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Violence In Karachi Escalates Amid A Fraying Government


Pakistani traders march during a rally in Karachi against political killings

Pakistani traders march during a rally in Karachi against political killings

Between October 14 and 19, Karachi, Pakistan’s sprawling mega-port, witnessed a wave of post-election violence that eventually claimed the lives of more than 80 people.

This spate of violence came on the eve of a controversial bi-election for a provincial assembly seat, pitting the Muttahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM) against its governing partner, the Awami National Party (ANP).

Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, has faced a barrage of criticism from the Pakistani press for the government’s handling of violence in Karachi. He has dubbed the killings as “targeted” – seemingly in a bid to deflect criticism.

The fact is that violence like this has plagued Karachi for some time, but the provincial government has found itself unable to overcome the trouble. The scale of the recent violence has forced some members of the central government to call for the deployment of the army -- the option of last resort in Pakistani politics.

Certainly, local real-estate cartels, sectarian extremists, and religious parties have all played a role in the present state of affairs in Karachi. But, the bulk of the problems lie in local politics where different parties are struggling to hold their grip without conceding ground to their rivals.

Karachi is the “jugular vein” of Pakistan – a hub of trade, banking, and industry. Now, though, parts of the city are regularly placed under curfew, and civic life is crippled.

The current trouble is usually attributed to the days of former Pakistani military dictator Ziaul Haq, or “General Zia”, who willfully promoted sectarianism while covertly supporting the creation of MQM to counter the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). In 1977, he overthrew the elected PPP government. Two years later, General Zia sent the elected premier, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, father of late Benazir Bhutto, to the gallows.

Since then, the MQM, which claims to represent Karachi’s Urdu-speaking community, has struggled to keep the city in its political grip. Today, the party is controlled by its self-exiled leader Altaf Hussain from London and is accused by rivals of bullying political opponents, members of the business community, and even the media.

The struggle, both political and armed, has virtually divided the city of Karachi into sectors, each district being held by one group or another. Rivals are not allowed to enter these controlled regions

The prevailing unrest in Karachi, if continued, may snowball into a bigger problem for the central Pakistani government, which is already struggling with the rehabilitation of the flood affected areas, Taliban insurgency, and judicial activism.

The MQM is already passing signals that the governing coalition with ANP is fraying, not only further increase the heat in Karachi, but also increasing the pressure on the central government.

-- Daud Khattak
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