Posts Tagged ‘MQM’

Via AfPak/FP

For those of us on the outside looking in, Karachi’s violence seems exceedingly complex. I’m often left perpetually confused. But last October, journalist Huma Yusuf told me that the mechanics of the conflict are often the same – ethnically driven conflict over turf and power in the city. As we continue to delve into the underlying causes of each upsurge in violence, we observe this same pattern in different iterations. In a modest effort to break down the most recent conflict, in which more than 700 have been killed so far, 200 in the last month alone, I give you Karachi Violence FAQs Part III (Click here to see Part I, and here to see Part II).

FAQ: Who are the main parties in this conflict and how did it escalate out of control?

In Karachi Violence 101, which I wrote back in January 2010 [Note: this is by no means a comprehensive treatment of the violence over the past year, just a summary of what we’ve covered on CHUP], the main players in the conflict were workers or gang members associated with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the political party which controls Karachi, and the Pakistan People’s Party, (PPP), who were then vying for control over land. Violence at the time was concentrated in Lyari Town in Karachi.

In October 2010, (see Karachi Violence 102) – tensions between the MQM and the Awami National Party (ANP) had spilled over in part because of the assassination of MQM’s Raza Haider and the subsequent by-election to replace his then-vacant seat. Violence and tensions were then concentrated in Orangi Town, one of Karachi’s largest and poorest slums, where the MQM had held the provincial seat since 1988 but where it was also considered the “tensest district divided between Mohajirs and Pathans,” noted Yusuf. So, again. Turf/Power = Violence [simplistic version].

In the most recent conflict, violence erupted after the murder of an ANP activist triggered an all-out war between the party and the MQM, noted Shaheryar Mirza in Caravan Magazine‘s “Karachi’s Turf Wars” (a must-read). The killings were once again first concentrated in Orangi, and became so escalated that media outlets called July, “the deadliest month in almost two decades.” (Although some sources claim the number was more than 200 killed, other outlets say it was upwards of 300.) On Tuesday, news agencies reported that in 24 hours, 26 people were killed, of which 18 were victims of targeted killings.

FAQ: So the violence this time around is between the MQM and the ANP, but where does the PPP stand in the conflict?

As with many of Karachi’s past escalations in violence, all three parties in the PPP-MQM-ANP trifecta appear to have some role in each iteration of the cycle. Last month, Sindh Minster and PPP member Zulfiqar Mirza caused an uproar after he made provocative remarks against the MQM’s Altaf Hussain, calling the leader of a breakaway MQM [MQM(H)], “the true leader of the Muhajirs” while accusing the main MQM of trying to divide Sindh. He further stated, “I call upon the people of Karachi and Hyderabad to get rid of these lowlifes.” The Express Tribune reported, “Mirza’s rant sparked an almost instant outburst of violent protests throughout Karachi, with aerial gunfire heard in nearly every part of the city.”

But wait. There’s more on the PPP dynamic in this conflict.

During a brief period between June and July, Sindh’s “longest-serving” Governor Ishratul Ibad resigned from office, after the MQM pulled out of the ruling coalition in protest over the postponement of elections of two Karachi seats in the Azad Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Assembly.  In the Friday Times, Ali K. Chishti wrote,

During the brief period in which the Sindh governor was away, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) undid the Local Governments Ordinance of 2001 and revived the 1979 Local Bodies Ordinance, restoring the magistrate system to manage the districts through commissioners and deputy commissioners.

Chishti added, “The PPP, which represents rural Sindh, wants to consolidate its position in the cities against the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) which represents urban Sindh.” Fellow blogger Umair Javed, on the tense MQM-PPP dynamic, wrote, “Those of you who’ve been following PPP-MQM relations over the last few years would know that agreeing on a time line for local government elections has remained a major thorn for the coalition,” [read the rest of his post to learn more].

