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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs