Karachi Explodes in Ethnic Warfare
By Huma Imtiaz
In the past year alone, Karachi, Pakistan's largest city and financial hub, has seen a startling increase in ethnic and political violence with more than 1,100 people killed, at the hands of unknown gunmen. In a city that is the economic lifeline of Pakistan, how can an average of three people be killed on the streets every day? The answer is that the police and paramilitary forces, the Rangers, seem incapable of controlling the law and order situation, while major political parties pass the blame around to each other and unnamed "third parties."
Karachi is an ethnically mixed city of 18 million. The largest group is Muhajirs, Urdu speakers descended from those who migrated from India after Partition. Other ethnicities include Baloch, Punjabis, Sindhis, and nearly 5 million Pashtuns, who have migrated from Afghanistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
The victims of the killings include Muhajirs, Pashtuns, and Sindhis -- each of whom have claimed the city as their own. In August 2010, following the murder of a parliamentarian from the city's largest party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), at least 82 people -- primarily Pashtuns -- were killed by unknown gunmen across the city.
Every incident is followed by a new round of allegations from the MQM and the Awami National Party (ANP), who draw most of their support from the Muhajir and Pashtun communities respectively. The MQM claims that the violence is instigated by criminal elements that want to destabilize Karachi. The ANP, in turn, says that factions within the MQM want to drive Pashtuns out of the city. More often, an unspecified "third party" is blamed.
Fayyaz Leghari, Karachi's police chief, denies there was any political pressure against taking action on target killings. "The political parties are actively involved in getting things under control and using their influence to control the violence," he says. "Karachi has multi-ethnic violence, there are some kinds of clashes between two communities, and that is effectively controlled by the government." Leghari adds that the police have arrested more than 60 people in 2010 and charged them with targeted killing, and that the cases are being pursued in court.
But while the police deny the involvement of political parties, the numbers speak for themselves. The deaths of up to 50 people a day at the hands of "unknown gunmen" are becoming disturbingly frequent, and reek of ethnic genocide. As political parties continue to blame each other, the financial lifeline of the country and a city renowned for its diversity are risking permanent damage.
Huma Imtiaz is a journalist in Pakistan.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images