So, incendiary remarks by a PPP member (though other party members distanced themselves immediately), and tensions surrounding the local government issue – both factors that make the conflict all the more exacerbated and intense. In regard to the current violence, the ruling party – the PPP – have  been watching from the sidelines this increasing breakdown of law and order. Bilal Baloch wrote last month for Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel,

The dilemma is thus: How should the government respond effectively and objectively to the violence when it is the very political actors tasked with governing and solving Karachi’s problems that are themselves protagonists of the quagmire? When the workers and supporters of the MQM and ANP… are slaughtering one another, who should the ruling partner PPP, crack down on? They could move against the ANP, but this would effectively lead their government to collapse. Perhaps the government could use their iron fists against the MQM, but battering this powerful party, long the overlords of Karachi, traditionally results in political suicide.

Just this past week, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters, “We will take every possible action to restore peace in Karachi,” adding that results of the government’s action will be visible soon. In the meantime, calls for peace by the government and political parties have so far fallen on deaf ears. Finally, on Tuesday, the Pakistani government “authorized paramilitary forces to conduct raids in some of the city’s most violent neighborhoods to try to restore order,” reported the NY Times.

FAQ: Calling in the [paramilitary] troops? What does that mean, exactly?

This is not the first time the government has called in the Rangers to curb the violence, nor is it the first time that the political parties involved in the conflict have asked for these forces to be deployed, [Ahsan from Five Rupees questions how the MQM could even do that in this post]. Back in January 2010, a journalist source told me, “The rangers that have been sent in with the police won’t make much of a difference, particularly since the police is politicized and doesn’t come under the jurisdiction of the city government. Dawn‘s Huma Yusuf noted last year, “…the MQM’s request for the Rangers, the army and intelligence agencies to maintain law and order in the city is akin to slapping a band-aid on a deep, infected wound.”

Interesting how history repeats itself, don’t you think? Or how I can cite analysis and statements made a year and a half ago during a different iteration of the violence and it still holds true today?

In terms of the role of the police in the situation, Baloch wrote in another AfPak piece this week, “Yet it is not the police themselves who are entirely to blame for the breakdown of law and order, but rather a system whereby politicians are able to use the police according to their whims…A revolution in police affairs needs to take place with regards to the relationship between the police and the province’s politicians.”

All of this further emphasizes how violence continues to be used as a political tool for intimidation and power. Mirza noted in the aforementioned Caravan piece how both parties take advantage of this, but the MQM tends to have the upper hand, particularly since they are more media savvy than their counterparts and can therefore demonize the other side more aptly.

FAQ: Amid the escalating violence, is there a potential solution?

So far, we have seen temporary solutions to a very endemic problem, a problem that is far too complex to be linear, far too brutal to be easily forgotten. The call for the Army and Rangers may quell the violence temporarily, but it is only a matter of time before Karachi erupts once again. A truce among the parties may also soon occur, but this also appears to be a short-term concession rather than a long-term solution.

On Monday, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan urged in a statement, “While gangs of land-grabbers and mafias have tried to exploit the breakdown of law and order…they do not appear to be the main directors of the horrible game of death and destruction; that distinction belongs to more powerful political groups, and it is they who hold the key to peace.”

As Karachi continues to burn, Shaheryar Mirza noted poignantly, “Land is priceless in this growing metropolis, but lives have become increasingly worthless.”

Here’s praying for you, Karachi. 

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Violence in Karachi 102


NYT: AFP/Getty Image

Back in January, I wrote a post entitled, “Violence in Karachi 101,” in which I attempted to break down the players in the  then-conflict, the root causes, and potential solutions, thanks mainly to interviews with journalists covering the issue on the ground. In Karachi, violence and political tensions have erupted time and time again, cloaking the city in bloodshed and garnering momentary headlines.

