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Ethnic fault lines of Karachi

August 27, 2011

Karachi killings

KARACHI, Aug 27: July may have been the deadliest month of violence of the year so far, but August has certainly been the scariest with the city descending into a free-for-all ethnic warfare.

With more than 1,400 killings mostly on ethnic and political grounds this year, the parties having political stakes in Karachi agree that the city is fast dividing along ethnic lines but do not believe that it will adversely affect their stakes or political future.

However, analysts and rights activists see every national party suffer and ethnicity grow following the recent bloodshed.“Obviously it causes fear among the people of Karachi on ethnic grounds,” said Saeed Ghani, a senior leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

“But you see violence or killings on ethnic grounds are not new to Karachi. I will not call it damaging for the PPP, as our party has roots in the masses across Pakistan with activists from every ethnic and religious background.”

However, ethnic parties always benefited whenever such violence flared up, he said.

“Unfortunately the recent killing spree forced many families to flee homes and relocate to the strongholds of their ethnic communities,” he added.

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) — which has emerged as the largest single party in general elections in Karachi whenever it participates in them since the late 1980s — sees the recent violence a ‘conspiracy’ for ‘ethnic division’ to restrict it to certain areas of Karachi.

But it believes the ‘serious effort’ on these lines is more from a ‘bunch of gangsters’ backed by ‘influential individuals’ and not by particular ethnic communities.

“Definitely there is a serious effort behind this recent bloodshed,” said Wasay Jalil of the MQM. “In the recent wave of killings, a particular community has been targeted. The same was witnessed last month in Qasba Colony and parts of Orangi Town. But we firmly believe that Karachi is a vibrant city and since the Rangers have started taking action such a divisive plot will ultimately fail.”

Asked about recent criticism against the MQM for taking an ethnic line on recent killings, Mr Jalil said it was due to the heavy casualties that a particular community suffered.

“The recent killings claimed the lives of Urdu-speaking people more than those of any other community. The MQM could have showed the same concerns for people from any community if they were targeted in such a large number,” he said.

Karachi killings - Jan 1 to Aug 27, 2011

Over 220 people have been killed in the city so far in August, with most killings carried out in the latter half of this month after four Baloch footballers from Lyari were found shot dead apparently in the areas dominated by Urdu-speaking population.

Countless others were wounded in the wave of violence.

Only last month 324 people were killed — mostly on ethnic grounds — in the city, particularly in Qasba Colony and other parts of Orangi Town.

The frequent killings mainly on ethnic grounds do not appear ‘natural’ to right activists and social analysts though they fear the phenomenon has somehow managed to sow fear and hatred among the people of different communities in Karachi that only serve political interests.

“It has become quite clear that all this violence is part of a turn war among political parties,” said Zohra Yusuf, the chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

“As a demographic trend, the MQM has monopoly over Karachi when it comes to city control and it seems that the ethnic divide is to end their power or gradually weaken it.”

She said that ethnic parties always tried to promote ethnicity among people and terrorise them from other communities to strengthen political interests. The MQM was formed for ethnic reasons and after the recent killings it sounded again following the same line, she added.

“Karachi was tolerant and has always been a multi-ethnic city but the political targets have divided it on ethnic lines. And the way the recent killings were executed, it has become too difficult to get rid of such a divide. The PPP seems to be playing a double game as they think they are playing strategically but ultimately they would lose in the long run for short-term gains,” added Ms Yusuf.