KARACHI, Pakistan, Aug. 6 (UPI Next) --
The targeted killing of three lawmakers just weeks after Pakistan's May 11 parliamentary elections has left political and religious leaders nervous about their own security, with some telling UPI Next they fear police cannot protect them from Taliban attacks.
Farid Khan and Imran Mohmand, both lawmakers from opposition party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, were killed in the northwestern towns of Hangu and Mardan on June 3 and 18 respectively. A legislator in southern Sindh province, Sajid Qureshi, was killed in Sindh's capital, Karachi, with his son Waqas on June 21. Qureshi belonged to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement party.
More than 24 MQM members were killed in Karachi during June, according to Ameen-ul-Haq, a member of the MQM coordination committee.
"The Sindh provincial government has failed to restore peace in Karachi," Haq told UPI Next.
"Innocent people and political activists are being killed in targeted killings, but the police and law enforcement agencies are doing nothing against the criminals and gangs who are involved in killings and extortions," Haq said.
He alleged that Taliban militants had murdered Qureshi and his son.
"Secular political parties like MQM, Awami National Party and the Pakistan Peoples' Party were targeted during the election campaign and a large number of political activists belonging to MQM, ANP and PPP were killed by the Taliban in Karachi," Haq said.
Zohra Yusuf, chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said violence was increasing around Pakistan.
She said that Karachi had become a conflict zone, with political and religious factions involved.
"Sectarian killings have increased more than targeted killings have," Yusuf told UPI Next, referring to violence between Sunni and Shia extremists.
She said the Taliban, as well Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba, banned militant organizations, and the militant wings of other political and religious parties were responsible for attacks on lawmakers and for sectarian violence.
Zia ur Rehman, a Karachi-based security analyst and author of the book 'Karachi in Turmoil," said the Taliban were getting stronger in Karachi with the support of local sectarian and jihadi outfits.
"Taking full advantage of the city's ongoing ethnic and sectarian violence, militants from several Taliban factions, especially from the northwestern tribal areas, have moved here to escape military operations and U.S. drone attacks," Rehman told UPI Next.
"Taliban militants originally used to visit Karachi only for fund-raising, rest and medical treatment. But they have changed their strategy and have begun threatening liberal leaders of political parties, like the ANP, MQM and PPP," he said.
A senior Karachi police official, Additional Inspector General Ghulam Qadir Thebo, said the Taliban presence in Karachi was strong in several neighborhoods.
"A large number of Taliban militants are based in Sohrab Goth, Manghopir, Ittehad Town, Malir, Sultanabad, Baldia Town, Katti Pahari, Banaras and other Pashtun areas of Karachi," he told UPI Next, referring to the Pashtun ethnic group to which Taliban fighters belong.
Karachi police arrested 24,000 criminals, thieves, extortionists, land grabbers, Taliban terrorists and target killers in the six-month period through the end of June, Thebo said.
The head of the Anti-Extremism Cell of the Sindh provincial police force's Crime Investigation Department, Senior Superintendent Chaudhry Aslam, said police had arrested six militants on July 11 over the murder of the MQM's Qureshi. All six belonged to Laskhar-e-Jhangvi, he told UPI Next.
"The Taliban have a strong network in Karachi. A large number of Taliban moved from Waziristan, Swat and tribal areas after military operations against them. We have arrested more than 60 Taliban terrorists in Karachi since January this year," Aslam told UPI Next.
Meanwhile two Taliban militants suspected of involvement in Farid Khan's murder were arrested in Hangu.
"Mufti Hamid was arrested on June 4 and Muhammad Rafiq was arrested on June 15 in Hangu," Information Minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Shaukat Yousufzai, told UPI Next.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Information Secretary Shireen Mazari, who is a national legislator, said more arrests were planned.
"The KP government is taking more measures to arrest more terrorists who are involved in the murder of PTI leader Farid Khan and Imran Mohmand," Mazari told UPI Next by phone.
Taliban and other militant groups were trying to destabilize the PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, she charged.
Amid the violence, the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has begun moves toward peace talks with the Taliban, proposing a conference of all political parties this month to develop a strategy for talks proposed in February by the Taliban.
However the Taliban said in a June 25 video message that "present circumstances" were not conducive for peace talks.
Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed in the video that the new government did not have the authority to hold talks. He said the Taliban would only consider dialogue if the government "took a stand" against the country's intelligence agencies.