Huma Imtiaz wrote in the NY Times yesterday, “Targeted killings of various ethnic groups and political parties’ workers have left more than 300 people dead since 2008.” In recent months, noted Dawn Newspaper, Karachi has suffered “the worst such violence in years with 85 people killed after a lawmaker was shot dead in August.” Since Saturday alone, more than 70 people have died in the city as the result of such killings. Imtiaz reported,

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), representing the city’s Muhajirs, and Awami National Party, (ANP), with a dominant Pathan support base, have had tense relations. The MQM has accused the ANP of supporting organized crime and the ANP charges that its opponent is a terrorist organization that is responsible for the killings of Pathan residents. Both parties are coalition partners with the ruling Pakistan People’s Party in Sindh.

But what are the nuances of this conflict? Are the players involved the same as previous spates of violence and are they motivated by the same root causes? For those of us not from or currently living in Karachi, the nuances of the conflict seem daunting to comprehend. Below, two journalists – Huma Yusuf from Dawn (currently the Pakistan fellow at The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars) and Shaheryar Mirza, a Karachi-based reporter for Express 24/7, provide insight and help answer some FAQ’s related to Karachi’s most recent outbreak of violence:

Q: News agencies report that unrest first broke out in Karachi on Saturday, a day before a by-election was slated to be held for a provincial assembly seat left vacant after Raza Haider from the MQM was assassinated in August. Was the by-election the cause of this recent outbreak of violence or was it merely a catalyst following months of escalating tensions?

According to Yusuf, the mechanics of the conflict are the same as always – ethnically driven conflict over turf and power in Karachi. Although the by-election can be seen as the “catalyst” for the recent violence, political/religious/ethnic tensions are always simmering in the city. Orangi Town, the site of the by-elections, is the “tensest district in Karachi that is divided between the Mohajirs and the Pathans,” and the assassination of Raza Haider led this to be a very emotionally-charged election among MQM’s constituents.

Mirza added, the MQM has held the provincial (MPA) seat in Orangi Town since 1988. Although mostly Urdu-speaking communities live in Orangi, “it borders many different areas which have absorbed the large influx of Pashtun immigrants. Therefore, the two communities, as they expand, run into each other and begin to overlap.” As a result, he added, “some votes are won and lost in the new overlap,” leading to competition for power or “turf.”  Competing groups subsequently use violence and extortion to rule certain areas. “It is a lot like the way gangs exert their influence in other countries except that in Karachi, political parties are behind it.”

However, noted Mirza, this “political turf war” is only one aspect of Karachi’s violence. The drug mafias, criminal organizations, militant groups, student organizations, and ethnic violence “all overlap and link with each other through politics, ethnicity, and religion,” creating a complex web of unrest and tensions.

Q: This is obviously not the first time tensions in Karachi resulted in violence – is this spate of killings part of the larger trend from the past or is it different? (Are the killings less targeted and more indiscriminate?)

According to Yusuf, this recent outbreak of violence appear to be more brutal, mass killings, inclusive of people other than party workers (like the assassination of shopkeepers near Shershah).  She noted, “This could indicate two things; (1) Since the MQM has been worrying about shifting demographics in Karachi (in favor of a growing Pashtun voting block) the stakes of this round of violence are higher, and the parties are trying to give each other sterner/more violent messages than before. And (2) the involvement of other criminal groups and gangs (i.e. the Lyari gangsters that MQM has complained of). This is not a new phenomenon, but indicates a worsening level of security, law and order control.”

Mirza also noted the conspiracy theories surrounding the killings. “Amongst people who have been reporting on crime in the city for a long time, it is a common assertion that intelligence agencies also play a part in the violence – whether it is to raise tensions and pit certain groups against each other or for small-time political assassinations.” Another conspiracy theory, he added, “is that a certain political party will assassinate members of their own party (if they want to get rid of them in any case for instance) to basically show that their leaders are getting killed and trigger an ‘operation’ in an enemy area.”

He also noted another important aspect of these killings – the resulting perception amongst people within the community.

