Pakistan liberates Taliban 'no-go zones' in Karachi
With a machine-gun in the back seat, his foot on the accelerator and wearing 'Top Gun' style sunglasses, Azfar Mahesar pushes deeper into the heart of one of Karachi's "Talibanised" areas.
Karachi: With a machine-gun in the back seat, his foot on the accelerator and wearing 'Top Gun' style sunglasses, Azfar Mahesar pushes deeper into the heart of one of Karachi's "Talibanised" areas.
"This used to be a war zone, but we have liberated it," says the slightly chubby policeman with pride as his vehicle races through the Pakistani city of 20 million, where Afghan intelligence says former Taliban leader Mullah Omar made his home in 2013.
Over the past few years, one word has been on everyone's lips here: "Talibanisation".
If the remote mountains that straddle the Pakistan and Afghanistan border have been the militant group's playground, Karachi, Pakistan's economic hub on the Arabian Sea, has been the insurgents' hideout and cash-cow.
The Taliban dug deep into areas populated by ethnic Pashtuns, creating virtual "no-go zones" and terrorising the local population with extortion and kidnappings for ransom to provide funding for their Mujahideen.
But, say Pakistani officials, that has all changed now.
"Talibanisation in Karachi has died down," says Mahesar, a former soldier turned senior police officer in the most dangerous, western part of the city.
"I can say very confidently 70 to 80 percent (are purged). There are a few remnants in Karachi but they are not as capable of coming back with the efficiency that they had a year or so ago," he adds.
Today, policemen wearing flak jackets are advancing deep into the bowels of one of the remaining "no-go zones", through dug-up streets and up rocky hills that mark the city's western edge.
"This was a local Taliban HQ," one says as he stands before a pulverised hovel.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban) has been this country's public enemy number one since its formation in 2007.
Last December, the group carried out its deadliest attack ever, on a school in northwestern Peshawar, killing more than 150 people, mainly children.
The TTP called it revenge for a military operation being carried out in North Waziristan, the epicentre of their jihadist movement and a sanctuary for Al-Qaeda fighters along the Afghan border.
In response, the government gave the police and paramilitaries permission to lay siege to Talibanised areas, killing hundreds of suspected insurgents, without worrying much about due process.