Friday, January 30, 2009

Karachi fears Mumbai-style attack

Karachi, Pakistan's main commercial centre, faces the same threat that brought terror to the streets of Mumbai, its Indian counterpart, at the end of last year, one of Pakistan's leading provincial politicians has said.

Ishrat-ul Ebad Khan, the governor of Sindh province of which Karachi is the capital, said the moderate and cosmopolitan city faced a "really challenging situation" as Taliban elements had infiltrated the population and raised funding from criminal activitiesto finance terrorist activities.

"There is the infiltration of a few people. For terrorism you don't need the masses, rather you need a few people to create havoc in your area," Mr Khan told the Financial Times.

Karachi is Pakistan's largest city and home to the country's banking industry and capital markets. Its largely moderate and diverse population has faced a growing terrorist threat. Between 2004 and 2005 about 300kg of explosives were detonated in the city but the security forces captured more than 3,000kg of explosives during that period.

India claims that Karachi was the launch pad for the sea-borne attack on Mumbai that left almost 200 people dead. New Delhi has handed evidence to the international community showing that Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani militant group, launched the commando-style attack by capturing an Indian fishing boat and sailing it into waters off -Mumbai.

"We had better prepare ourselves," said Mr Khan of the escalating confrontation with militants in Pakistan. He warned against minimising the internal threat, saying that a culture of denial had led to the loss of territory to extremists.

"If we do not accept the reality that the Taliban exist here, we get the kind of situation we have [elsewhere] in Pakistan. We have lost Peshawar and Swat. That happened because of our own denial," he said.

Mr Khan said Karachi shared many of the attr-ib-utes of Mumbai, as both are large ports where job opportunities attracted migrants.

He warned that hostility to Pakistan from India might intensify in the run-up to the April general election in India, and hamper efforts to revive the economy and fight- terrorism.

"All the work [to bring the two countries together] through intellectual and cultural contact and such went down the drain [after Mumbai]," Mr Khan said.

Government officials see Karachi's future as the country's commercial hub as tied directly to the way Pakistan emerges from the period of tension with India. "The trends continue to be very disturbing. The Indians are eager to keep up the pressure and the threat of a conflict, limited in scale, hasn't gone away," said one official.

India yesterday said it was speeding up a $1bn (€765m, £701m) weapons programme to modernise its armed forces in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

Pakistan's leaders have tried to reassure the Indians of their determination to pursue the militants linked to the Mumbai attacks.

The US state department yesterday announced that Richard Holbrooke, special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, would travel to an international security conference in Munich next week and then on to the region.

*Pakistani police say they have arrested three men allegedly trained by India's spy agency to carry out attacks inside Pakistan, AFP reports from Islamabad. (Financial Times)