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Pakistan: Incessant Violence in Karachi

The bloodshed in Karachi which has killed more than 300 people in the last three months hasn't come to a halt. The latest spree of bloodshed started after the killing of a political activist, Mansoor Mukhtar, who belonged to the MQM (Muthida Quami Movement) – the largest political party in Karachi. The next day – 28 March, 2012 – a political worker of ANP (Awami National Party), Mr Zianulabdeen was murdered by unknown terrorists.

These murders, backed by extortion activities and targeted killing, started a brutal chain reaction which has gloomed the port city's landscape. Dawn's timeline aptly summarizes all the events which have occurred till the 9 April.

The million dollar question is, ‘why does violence always return in Karachi?’

Rangers stand guard next to a burnt out car that was set on fire after a shooting incident, which killed Awami National Party (ANP) activist in Karachi. Image by Mohsin Hasan. Copyright Demotix.

Rangers stand guard next to a burnt out car that was set on fire after a shooting incident, which killed Awami National Party (ANP) activist in Karachi. Image by Mohsin Hasan. Copyright Demotix.

Last year 1,175 people were killed. There are many reasons to this violence. Some reasons are:

  1. The city is divided around different fault lines. These fault lines are based on ethnicity, culture, language, and sect. Furthermore, there are fault lines inside different communities. Such conflicts catalyses the ‘war dialectic’ in the city. Different interest groups have different pursuits. Naturally, the pursuit of power is one of them. A single spark is all what is needed for a violence spree. In the last four months, Karachi hosted the largest number of political rallies in the country, i.e. rallies by Tahreek-e-Insaaf ( Movement for Justice), MQM (United National Movement) women wing, Right wing Defa-e-Pakistan (Defense of Pakistan), right wing JUI (Assembly of Islamic Clergy), JSQM (Sindhi Nationalist Movement), and right wing Defa-e-Tashishu (Defence of Shia). All these rallies gathered a large number of supporters, which shows how much the city is divided on ideological lines.
  2. Political parties have alleged military wings. According to an HRCP (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan) report, all major political parties in Karachi have private militias. They use these militia groups for securing vested interest. This balkanizes communities and hence foster violence. Last year, the Supreme court took a suo moto and ordered the abolishment of all band militias. No pragmatic progress is seen on this order.
  3. Overpopulation and lack of planning. The city's population has grown from 0.5 million (1947) to 5 million (1970s). Today the number stands on a staggering 20 million. On the other hand, no massive infrastructure development has taken place to tackle this huge population inflow. Combination of these two variable deteriorated the economic conditions of the dwellers. This allowed criminal groups to exploit economic conditions for personal gains.

Pervez Hoodbhoy explains the effects of overpopulation with an analogy with fishes. According to a research, fishes have to two goals:  1) they want to increase access to available space, and 2) increase access to the amount of habitat complexity (presence of obstacles and hiding places like rocks and plants) within the tank. As more fish are added, amount of space becomes less available. Hence aggressiveness increas.

According to Hoodbhoy Karachi is no different. The infrastructure has depleted over the years. He quotes Eqbal Ahmed, who writes:

Karachi is starved of the wealth it generates. The city contributes more than sixty per cent of the federal and Sindh governments’ revenues. Only a fraction of it is invested back in building its infrastructure. To make matters worse, under successive Karachi governments, land and other resources have been prey to the greed of those in power.

People gather at the house where the dead bodies of five people were found. Image by PPI Images. Copyright Demotix.

People gather at the house where the dead bodies of five people were found. Image by PPI Images. Copyright Demotix.

The common people of the city are extremely dejected by the present conditions of the city. Teenagers don't see any positive development in the near future. A shadow of hopelessness overwhelms their remarks. A plea to God for a prosperous future is all what they have. Teenagers gave the following remarks when asked about the turmoil in Karachi:

Natasha Faisal comments:

I look around myself and wonder how we will ever prosper when we are divided into groups which bring no development in the country. I wonder why we have become so hardened that we no longer mourn the death of our fellow Karachiites.

Mirha Khan comments:

With the amount of violence we have witnessed in Karachi recently, I often wonder if the city will end up burning to ashes.

Malika Niazi comments:

All we can do now is pray for Karachi’s future.  People are, indeed, dying and it really isn’t that safe to be roaming about on the streets unarmed.

Twitter and Facebook were flooded with remarks of despondence and criticism on the government to stop violence.

Jawad Hussain: The city of Karachi is once again under a wave of violence. What I saw this morning was that some miscreants setting ablaze a mini bus in Gulistan e Jauhar area while reports are there about killing innocent people in different parts of the metropolis including Baldia Town.

@parasabbasi: Saw a weird dream today where I and two other friends were going to buy medicines and became target of firing (#Karachi violence)

Nadeem Paracha asks about the real terroists in Karachi?

@NadeemfParacha: So many reports on Karachi violence in today's papers and not a single one mentions who was/is killing whom.

The government must take actions as Jaffrry tweets:

@Jaffrry: Authorities must execute appropriate strategy to stop violence in #Karachi.

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