World | Pakistan

On the fault-lines

A study of Karachi provides insights into the security developments in Pakistan and its regional and global impact

  • By Mansour Bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan, Special to Weekend Review
  • Published: 00:00 May 20, 2011
  • Weekend Review

  • Image Credit: Reuters
  • A paramilitary soldier stands guard during a pro-Bahrain and Saudi Arabia rally in Karachi recently
Image 1 of 2
12

Karachi, the financial capital of Pakistan and its largest city, is an active player in the financial system of the world. The event of 9/11 brought it into the limelight as investigations concluded that a substantial portion of funding for the attack had been routed through the city. It had inadvertently become a part of the terror threat the West was confronted with.

Tracing the history of Karachi depicts how, within a span of a few hundred years, a small fishermen's colony transformed itself into a neat and well-planned commercial centre and later developed into a highly industrialised megapolis. The history of Karachi's evolution is not just a tale of a city. It is the interaction of certain political, social and economic forces, which characterised an era and helped shape some very important events in the subcontinent. Unlike other cities of Pakistan such as Lahore, Multan, and Peshawar, whose origins are lost in legends, Karachi's beginning is easily traceable to a little more than 200 years.

The contemporary global city of Karachi presents a complex and dynamic urban political, socio-economic and security environment. Located in Pakistan's southern Sindh province, Karachi was founded as a town in 1729. "Kalachi-jo-ghote" (pond of Karachi) grew into a major trading hub during the British Raj. The city continued to expand and prosper and when Pakistan gained independence in 1947, Karachi had the honour of being selected as the capital of the newborn state.

The capital of Pakistan has since shifted north to Islamabad but Karachi was and still remains its financial centre. It is now considered to have achieved the status of a global city whose relevance to regional and global security today cannot be overstated.

Historically, Karachi has linked trade from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The 10th biggest city in the world, Karachi's population is larger than that of 100 countries. About 18 to 20 million people live, visit and work in Karachi, Pakistan's premier metropolis. Karachi is also the economic hub of Pakistan. While Islamabad is its political capital, Karachi is Pakistan's commercial and financial city. As the nation's only port, Karachi is the lifeline for Pakistan and landlocked Afghanistan. Between 80 to 90 per cent of Nato and other forces in Afghanistan are supplied through the Karachi port.

The contribution of the private sector to the economy of Karachi and to the rest of Pakistan is immense. Its above-ground and an underground infrastructure are both chaotic and vibrant. Despite political instability, there have been significant international, regional and national investments in Pakistan, including in Karachi. With the ports of Karachi and Gwadar, a motorway is being built starting from Gwadar to Karachi to link Central Asia, China and South Asia. However, one half of the project is completed and the other half will depend on future funds. If the threat of extremism, terrorism, and crime can be contained — which is by no means a small task — not only would Karachi and Pakistan grow at an unprecedented pace but so would the southern and central Asian region.

Although domestic and international trade and commerce have boosted the economy of Karachi, it has also spawned an underworld. This has also been facilitated by Karachi's location at the crossroads linking Asia to the Middle East. The underground economy of smuggled goods that penetrates Afghanistan and Pakistan has its origins in Karachi, which is the most important transit point for Afghan and Pakistani heroin, the highest grade of heroin most sought after in the Western world. Organised and low-level crime groups in Karachi are diverse in range.

Another global city characteristic of Karachi relates to the population pressures it faces in conjunction with an insufficient infrastructure. Karachi is not a planned city. Its setting is not pre-planned and hence the teeming city is poorly regulated. In addition, the city of Karachi has no mass transit system meaning it is burdened with an addition of 600 new vehicles every day. Nonetheless, despite its severe transportation and housing problems, the city is flourishing.

A trendsetter from terrorism to industry and fashion, Karachi is dynamic and vital in many ways. The influx of migrant and diaspora communities as a result of globalisation has made Karachi the most vibrant city in Pakistan. Karachi has entered the 21st century as a financial as well as criminal and terrorist hub, reflecting both the upside and downside of globalisation.

After Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan experienced the highest number of suicide attacks in 2007. The city of Karachi is suffering from a wave of suicide attacks that began in 2002. Such operations were introduced in Karachi by Khalid Shaikh Mohammad who masterminded the 9/11 attacks. After relocating from Afghanistan to Pakistan, Al Qaida was able to build a secret infrastructure and operate in Karachi.

Despite this, rather than being a primary generator of violence, Karachi is a victim of violence and crime. Although there will always be infrequent suicide attacks in Karachi, with good police work, the primary threat to Karachi can be managed. Although Karachi is centrally located, the spillover effect of the violence in Karachi is localised and at best domestic. As Karachi is a major transit point for high-grade heroin from Afghanistan and other parts of Pakistan to the rest of the world, Karachi will continue to be used by illicit groups seeking to operate in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

With the current instability in tribal Pakistan, the proliferation of weapons and trained personnel the threat is spreading to Karachi. The Taliban insurgency has also negatively impacted the crime situation of the city. Many major crimes such as abduction for ransom and bank heists besides petty crimes of car theft and mobile phone snatchings in the city are believed to be linked with terror financing of the Taliban. Besides, some of the criminal activities are conducted to finance and support sectarian terror groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

Karachi also suffers from periodic bouts of sectarian warfare where the rabid Sunni and Shiite factions indulge in terror attacks against each other. It appears that the sectarian killings are a form of proxy war where the Shiite groups draw support from Iran and the Sunnis from other Sunni states. If left unchecked Karachi may suffer a fate similar to Beirut and Lebanon.