I was in Orangi town during the elections and a man came up to me and asked me where I was from. I told him I’m Urdu-speaking. He became comfortable and said, “First it was the Sindhis that were killing us, then the Punjabis and now the Balochis.” He was not affiliated with the MQM but was Urdu-speaking. This is important because this is felt by many who are directly affected by the killings. Political parties have ethnic foundations in Pakistan despite what they may proclaim. But when these killings take place, people will forget about the turf war and think simply that it is a matter of ‘wiping out’ their ethnic communities or oppressing them. The parties play on these emotions and the people support their parties as a result of this.

Q: What role do politicians from these parties play versus the supposed political agents that are perpetrating these killings? How does this impact the political sphere?

According to Mirza, “It is hard to say exactly how much role the politicians play in the actual ‘ordering’ of killings and the like.” Much of the violence is perpetrated on a more local level through local actors and agents from political parties, with “some resulting from personal enmities within rival parties in an area.”

He added, “The PPP has a greater disconnect from its lower cadres than the MQM. In Karachi, it is said the MQM is so well disciplined and organized that it would be unheard of that any action is taken without the direct consent of its supreme leader.” However, Mirza added, “I find this hard to believe and the rapid spiralling nature of violence contradicts the fact that every killing can be ordered from such a high place.” The political sphere is impacted a lot through the blame game. “The MQM has specifically identified politicians and political agents it thinks are responsible, bringing them into the public sphere. The politicians seem to be immune from a lot of the personal attacks, except for how they are viewed within their rival’s minds.”

Q: Much like before, Army rangers were deployed in the city to restore order. Is this productive in breaking the cycle of violence in Karachi?

According to Yusuf,

The Rangers’ presence historically has succeeded in reducing incidents of violence. The problem, though, is that deploying the Rangers is not a long-term, systemic solution to the deep-rooted problems of Karachi violence. It’s just a temporary band-aid, one that loses effectiveness once the elite forces step away from tense areas. In some ways, reliance on the Rangers over the years has worsened the problem, because that means the police have remained largely inept and corruptible in the face of Karachi’s complicated ethnic and turf wars.

While it is good that the federal government and politicians have been taking increasing note of Karachi’s violence, added Yusuf, “the truth is that this is a local problem, with well entrenched powerful local actors. The solution will have to come from within Karachi, not from Islamabad.”

Q: As a journalist reporting on this issue on the ground in Karachi, what are some obstacles or frustrations you face in your coverage?

As is common with most types of war/conflict reporting, noted Mirza, the people who get killed become a statistic in the news process. He added, “We aren’t given the space to pursue the families and give the victims a face or their families a voice. The reporting is very simplistic when it comes to targeted killings.” Moreover, he noted, a lot of killings that take place during a long spate of targeted killings “get falsely reported and lumped into the overall death toll.” This exacerbates the situation, making it seem worse than it is, and panicking the public even more.”

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Violence in Karachi 101

(LA Times: Rehan Khan / European Pressphoto Agency) Protest in Karachi

LA Times: Rehan Khan / European Pressphoto Agency

The recent spate of targeted killings in Karachi has garnered much media coverage, with news agencies reporting that 41 people have died in the commercial capital since the beginning of the year, “including 10 MQM workers, 10 from a breakaway faction called Haqiqi, and 16 members of a committee set up by the ruling party in Lyari to control violence in the area.” Most of the victims were reportedly killed because of their political affiliations.

According to BBC News, “It was the discovery of the decapitated body of an activist from the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) in the old city area of Lyari which sparked off the latest round of violence.” Speaking to the LA Times, analyst Ikram Sehgal described the current situation in Karachi, “Think of Chicago or New York a century ago.”

Despite joint calls by PPP and MQM leaders to restore order to the city, this is not the first time such a conflict has erupted. Dawn’s Huma Yusuf reported,

Karachi has a long history of ethnic conflict, sectarian violence, land mafias and intra- and inter-party tensions. All these have been in play during this past fortnight, making it abundantly clear that a discerning approach to Karachi’s violence is required. Policing and investigations into recent incidents must be informed by knowledge of ‘local’ social, political and economic factors, which in this city of 18 million differ from locality to locality. For that reason, the MQM’s request for the Rangers, the army and intelligence agencies to maintain law and order in the city is akin to slapping a band-aid on a deep, infected wound.

