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Police unearth secret to TLP success in Karachi violence

On June 8 five years ago the MQM called a strike in Karachi, telling shops and bus operators to support their protest because the Rangers had attacked Farooq Sattar’s PIB Colony house. They bashed the gate with rifles and tried to kick it in. Rangers DG Bilal Akbar issued a clarification that no raid had taken place. The MQM ignored him.

This was the last time ever the party
called a strike.

Normally, when the bhai log made such an announcement, for years, it would spread like wildfire through the city. Shopkeepers would jump over their counters to yank down their shutters that would unfurl with a clatter to the ground. As news spread people wouldn’t bother to leave home and those who were stuck at work would make a mad dash for it. The roads drained out of traffic (nearly enough to even improve our miserable air quality index for the day). Silence would blanket the city.

But this time, no one listened. Public transport kept running. Shops stayed open. Everyone thought one thing: the strike call was a total fail. What was surprising, and quite shocking to many, was that Altaf bhai was still officially in control in London.

Since that day in 2016, no political party has come close to shutting Karachi down. There were five years of relative peace. The people who live here started to forget what paralysis felt like—until, of course, this year.

Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan

On April 12, the Lahore police
detained Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan chief Saad Hussain Rizvi in Lahore ahead of
planned protests against French cartoons. And before Karachi had even caught up
with the news, people realized that suddenly something very familiar was
happening.

TLP activists blocked highways and major
roads across the country. In Karachi, they staged sit-ins at eleven key city points:
Mereweather Tower, Orangi 5, Baldia 4, Native Jetty flyover, Star Gate, MA
Jinnah Road, Korangi 2.5, Hassan Square, Liaquatabad and NIPA Chowrangi.

When the Rangers surfaced, violence broke
out as TLP activists resisted. On the evening of April 13, TLP mobs ransacked a
police mobile at Baldia 4 and burnt motorcycles at Star Gate and Orangi 5.
It took a while but eventually, the police and Rangers managed to get a grip on
them.

Then on April 18, Mufti Muneeb-ur
Rehman announced a nationwide strike after clashes broke out between the police
and TLP. Traders and transporters backed the call and business in Karachi came
to a halt. The port, banks, stock exchange and forex companies were open but major
business centres, Saddar, Jodia Bazaar, Tariq Road, Bahadurabad, Clifton closed
down.

But there were some areas in the city
where shopkeepers didn’t get the memo and stayed open.

“I was sitting in my shop after
iftaar when I saw a group of people wearing face masks appear in the area,” a paan
shop owner in Malir’s Moinabad, Maaz, told Samaa Digital. “The men parked their motorbikes along the railway track
near Model Colony Railway Station and started aerial firing.”

Federal Cabinet approves summary on TLP ban

They gave everyone ten minutes to
close. “[Everyone] threw their display items inside and pulled the shutters,”
he said. The men kept coming back to make sure their threat was
followed.

Maaz was hardly eleven years old when
he had seen the same thing happen. In 2013, the MQM gave a strike call over the
killing of party workers in a bomb blast during an election campaign.  

“Eight years ago, I was sitting in the
same shop with my father when some men with their faces covered started aerial
firing,” he said. “My father threw everything along with me inside the shop, pulled
the shutter down and ran away.” He then returned a short while later, opened up
the shutter and pulled his son out.

Though the TLP ended up calling off
its protest after successful negotiations with the federal government, the Karachi
police is still looking into its show of power in the city for those few days.
The information yielded by several men who were arrested for taking the law into
their own hands has been helpful.

The police discovered that the men involved
in the TLP violence were associated with the MQM in the past.

Korangi 2.5 is one area where the TLP
staged a sit-in. A heavy contingent of police was deployed at this point. “During the sit-in, the protesters attacked the police from
time to time and when the police retaliated, they ran away into the narrow
streets,” Korangi SSP Faisal Abdullah Chachar told Samaa Digital.

When the police arrested some of
them, they found that they had an MQM background. “For instance, a man called Shahzada
Shahbaz alias Kashif alias Bandhani was among the miscreants, who was
patronizing the sit-ins in District Korangi.”

Shahbaz joined the MQM in 2000 but left
it to join Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, which was banned in 2002. Shahbaz
is named in four cases of robbery and possession of illegal arms. He formed his
own gang and carried out a number of robberies in the area. “Shahbaz was arrested for robbery and sent to jail too,
but he got bail and came out,” the SSP said. “He joined the TLP in 2018 and now
he is engaged in funding it.”

Baldia 4 was another area where the TLP
activists gave the police a tough time. “We faced swift resistance in the clearance
of roads for the restoration of vehicular traffic here,” Keamari SSP Fida
Hussain Janwari told Samaa Digital.

“Miscreants from Patni Mohalla
suddenly appeared from time to time, attacked the police and then fled.” According
to Janwari, the police registered 43 cases against men across Keamari for
ransacking property during the TLP violence.

Patni Mohalla is considered a symbol
of terror in Baldia Town as the MQM’s notorious militant, Farooq Patni alias
Farooq Dada, belonged to it. Though Patni was shot dead in an encounter
in 1995, this area is still considered an MQM stronghold. And
indeed it seems that much of the culture of fear, and men who carry it forward
are still active in Karachi.

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