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Pakistan's largest city rocked by wave of violence


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People from different ethnic groups walk through a market in Karachi. – AP Photo

KARACHI: Bodies are piling up in Pakistan's largest city as it suffers one of its most violent years in history, and concern is growing that the chaos is giving greater cover for the Taliban to operate and undermining the country's economic epicenter.   

Karachi, a sprawling port city on the Arabian Sea, has long been beset by religious, sectarian and ethnic strife. Here armed wings of political parties battle for control of the city, Sunnis and Shias die in tit-for-tat sectarian killings, and Taliban gunmen attack banks and kill police officers. With an election due next year, the violence could easily worsen.

According to the Citizens' Police Liaison Committee, a civic organisation that works with police to fight crime, the violence has claimed 1,938 lives as of late November, the deadliest year since 1994, when the CPLC began collecting figures. Police tallies put the dead at 1,897 through mid-October.

The Taliban seem to be taking advantage of the chaos to expand their presence in the city, a safe distance from areas of Pakistani army operations and US drone strikes.

During recent Supreme Court hearings, judges ordered authorities to investigate reports that as many as 8,000 Taliban members were in the city.

Security officials say the Taliban raise money in Karachi through bank and ATM robberies, kidnappings and extortion, and are recruiting as well. The head of the city's Central Investigation Department, Chaudhry Aslam, who is tasked with tracking down militants, said the Taliban have killed at least 24 of his officers this year.

Regular citizens are often caught in the middle. Samina Waseem says her son Aatir, 21, went out on May 22 to get his phone fixed. Three days later she found his body in the morgue with a gunshot wound through his head.

She's convinced he was killed because he belonged to the Mohajir community, descended from people who moved from India to newly created Pakistan when the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947.

Part of Karachi's problem is that since 1947 its population has mushroomed from 435,000 to 18 million. The metropolis ranges from the high-end neighborhoods of Clifton where people live behind bougainvillea-covered walls and eat arugula and fig salads at posh restaurants, to concrete block houses on the dusty outskirts. There migrants move in from the rugged northwest where the US is waging its war with the Taliban, and from the flood-prone plains of Sindh.

That population growth is marked by spurts of violence. Currently the overarching struggle appears to be between two powerful forces. One is the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), the city's dominant force, which represents Urdu-speaking Mohajirs. The other is the Awami National Party (ANP). It represents Pashtuns whose numbers are increasing as their ethnic kin flee the northwest.

The MQM prides itself on being the protector of middle-class, liberal, secular values in a country where extremism and religious conservatism hold sway. It says the Taliban began moving into Karachi in force, driven south by a military offensive in 2009, and is wreaking havoc while hiding among the Pashtun. ''We are trying our level best to keep Karachi alive,'' said Engr Nasir Jamal, of the MQM.

The ANP and the Pashtuns believe the MQM is nervous that Pashtun population growth will undermine their hold on Karachi, and that it is targeting Pashtuns to intimidate them. The Pashtuns acknowledge that the Taliban are a big problem, including for them, because the terror group has also been killing its members. But they say the MQM exaggerates the problem.

The battle lines are visible across the city. MQM flags and posters blanket the Urdu-speaking neighborhoods, and red flags and graffiti mark ANP territory in the poorer, blue-collar neighborhoods.

Theirs is hardly the only conflict. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which heads the national government, says 450 of its activists have been killed over the last 4 years. Nationalists from Balochistan province find refuge in the city, Sunni extremists target Shias they consider infidels and the Shias fight back. Add waves of people displaced by floods over the last three years, and the lack of land and resources becomes a toxic brew. ''This is a war for controlling Karachi,'' said Taj Haider, a leading member of the PPP in Sindh.

During pitched battles between armed wings of political parties last year, whole neighborhoods were cut off, children kept away from school and residents shot and killed while shopping for food. This year the violence has been more spread out.

The effect on Karachi's business community is being felt, said Mohammed Atiq Mir, chairman of the All Karachi Trade Association. He estimated that 20,000-25,000 businesses have left, and that the economic loss equals about $10 million dollars a day. Businessmen he talks with have begun hiring private security guards and are getting licenses to carry weapons.

The city's police are often outnumbered and outgunned. There is one police officer for every 600 people, compared with 1 to 150 on average in neighboring India, said Sharfuddin Memon, an adviser to the Sindh provincial government. There is no witness protection program, so people are reluctant to testify. De-weaponization plans have gone nowhere.

Meanwhile the deaths multiply, and the death of Samina Waseem's son remains one among hundreds that go unexplained and unpunished.

“I just want that whoever did it to just tell us, why he did it,” she pleaded. “Just tell a mother why he killed my son.”

DAWN_VIDEO - /1029551/DAWN-RM-1x1

Comments (45) Closed

ROHIT PANDEY Dec 08, 2012 12:52pm
Easy enough explanation....Afghans and Pakistanis no longer like each other. The Muslim Ummah is not hanging together!!!!
Ali Dec 08, 2012 06:39am
Take religion and politics off the road and things would change.
shahidmasud12 Dec 08, 2012 01:52pm
It's you and others like you who are responsible for the current situation that prevails in Karachi . May Allah guide all those who are involved in this .
shahidmasud12 Dec 08, 2012 02:53pm
Nothing better can be said
gangadin Dec 08, 2012 01:54pm
Karachi is the most expensive city to manage. Its not generating anything for rest of the Pakistan and by the way, Karachi is good example of what will happen with the rest of Pakistan.
Muhammad Dec 12, 2012 04:35pm
To Writier, You said that "Sunni extremists target Shias they consider infidels and the Shias fight back".... I would like to know about the "Shias fighting back"? Could you please give some reference on that.
Anony Dec 07, 2012 09:20pm
Well said.
Narendra Dec 08, 2012 01:56pm
who has created this Taliban//
kausik Dec 08, 2012 10:54pm
24 officers of law killed this is intolerable in democratic Pakistan looks like Gun culture is very active in Karachi and more innocent civilians dying and banning guns is first step but who can bell the cat
Anony Dec 07, 2012 09:17pm
Khan Dec 08, 2012 06:14pm
So, if there are more people get killed every day in Karachi than any other part of the country, Then why the people of South Waziristan are order to leave their homes? Shouldn't it be the other way around?
skeptic Dec 08, 2012 07:09pm
the problem is not only the crazy amounts of corruption and nepotism which exists at all levels but also high level's of incompetence which our systems produces at large. We needed more people like Mr Ardeshir Cowasjee in Karachi in the 80's to come forward and be heard by the civil society but sadly not many people came forward when it mattered while the city was perpetually changed by the land grabbers.
Khan Dec 07, 2012 06:30am
We have enough Blogs on Karachi, the problem can be solved by doing the following 1) Karachi should be run by People of Karachi not from Islamabad or Lahore 2) Rangers should be sent back and equal amount of Police personnel be hired from Karachi who has done the Matric from a school of Karachi to prove that the person is local irrespective of ethnicity, Import of Police personnel from Punjab & KP should stop as thye do not offer Jobs to People of Karachi 3) Stop on Land Grabbing and vacate the grabbed land by force from the economic migrant who came to city from other provinces 4) Afgans should be sent out of City back to their country 5) City should be given its due share from the revenue it generate which is taken by Federal Govt and whatever left taken by Sindh Govt, they all put the claim on Karachi but do not care about it 6) Jobs generated in Karachi should be given to people of Karachi as done in other parts of Country but the people of Karachi are robbed of their birth right. Karachi problem can be solved when people in Power coridor consider it as part of Pakistan in letter and spirit not for only collecting revenue.
Khan Dec 08, 2012 06:15pm
When was the last time you had peace in Karachi?
AHA Dec 08, 2012 12:35pm
Thank you for sharing our grief.
Nasir Dec 08, 2012 04:14am
every political/religious/military group want a piece of action! They want to squeeze poor Karachities like the discarded sugar cane devoid of any nutrient.
Saeed Dec 08, 2012 01:36am
Upto now in Pakistan neither religion or any race ethnicity show pride worthy . Why don't we start hating ourself instead other
Indusonian Dec 08, 2012 01:37am
It is part of the PPP style democracy. People are going to vote them into the offices if elections are going to ever happen because people want this type of democracy.
Ahsan Dec 07, 2012 01:51pm
I agee with suggestion of khan, that a only solution. The problem lies with the mindset of other communities which consider this city and its native as a bounty.We consider bangalies as inferior and disgrad there vote bank and noone at time would have thought it will lead to disintegration of country.Again we are repeating the same mistake as SC order to device election in a way the native party should loose it.
Adbul Dec 07, 2012 06:11pm
This what we intolerant and no realizing how?
Omar Dec 07, 2012 11:38pm
This is my Pakistan and my Karachi as well. If u have a problem with others , LEAVE.
Yadav Dec 07, 2012 05:21pm
He Jinnah was a Shia. You are absolutely right.
Karachiite Dec 07, 2012 09:25am