For many of us not from or currently living in Karachi, such a complex situation may seem daunting or difficult to understand. Below are some FAQ’s to better breakdown the nuances of this conflict:

Q: Who are the main parties in this conflict and how did it escalate out of control?

While Karachi has many rival gangs and factions, the main parties in the current conflict are workers or gang members associated with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which controls Karachi, and the Pakistan People’s Party, (PPP) which controls the provincial government of Sindh, of which Karachi is the capital.

While some of the recent killings have been linked to the general crime syndicates, many have been attributed to the land mafia, noted a journalist currently covering the story in Karachi.

The LA Times, in its coverage, noted, “Rival gangs aligned with political parties are at war in part because a large number of long-term land leases are about to expire, some dating back nearly a century to the days of British rule, with ownership reverting back to the local government.” Although Sehgal told the news agency, “This is all about land. It’s incredibly valuable and it’s up for grabs,” the journalist I spoke to noted,

For political expediency things are being blamed on just the land mafia or just the Baloch gangs in Lyari whereas it’s really a broader mix of elements. Some of it may be about land but in the end it’s all political and some say it has been linked with the abolishment of the local government system.

Ultimately, Karachi has a long history of factional violence and gang warfare, so many of these factors have become yet another reason to reopen old wounds.

Q: Why has Lyari been the hot spot for the recent violence and attention?

Lyari Town, one of 18 constituent towns in Karachi, is dominated by ethnic Balochis, who form a major vote bank for the PPP. The area has become the center of the rise in killings due to the lawless nature of the area, populated by gangs involved in  activities like extortion and drugs. The journalist I spoke to noted, “The Baloch [in Lyari] have been an easy target because they don’t have proper representation in the government. The PPP gets their votes from this group but they don’t adequately represent them.”

In response to the government’s subsequent deployment of paramilitary forces to Lyari, (which led to nearly 50 arrests), Lyari’s People’s Aman [“Peace”] Committee launched a protest on Monday against both PPP and MQM leaders. One organizer of the rally told reporters, “The government is victimizing its own people to appease its political allies, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. We demand an operation in the whole city without any discrimination.” My journalist source, who has been reporting on the story, noted that many believe the government is undertaking this operation to show that “something is being done,” and targeted Lyari because it is an area that “can easily be disturbed without great political repercussions.”

Q: How effective have these paramilitary troops been in restoring some semblance of control in Karachi?

As the targeted killings increased over the weekend, Interior Minister Rehman Malik ordered patrols by police and paramilitary rangers to curb the violence, while asserting that political parties were not involved in the killings. While this appeared to work, at least temporarily, the LA Times noted that many in Karachi “didn’t expect it to last.” The aforementioned journalist source, based in Karachi, echoed, “The rangers that have been sent in with the police won’t make much of a difference, particularly since the police is politicized and doesn’t come under the jurisdiction of the city government.

Q: If violence between rival gangs and factions associated with political parties is not a new phenomenon, how can the cycle be broken?

According to Dawn’s Huma Yusuf, recognizing that the dynamics of Karachi’s violence is locally defined (i.e. not associated with militancy in Swat for example) and entrenched in a long history is “the first step towards effectively maintaining peace and stability.”

In the opinion of the journalist I interviewed, one immediate and long-term solution is developing a better funded and “de-politicized” police force, which can provide a more solid foundation for law and order. He noted, “29,000 police with around 90 odd police stations in a city of 18 million is completely inadequate.”

Although joint statements by the MQM and the PPP in the aftermath of these killings is significant, a top-down political solution will not be sufficient in fully addressing the multiple problems that exist on the ground. If the government seeks to achieve a long-term solution, [not just a strategy that places a band-aid over the problem] it must address the systematic root causes behind the violence and the inter-rivalries. Whether it’s the drug, land, or tanker mafia, this has ultimately been a struggle for power with continuously dire consequences.

