Ethnic violence roils Pakistan's commercial hub, Karachi

Although Karachi is the most ethnically diverse city in Pakistan and is known for its violence, current levels of violence are hearken back to the 1990s, when the Pakistan Army was ordered to restore order.

By , Correspondent

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    Angry protesters burn roadside shops to condemn the recent killings in Karachi, Pakistan, on Oct. 20. Parts of Pakistan's largest city shut down after the latest wave of violence.
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At least five people were killed in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi Wednesday in the latest wave of violence to grip the country’s volatile economic hub.

The killings bring the overall death toll from a series of shootouts linked to a provincial by-election contested over the weekend to nearly 90, and some parts of the city may soon face a curfew, according to Pakistani media reports.

Ethnic violence is believed to be at the heart of the attacks, and members of parliament from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Party, which holds sway over the city and has a large constituency among Karachi’s dominant ethnic “Mohajjir” population, have been quick to point the finger at the Awami National Party (ANP), which represents the city’s Pashtun population.

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“The ANP are aiming to confine the MQM so they can rule Karachi with their gangsters,” says Izhar ul-Hassan, a senior member of parliament in the Sindh Assembly. That charge is denied by Haji Adeel, a senior vice president of the ANP, who claims the MQM is blocking his party’s efforts to rid the city of weapons and accuses the MQM of victimizing his party for daring to challenge it electorally.

The particular provincial seat in question was previously held by MQM politician Raza Haider, who was murdered in August, and was retained by the party in the election. The ANP boycotted the poll.

Also Wednesday, President Asif Ali Zardari summoned Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Sindh Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza to Islamabad for talks on how to resolve the situation.

Some 350 people have lost their lives to targeted killings this year in Karachi, with religious attacks against the city’s Shiite community accounting for a large portion of those deaths.

Although the city, with a population of 18 million, is the most ethnically diverse city in Pakistan and is known for its violence, the current levels are unusually high and are seen as a throwback to the 1990s, when the Pakistan Army was ordered to intervene to restore order.

Resident Maleeha Habib describes the situation in the city presently as “tense and frightening,” adding: “It’s unusual to be able to count the number of cars in this city, especially in the commercial centers.” Schools and banks remained closed on Wednesday after a day of mourning was declared.

According to Sharfuddin Memon, the former chairman of Karachi’s Citizens-Police Liaison Committee, all parties have suffered heavily this year and the “blame game” that occurs in the aftermath of such attacks creates more tension.

“Ordinary people have been targeted as a result as part of ethnic cleansing efforts. You can’t blame just one group and the parties will have to point the finger at their common enemy,” he says, adding that criminal gangs as well as Islamist groups profit from the general state of chaos, and that a serious de-weaponization program must be implemented by all parties to help restore order.

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