Afghan Taliban number two, also in Karachi: new evidence of the presence of militants in Pakistan’s largest city.

According to Professor Ahmed Mutahir of the University of Karachi, the Taliban presence is explained by both the size - 20 million inhabitants and only 30,000 police officers - and ethnic make-up of the city: "Some Karachi neighbourhoods are dominated by the Pashtun community, to which almost all Taliban fighters belong; and it is very easy for the fighters to hide in these safe havens".

Havens like Sohrab Goth, the historic stronghold of Pashtuns in Karachi, a neighbourhood said to be so dangerous that even the police are reluctant to venture there. Some say that Mullah Omar himself stayed here several times. But in Sohrab Goth, the law of silence reigns, and no-one dares talk about the presence of the Taliban.

The residents of neighbouring Baldia Town district, however, can no longer deny the facts. On January 8th, many were woken up at 8 am by a powerful explosion. The house blown up by the blast was a weapons cache, and the victims, Taliban from the north-west of the country, were killed by the explosive belts they were busy making...

By Cédric MOLLE LAURENCON

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