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Image Credit: Wash Po, Child Being Checked in an IDP Camp in Mardan

Image Credit: Wash Po, Child Being Checked in an IDP Camp in Mardan

According to UNHCR, the number of displaced people formally registered by local authorities since May 2 following the military’s offensive in Lower Dir, Buner, and Swat, has surpassed 1.7 million.  About 200,000 of this number are in camps, while the rest are staying with their families and friends or in schools and other communal buildings. According to the front page of the Washington Post yesterday, the crisis is the largest exodus since the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan.

As the crisis worsens, numbers of the displaced are shifting into Pakistan’s provinces and main cities. However, while PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif announced today [just prior to the Supreme Court lifting his election ban] that IDPs from Swat “would be welcomed in Punjab,” adding, “Prohibiting affectees to enter another province is a violation of basic fundamental rights and national interests,” the influx has become an increasingly politicized issue among Sindh’s nationalist parties. Yesterday, shops in Karachi remained closed after members of the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM), a movement that promotes the cause of natives of southern Sindh province, called a strike to protest the arrival of IDPs in Sindh. It was the second strike called by the JSQM. A similar protest also occurred on Saturday.

While leaders of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement [MQM] did not specifically back Monday’s strike, they had announced support for the Sindh parties protesting the entry of “outsiders” into the province this past Friday. The MQM’s Dr. Farooq Sattar demanded the government register all displaced families entering Pakistan’s provinces. According to the Daily Times, “He said the Taliban had entered the settled areas along with the IDPs and had set up their operational points in Karachi and others cities of Sindh for suicide attacks and other terrorist activities.” Dawn quoted him adding, “Therefore, we demanded that the president, the prime minister, the interior minister and high-ups of the security agencies declare mandatory the registration of all migrating families arriving in Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan and lodge them at special makeshift camps so that the Taliban cannot enter the cities in disguise.”

Although the “Talibanization of Karachi” has continuously been cited as reason for these strikes and demands, the underlying issue goes far deeper, relating also to the power politics of the province. While ethnic tension between Pashtuns and Sindhis is not a new phenomenon [riots between the groups began in the mid-1980s], the recent rise of immigrant Pashtuns into the province, particularly in Karachi, have sparked increased violence and unrest. In November 2008, more than 40 people were killed and hundreds were wounded in two days of ethnic-related killings, [see related post by CHUP’s Karachi correspondent].

In February, BBC News cited Aminullah Khattak, secretary general of the  Awami National Party (ANP)’s Sindh Chapter [the party heads the NWFP provincial government and is mostly Pashtun-based] who said the issue has recently become exacerbated by other factors, particularly since Pashtuns living in Sindh “have progressed economically.” The BBC added, “The ANP argues that “Talibanization” is not a problem in Karachi, but just a ruse for a movement against upwardly-mobile Pashtuns.” Ismail Khan, a member of the ANP provincial executive committee, contends that the MQM, which has its power base in Karachi, is behind this movement, asserting, “We are the only threat to their power, and that is why they have used the specter of Talibanization.”

This is not to say the Taliban threat in Karachi is not an issue. In fact, the rise of Taliban influence in Pakistan’s urban areas, particularly in Karachi, is something I recently wrote about, and should be cause for concern. For the MQM to request that the IDPs be registered is both a legitimate and responsible demand. However, given Karachi’s history of ethnic tensions and violence, the MQM’s stronghold in the city, as well as the recent statement  by Abdul Wahid Aresar, head of the JSQM, who asserted, “We don’t see it as just an issue of helping the displaced people. The motive behind their arrival in the southern-most part of Pakistan from the north is to marginalize the native Sindhis, which we will resist,” the matter is far from simplistic.