Furthermore, the deteriorating security situation in Pakistan on regional and international security will be profound. Today, Asian groups present a threat comparable to Middle Eastern groups. The pace of exploitation of Karachi by criminal and terrorist groups seeking to advance their own agenda and capitalise on its role as a major trading and a transit hub between Asia and the Middle East will continue.

To fight networked terrorism and crime, provincial, national, regional and international partnerships are essential. To prevent, detect and deter terrorism and crime in and from Karachi, international cooperation and collaboration is vital. Greater law enforcement, security and intelligence cooperation and collaboration between Sindh police and their foreign counterparts is needed to manage the current and emerging threat. Working together with partners will enable the Sindh police to build their crime-fighting and terrorism-countering capabilities and capacities. More than ever before, there is a need to exchange personnel as well as engage in joint training and joint operations. There is also a need to transfer expertise and resources, share experiences, and create a common database to reduce the threat of criminal and terrorist groups.

Governing a city of diverse ethnic and religious communities with many political orientations and allegiances penetrated by criminal and terrorist groups is a complex challenge. The study of Karachi provides insights into the security developments in Pakistan and its regional and global impact. Considering the global, regional and national significance of Karachi, this study of its security environment provides many lessons for Pakistan and the international community and in particular for other global cities with similar characteristics.

Lessons from Karachi for Dubai

Within about a decade Dubai's economic status has undergone a major transformation: from an oil dependent economy, it has become one of the fastest growing business and tourist centres of the world. Dubai may not match the financial and cultural clouts of London, New York or Tokyo but in the region it has become a key financial city, attracting big multinational companies such as IBM, Oracle CNN, Reuters and Microsoft, who have set up offices here. Dubai can now rightly lay claim to have qualified to be a member of the global cities of the world.

Dubai's economic miracle is based on its ability to develop and capitalise on its tourism potential and its liberal and business friendly financial policies. While such a strategy paid rich dividends in financial terms, it has attracted disgruntled and out of power foreign politicians and underworld bosses from neighbouring countries. Taking advantage of the lax financial policies that permit free and easy in and out movement of money, a worldwide connectivity through state of the art communication network and a living environment that matched the best available anywhere, some controversial characters have established themselves in Dubai. It was not surprising, therefore, when Dubai was bracketed with Karachi as the primary source of funding for the 9/11 operations. To illustrate the point further, a couple of examples of each type would be in order.

Pro-Moscow Chechen Battalion commander Sulim Yamadayev was assassinated in Dubai in March 2009. He was travelling under another name and a false passport. According to UAE police, his murder was politically motivated and presumably was carried out on the instructions of Adam Delimkhanov, the deputy Prime Minister of Chechnya.

Al Qaeda's operational leader Ammar Al Baluchi, a nephew of Khalled Shaikh Mohammad, worked as a computer programmer in Dubai. He was both the travel and financial facilitator for the 9/11 hijackers transiting through UAE.

Dawood Ebrahim, the underworld don of Mumbai — wanted both by the Interpol and the Indian Intelligence agencies — had taken refuge in Dubai. On the insistence of India, Dawood Ebrahim was eventually deported from the state.

The political leaders and underworld dons mentioned above had chosen Dubai as their destination because of the ease of money transfer facility and the luxurious living condition the city provided. Political activities by out of power foreign politicians have the potential to embarrass UAE and strain its relationship with the host countries of these politicians. The presence of underworld personalities can lead to an increase in criminal activities in the Emirate.

Authorities in Dubai are doing their utmost to address these issues. But certainly additional measures, in cooperation with other global cities, are needed.

Dr Mansour Bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan is a lecturer at the American University of Sharjah.

Bustling development

The capital of Sindh province, Karachi is Pakistan's chief seaport and industrial centre, a transportation, commercial and financial hub, and a military headquarters. It has a large automobile assembly plant, an oil refinery, a steel mill, shipbuilding, railroad yards, jute and textile factories, printing and publishing plants, media and entertainment industries, food processing plants, and chemical and engineering works. The Karachi airport is one of the busiest in Asia. Karachi has a university and other educational institutions; the national museum, with a fine archaeological collection; and the tomb of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan.

An old settlement, Karachi was developed as a port and trading centre by Hindu merchants in the early 18th century. In 1843 it passed to the British, who made it the seat of the Sindh government. Steady improvements in harbour facilities made Karachi a leading Indian port by the late 19th century, while agricultural development of the hinterland gave it a large export trade. Karachi served as Pakistan's capital from 1947, when the country gained independence, until 1959, when Rawalpindi became the interim capital pending completion of Islamabad. The political base of the Bhutto family, Karachi has been troubled since the 1980s by violence between local Sindhis and the descendants of mohajirs, the Muslim immigrants who fled to Pakistan after the partition in 1947.

-Information courtesy: The Columbia Encyclopaedia, Sixth Edition, 2008, via www.cia.gov

Weekend Review takes an in depth look at the issues behind the news

Weekend Review
News Editor's choice