In a volatile Karachi crippled by crime, ethnic violence and gang wars, the coastal town of Keamari is among the most peaceful neighborhoods.
But on April 8, the people of the locality – mostly dockers and fishermen – woke up to the sound of gunfire and explosions. Among them was the 63-year-old Haji Noor Badshah. In less than an hour, he found out that the paramilitary Rangers troops had killed five terror suspects in the street right next to his own, including the Karachi chief of an Al Qaeda group formed by Ilyas Kashmiri. The strategically sensitive neighborhood, that has the country’s largest seaport and oil installations, fears this may not be the end. “Those outsiders will turn Keamari into hell,” warns Haji Noor Badshah.
The Rangers – who are a key part of a wider law-enforcement operation in the city that began months ago – raided Badshah’s impoverished neighborhood, best known as Tapu, on a tip off. A source said the men were working on a Plan B after the foiled terrorist attack on a navy dockyard in September. The information could not be verified. Initially claimed by the Taliban, the deadly assault subsequently appeared to be the handiwork of Al Qaeda in South Asia.
The dockyard is not too far away from a house of PPP’s two-time provincial lawmaker and minister for transport Akhter Hussain Jadoon. He belongs to the influential but politically-divided Jadoon family, and PPP co-chairman and former president Asif Ali Zardari had visited him at the same house not too long ago, locals say.
“The Pashtuns of Keamari were born and raised here; they are sons of the soil”
“Keamari accommodates two easily inflammable entities,” says Haji Noor Badshah, “Pashtuns and oil installations.” says Haji Badshah adding. He fears that the coastal town may not remain a bastion of peace for too long. “Like those gunned down in the dockyard attack, the militants killed in Tapu were not residents of the area,” he says. The strangers who had taken refuge in the densely populated neighborhood had never even been seen by the locals until the day before the raid. The people of Keamari do not relate with the political and ethno-linguistic violence in the city, says Badshah, despite belonging to a number of different ethnic groups who are seen as rivals in the rest of the city. “Nothing could pit the majority Pashtuns against a handful of Muhajirs who are living wall-to-wall with them,” said the elderly Keamari resident.
Manzoor Chandio, a journalist and political analyst, says the Pashtuns of Keamari are different from those who live in the city’s outskirts, because they arrived and settled in Karachi a very long time ago. “You will hear more of Taliban-related violence in Manghopir and Gulshan-e-Mymar areas,” he says. “The Pashtuns in old-city areas like Keamari were born and raised here, and are therefore, in a sense, sons of the soil.”
Tapu is Keamari’s only neighborhood to have new settlers, most of them ethnic Seraikis. They established a foothold in the area after purchasing vast pieces of land being eroded by sea, mostly by Sikander Shah Jadoon, a powerful elder of the Jadoon family and closely related to the former PPP minister. Tapu, meaning an island, was once a tiny atoll, but became a large neighborhood after houses were built and sold on filled land, says Wakeelur Rehman, a journalist who belongs to Keamari.
While the residents of Keamari do not believe the extremists groups have the ability to radicalize their youth, some media reports claim a new group of TTP, the Afridi militants, has grown deep roots in Pashtun dominated areas of the city, and Keamari is no exception.
An intelligence report sent to law-enforcement agencies in March said a resident of the locality had been planning to carry out a terrorist attack on a school. “A Customs House employee, in collaboration with a banned outfit, has planned to carry out attack on a city school,” reported The Frontier Post.
The man, identified as Fazl-e-Khaliq, was reportedly heading the Keamari Town chapter of the proscribed Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), and had been holding regular meetings in a room situated in Keamari. The report said the man and his associates had weapons.
Although locals deny having seen any suspicious activity involving banned groups, the last three elections are evidence that legitimate religious and sectarian groups have been successful in making inroads in the constituency.
In the 2013 elections, the provincial assembly seat from the area was won by PML-N’s Humayun Mohammad Khan, who bagged 19,826 votes, but Taj Mohammad, a candidate belonging to Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, bagged 5,639 votes too. On the National Assembly seat, former allies Jamaat-e-Islami and JUI-F shared 27,893 votes among them, despite JI’s midday boycott of the polls. The Muttahida Deeni Mahaz candidate received 6,689 votes, a little more than his PPP competitor. PPP’s Jadoon had won in 2002 and 2008.
Keamari has always been a multi-ethnic locality, and home to Kutchis, the Baloch, Muhajirs, Punjabis, Kashmiris, Seraikis, Memons, Bohras and Ismailis as much as to the majority Pashtuns, who seem to be averse to Pashtun ethnic politics of the ANP and the PKMAP. The locality has remained peaceful even in the most troubled times, but there are growing fears that things are changing.
The writer is a freelance journalist