Wave of violence

Wave of violence

The bloodletting in Karachi over the past month has resulted in the death of over 318 people in the month of July alone. Over 34 people have been killed in violence since Monday, signalling that August could be bloodier if the government does not act speedily.

Some have blamed the killings on the underworld, arguing that this is war for turf and patronage. However, the conflict is not just a gang war for control over drug trade or land. As pointed out by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, while mafias might be exploiting Karachi’s law and order situation, it is not they who are the main drivers of the violence. “That distinction belongs to more powerful political groups,” the HRCP report says. Indeed, this is a multi-layered ethno-political conflict that is being waged violently by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a regional party representing the Mohajirs – Urdu speaking people who migrated to Pakistan from India during Partition – and the Awami National Party, a party popular among the Pashtuns. Analysts say that the ANP’s clout has grown over the past decade and it is challenging the MQM’s stranglehold over Karachi’s slums, crime syndicates and so on. The ongoing violence is a bloody manifestation of that challenge.

Karachi was engulfed in ethnic violence between the Mohajirs and the Pashtuns through the 1980s and 90s. Added to this was the warfare between various MQM factions. And now there is a new complicating dimension. Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters have been taking refuge among the large number of Pashtun migrants in Karachi. The vast Orangi slum, which saw some of the worst fighting in July, is said to be home to several Taliban leaders. However, blaming the Taliban will not end the bloodshed. All of Pakistan’s main parties have armed militias. These need to be disarmed to end the fighting. Few expect Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani to do so given that the MQM and the ANP are partners in the ruling coalition.

The violence in Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial capital, has severely hit its already weak economy. Worse, it is destroying the soul of one of Pakistan’s most vibrant cities. Long regarded as a melting pot that drew people to soak themselves in its multi-ethnic and cosmopolitan culture, Karachi in recent decades has become synonymous with drive-by killings and ethnic wars. The government must change that to begin addressing the violence.

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