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 Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid