Pakistan's Sindis Clash Over Rights
Pitched battles in Bhutto's home province signal deep ethnic tensions and threaten democracy. KARACHI'S URBAN WARFARE
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Attitudes of local leaders on both sides are hardening. The MQM, which accounts for one-fourth of the 100-seat provincial assembly, is boycotting the legislature, claiming it can't trust the police and the lives of its leaders are in danger.Skip to next paragraph
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Under pressure from Pakistan's influential President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Bhutto set up a judicial inquiry into this month's violence and replaced the Sind chief minister in a move to defuse the standoff.
However, local PPP officials say the MQM and its opposition allies remain intent on toppling the provincial and central governments.
``It's a genuine, truthful and tragic fact that PPP members were brutal targets of terrorism by the MQM,'' says Iqbal Haider, a spokesman for the PPP government in Sind. ``Peace is the desperate need of my government. But the other side is keeping disturbances, confrontation and hatred alive.''
Political observers fault leaders on both sides for refusing to tolerate opposition. Altaf Hussain, MQM's charismatic leader, built the party on a growing army of poor unemployed youths and runs it like a personality cult, critics say.
Billboard pictures of Mr. Hussain dot neighborhoods in Karachi which, political observers say, he considers his personal fiefdom.
Recent street battles between the MQM and security forces underscore the party's readiness to assert its supremacy through a growing militancy. In the city's frequent ethnic riots, MQM gangs have clashed with native Sindis as well as Pashtuns, migrants from northwest Pakistan.
Journalists say Hussain took the MQM on an increasingly militant course under pressure from more rabid party dissidents in the Sindi city of Hyderabad. ``MQM wants Karachi on a platter,'' says Ayaz Amir, a political columnist in Islamabad. ``Pakistan has never before seen the street power and fire power of this party. The MQM is not an organization. It's a monster.''
For its part, the PPP, which is supported by native Sindis, is blamed for deepening mohajir resentment. Bhutto's rise to power had raised hopes that she could quiet the ethnic tensions in her home province.
Instead, her provincial government maintains autocratic control over development funds and political patronage in Karachi and other cities.
A swirl of corruption charges against Bhutto's Sindi husband, Asif Ali Zardari, which have been denied by the prime minister, stirred new animosity toward her.
Meanwhile, Karachi, Pakistan's industrial and financial hub, spins downward. Caught in the nexus of gun-running and drug smuggling, the city is a nightmare of festering slums, growing crime, failing services, a collapsing economy, and rampant unemployment.
With the police corrupt and widely discredited, the Army, which in the past has blamed rival India for stirring up troubles in Sind, now plays a decisive role in the province's political battle. Some political observers here say they find that ominous for a country that has spent years under military rule.
``With the breakdown of local government, the Army has become the only mediating force,'' says Naqwi, the Karachi political commentator. ``One has to fear for the future of democracy.''