News / Asia

Wave of Violence Grips Karachi

Men move the body of Syed Manzar Imam, a member of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) political party and the Sindh provincial assembly who was killed by unidentified gunmen, from the morgue in Karachi's Abbasi Shaheed hospital, January 17, 2013.
Men move the body of Syed Manzar Imam, a member of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) political party and the Sindh provincial assembly who was killed by unidentified gunmen, from the morgue in Karachi's Abbasi Shaheed hospital, January 17, 2013.
Ayaz Gul
The wave of extremist, ethnic, sectarian and politically-motivated violence that has gripped Pakistan in recent years seems to have intensified, with an estimated 500 people killed since the beginning of 2013. Half of the casualties have taken place in the nation’s largest city and commercial center, Karachi, where observers blame a “turf war” among political and religious groups.

Karachi contributes about two-thirds of the country’s tax revenue.  And, it has a long history of violence.

Political and religious parties are often blamed for using ethnic gangs to carry out extortion rackets, land-grabbing campaigns, narcotics trafficking and kidnappings for ransom.

Muttahida Qaumi movement

The rivalries sometime explode into prolonged gun battles engulfing entire neighborhoods of the capital city of southern Sindh province. Most critics attribute the current bloodshed in the city of more than 18 million people to the ethnic rivalry between Karachi’s dominant political force, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, or MQM, and the Awami National Party or ANP.

The MQM represents descendants of Urdu-speakers or Mohajirs who migrated from India after Pakistan’s creation in 1947 and mostly settled in urban centers of Sindh. The ANP represents the ethnic Pashtun population and its power base has increased in recent years.

The MQM and the ANP openly blame each other for targeting party members. Ironically, the two are political allies as part of the province’s governing coalition headed by the Pakistan Peoples Party, which is also blamed in the violence. All deny they are involved.

Gangs exploiting lawlessness

Pakistani analysts estimate that more than 6,000 people have died in Karachi since early 2008, mostly in targeted sectarian and political attacks. Anis Haroon, a leading rights activist based in Karachi, says the violent political infighting has allowed criminal gangs to exploit the lawlessness to settle scores.

“It appears that it is free for all. Everyone is really worried and very confused that what this happening, but we are 100 percent sure about one thing, no one is trying to really maintain law and order and peace in Karachi. So, there is complete lawlessness," said Haroon.

Ahmed Bilal Mehbood, who heads the pro-democracy Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, says the administrative structure and the under-trained police force of less than 35,000 personnel in Karachi have been deeply politicized in recent years.

“It has led to a situation where now civil administration and police have become totally incapable of administering Karachi. So, I think it is basically the ineffectiveness of the civil administration.  And, the political forces are unable to exert the authority because they are afraid that, if they let justice prevail across the board, then some of their own supporters might be affected," said Mehbood.

In a judicial review prompted by deteriorating security in Karachi, the country’s fiercely independent supreme court, late last year, also called for political parties in the city to denounce ties with criminal gangs to help end the worst ethnic and political bloodshed in more than two decades. Independent rights group estimate that the violence in Karachi claimed nearly 2,300 lives in 2012.

The intensity in the targeted attacks is also being attributed to an ongoing voters’ verification process by election authorities in Karachi. Critics say that, in the past, the MQM has been able to manipulate electoral rolls and is trying to thwart the verification effort. Party leaders deny the charges.

Electoral pressure

Elections in Pakistan are expected in May and most parties are demanding deployment of troops at Karachi’s polling stations to keep the peace. Ahmed Bilal Mehbood and other independent observers are skeptical about the city’s ability to hold an election without the assistance of the military.  

“I think in Karachi, as long as the armed forces are not there quite visible and in the vicinity of polling stations during elections, we may be witnessing some violence. Even before that," he said. "I think the verification of voters also requires the presence of armed forces personnel. I don’t think that the normal arrangements which are made for elections would suffice in the case of Karachi and Baluchistan.”

Baluchistan, in southwest Pakistan, is another worry for election organizers. There, a low-level separatist insurgency coupled with deadly attacks on minority Shiite Muslims have also raised security concerns. In the northwest, the Pakistani Taliban continues its insurgency. 

But, the turmoil in Karachi could be far more significant in the long term to the national economy. Analysts say the violence in Karachi, in addition to an ever worsening energy crisis, has scared away foreign investors in recent years and frequent economic disruptions have caused millions of dollars a day in losses.

You May Like

Photogallery Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Competing Claims of Responsibility for Mali Hotel Attack

Malian authorities ask public for help in identifying gunmen killed in attack, amid conflicting claims of responsibility from multiple jihadist groups active in the country

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs