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Violence Overwhelms Pakistan's Largest City

Violence Overwhelms Pakistan's Largest City
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Targeted killings, bombs, kidnappings and petty crime have become daily events in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city and its commercial hub. The poor are living in a climate of fear while even security forces are getting gunned down.

Suspected militants threw a grenade at Pakistan's paramilitary Ranger forces in Karachi in early April, killing four. It was just another attack in what has become Pakistan's most violent city.

Roughly 20 million people live here. There are almost daily reports of people killed by hired guns or militants such as the Taliban and Sunni extremists Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

Imran Shaukat, the Police Senior Superintendent of East Karachi, says it is a complex situation.

"The targeted killing in Karachi is being done by various groups for various reasons," he explained. "There is gang warfare, groups involved in it, there are tentacles of terrorist organizations involved in it, and there is criminal elements involved in it as well."

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, more than 2,200 people died in ethnic, sectarian, and politically linked violence last year.

In early March, a large bomb blast in a Shi'ite neighborhood killed 45 people. Militant Sunni Muslims, who consider Shi'ites to be heretics, were believed to be behind the attack.

Imtiaz Raza, a Shi'ite who works in a small street stall, says his family lives in fear.

"I am afraid to leave the house. When I leave my area, I am afraid a hit man is following me," he confided. "I'm afraid to go to the market. Something already happened to my family. My father-in-law and two brothers ran shops in the heart of a Sunni area for the last 32, 34 years, and they were killed in broad daylight."

Police say they are trying to stop the killings.

Imtiaz Gul, head of the Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies, agrees with police officer Shaukat that the violence in Karachi is multi-dimensional.

"The other dimension, of course, relates to the increasing presence and activism by religio-political parties, who also play host to a number of militant groups including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and many others," he noted. "[And] Because Karachi is a huge commercial and financial center, it also serves as an ATM for a number of militant groups who are out there challenging the writ of the state."

People were too afraid to speak to us on camera about Taliban violence.

Police since last August have arrested 191 target killers from different organizations, terrorist outfits as well as petty criminals. But none have been convicted.

"There is a lengthy procedure that we have to follow. We don't have any witness protection program. Witnesses don't come forward, so we have to find some forensic evidence that connects them with the crime scene. We are working on it, and hopefully we will get them convicted pretty soon."

But shopkeeper Raza says, while the wealthy of Karachi have armed guards and ride in armored vehicles, little is done -- even by the police -- to protect poor families like his.
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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.