AT least six people have been killed in two days of sectarian violence in Karachi's Godhra Colony locality. Gunmen reportedly belonging to the Sunni Tehrik and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (formerly Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan) traded fire throughout the night between Thursday and Friday. Along with activists from both outfits, unaffiliated citizens caught in the crossfire were among the dead. The clash was apparently sparked by a disagreement over the control of a local community-run hospital and an affiliated mosque. Despite the fact that armed men roamed the streets taking aim at rivals, the police's response to the violence has been characteristically feeble. In another incident on Friday, a man was killed when two groups clashed over the control of a mosque in Landhi. Due to earlier violence the mosque was sealed by court orders a few months ago; when the Sindh High Court ruled in favour of the Ahl-i-Hadees group, its members arrived to start construction work. However, when Sunni Tehrik supporters also arrived at the mosque, a deadly brawl ensued.
Disputes over the control of mosques are not new in this country. However, in the past when such a dispute arose it would be sorted out at the local mohallah level, with community elders deciding which imam would lead prayers. But today's Pakistan is a much more intolerant and communally divided place. Now, heavily armed, often proscribed religio-poltical groups with virulently sectarian moorings jump in whenever disputes over the control of mosques or affiliated concerns arise. Violence is a natural consequence when such elements are involved. The law-enforcement authorities need to take a more proactive approach and prevent such incidents from flaring up. Given Karachi's fragile sectarian fault lines, there is a very real danger of the violence spreading to other parts of the metropolis.