August 05, 2010

Al Qaeda's Karachi plans

While Pakistan's most immediate disasters (floods, an aircrash, wikileaks, diplomatic squabbles etc) have taken up the headlines, the political killings in Karachi haven't gotten the attention they deserve. Most of the news reporting is focused on tallying up the tit-for-tat death toll. But yesterday, the interior minister said he suspected militant outfits could have assassinated a key Karachi politician in an effort to kick of sectarian warfare in the already volitile city.

People dying in any circumstances is a bad thing. But the idea that militants could be manipulating the situation rachets up the possibilty of it all getting much, much worse. (About 70 people have already died in two days of mob violence) So, I was glad to see that Syed Saleem Shahzad, Pakistan bureau chief of the Asia Times and one of the most insightful journalists working in Pakistan today, did some digging on what's going on in Pakistan's largest city and commerical hub. What Saleem found out sounds really troubling.

"Asia Times Online investigations lead to the conclusion that al-Qaeda desires to jack up tensions in Karachi, open up a front in central Punjab and exploit the flood-affected situation in restive Khyber Pakhoonkhwa. The belief among al-Qaeda leaders is that NATO's combat operations will have to be abandoned by the end of this year."

A Pakistani counter terrorism official tells Saleem that militants seem to be planning a big attack on Lahore. Saleem's sources are usually pretty good. In Saleem's analysis, al Qaeda's plans are to force the Pakistani military to overstretch itself by having to deploy across the country.

"in al-Qaeda's view, Karachi, with its multi-national corporations, major banks and stock exchanges, is the weakest link and chaos in this city would be most detrimental to Pakistan - as well as to the war in Afghanistan as a major casualty would be NATO's supply lines. A chaotic and paralyzed Karachi, a disturbed Punjab and a crisis-hit Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa would effectively block all supply routes."

Again, read the whole thing here and keep an eye on Karachi.