MQM has tied its hands in the back by reaching out for whole of Pakistan, unfortunately they will never ever find support by other ethnicities. They should retreat and protect their own city Karachi from the Northern hordes. Like this they will loose karachi and we karachiites will be thrown into the SEA.
farkhunda Dec 07, 2012 09:20am
it is shocking news that without a sin samina's son has been killed.
Alok Dec 12, 2012 05:55am
Me being an Indian honestly feels sad for the current state of the Pakistans economic hub, the situation is currently out of hand and the political in competitiveness has proven to be an aide for the Talibans introduced Gun culture......In a situation like this mostly no one but a mere common simple man is the one who suffers the most.....I hope and wish that this bloodshed comes to an end and the situation gets resolved ASAP....
Muhammad Dec 07, 2012 08:47am
This was the city jinnah was born,Imagine what would have happened to Jinnah if he would have lived in Karachi now.I think he would have been a victim of sectarian violence.
Rehan Dec 07, 2012 04:35pm
our government should provide resources to people to stay in their province. if the influx of people from KP is not checked, it will drag karachi in civil war.
Ahmed Hasan Haquani Dec 07, 2012 02:14pm
only clean-up operation against every criminal is the solution of karachi
akil akhtar Dec 09, 2012 10:31pm
and you are pleased...
akil akhtar Dec 09, 2012 10:26pm
It was beautiful until 1982, when guess which political party was formed..?
akil akhtar Dec 09, 2012 10:28pm
No it is the racism of the so called karachiites (who are also migrants) against the migrants from other parts of Pakistan which is the cause of so much suffering,.
Khan Dec 09, 2012 10:24pm
In both cases people of Waziristan will leave
akil akhtar Dec 09, 2012 10:23pm
We need to start treating every criminal as such no matter which political party they belong to.
afrem Dec 09, 2012 09:18pm
Figure out!!!!!
afrem Dec 09, 2012 09:16pm
The time when you guys were still living in your home towns!!!!Problems started the day you moved in Karachi...that is why you don't remember Karachi as a peaceful city!!!!
afrem Dec 09, 2012 08:35pm
It seems like a never ending battle between Israelis and Palestinians. Karachi has been invaded by foreigners and hold key positions in the government. Karachiites are suffering under the foreign occupation.... Pakistanis should have the same sentiments that they have for the Palestinians
samar Dec 07, 2012 03:14pm
Sachin please note these are the facts about karachi where in most cases religion was not the cause of conflict.India has the same problem in mumbai and other places where poor migrants from other parts of india were not welcome but no violence that is the difference.In karachi migrants from other parts of pakistan wants to control the city this not the case in india and if this situation arise in mumbai and etc what will be the reaction?
amir Dec 07, 2012 10:15am
Its really sad to hear and read such news and articles,it rips the heart............ Iam ashamed to be a part of such nation, who belive in Oneness of Allah who consider Quran and Sunnah to the best teaching which are the golden principles history ever had yet leading lifes worst that beast. May ALLAH guide us all to the right path. Ameen
Leo Dec 07, 2012 11:25am
'Indian City' have made an interesting comment....i assume you are a muslim and a pakistani....could you elaborate please?
Shauqat Ali Dec 07, 2012 01:04am
Another Afghan invasion of an Indian city....history's repeating itself...for how long shall we keep pretending that peoples on both sides of the Indus river are the same nation?
Yawar Dec 07, 2012 01:39am
Karachi's situation is really sad. But why would it be any different as long as each and every person identifies himself with a particular group and does not give a hoot about what happens to his muslim brother beonging to another group.
Gerry D'Cunha Dec 07, 2012 11:51am
the problem in karachi is that, every political parties wants to keep its hold and desire to own this golden city which is generating revenue for the whole country
Pavas Ambashta Dec 07, 2012 05:23am
1938 deaths till November only in Karachi!! Oh My God!! What a waste of innocent human lives!! I dont believe on this number..Please someone tell that either this number is wrong or this number is for entire Pakistan!!
Sachin Dec 07, 2012 05:27am
While I read the Dawn frm here in Mumbai for its rich content.... I sometimes avoid reading it for the sheer pain it causes me to read how the city and the whole country has so much of bloodshed.... so much in the name of religion.... Sad to see this loss of life in a violent way.... doesnt matter where it happens...
Azhar Dec 07, 2012 05:38am
Karachi was the most beautiful city in the country. The generals and politicians destroyed it starting from Ayub Khan to the current Government.