What is sad to me is that the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan is Pakistani. It’s the result of an internal war within our country, and the victims are our people. The collateral damage should therefore evoke a unified, national response. And to be fair it has, at least among the civil society [see Deadpan Thoughts on Pakistan’s civilian response to the conflict as well as Teeth Maestro’s inspirational journey to the camps]. But the devolution of the issue into a politicized power struggle is indicative of the broader reality that exists in our nation – that, at the end of the day, many will allow provincial, ethnic and religious divisions to cloud their judgement of what is humane, what is right, and what is good for Pakistan.

Good related post: Saesneg’s “IDPs: Condition Check.”

For CHUP’s other posts on the IDP crisis, [including ways you can help] click here.

Also: Many, many thanks to the Karachiites who allowed me to pick their brains on this issue on Twitter.

Finally: A small note – the BBC mentioned CHUP today in their coverage of Pakistani blogs mobilizing for Pakistan’s refugees. Teeth Maestro was also mentioned, which is fantastic. There are so many other blogs that are doing so much to raise awareness on the crisis (Deadpan Thoughts, The Swat Plea via Teabreak, Chowrangi, the list goes on), and it’s been incredibly inspiring to be a part of this community.

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Below, Jackie, an American working in Karachi and CHUP’s Correspondent, delves into this week’s violence in the city and discusses who are the players, why are they fighting, and how it has impacted daily life in Karachi:

While this week’s international news coverage of Pakistan focused on Indo-Pak relations following the Mumbai bombings, here in Karachi, pre-existing ethnic tensions between Pathans and the native-Urdu speaking population erupted. The violence started on Saturday in Banaras Chowk and quickly engulfed the western parts of the city. The conflict raged on until Tuesday evening, leaving 42 dead, hundreds more wounded, and thousands of dollars in property damage.

On Saturday night, while I was getting ready for a wedding, my roommate called me from just south of Orangi Town, concerned over the reported violence in the area. She had gotten stuck in a terrible traffic jam on the way home from work, and her driver mentioned that there had been some rioting in the area. At first, I assumed this was the usual gang-related unrest that plagues the areas where our organization operates. However, it became increasingly apparent this was much worse – I began receiving phone calls from different people reporting gruesome stories of violence and destruction from the northwest of the city. I ended up staying in that evening, and the next evening, and again the next…

Rumors abounded – the factions of the MQM population were cutting off Pathan ears, the Pathans were retaliating by pouring superglue in people’s eyes and ears. It was particularly scary being shut-up in the house and hearing sporadic, word-of-mouth accounts from family and friends of friends in the area; it wasn’t clear what was actually happening, and how much, if any, of these stories were true. At one point, we heard that 50 or 60 buses were driving around shooting people at random, then an hour later someone else claimed everything was more or less fine, some minor riots, but with no casualties. As the violence continued into the week, different ‘finger-pointing’ theories emerged. These ranged from an alleged RAW (India’s foreign intelligence organization) plot in response to the Mumbai attacks to an MQM-led uprising against the growing Pathan population in Karachi.

The major papers reported stories of torched businesses, houses and vehicles as well as shootings and indiscriminate murders. People were fleeing the area to stay with family in other parts of the city. Many shops and businesses closed their doors and schools shut down until Wednesday. Sindhi officials and party members made empty statements calling for unity and claiming the riots were a conspiracy by some against democracy. Because the local police were basically ineffective, the paramilitary Rangers were let loose on the city, but even this failed to curb the bloodshed.

After hearing these stories, reading the news and talking to different people, I have reached some understanding of the situation. The increasing violence in recent years in NWFP led the Pathans, the major ethnic group in that province, to move to other areas in the country. Consequently, Karachi – the industrial and commercial hub of Pakistan – has seen a significant increase in its Pathan population. The MQM [see previous blog entry], an Urdu-language based party, fears any potential threat to its political hold on the city, and from time to time harasses this population by threatening local Pathan-owned businesses. Many fear the “Talibanization” of Karachi, supposedly led by these new Pathans, adding further fuel to the fire. In the most recent election, the PPP [Pakistan People’s Party], the ruling political party, the ANP [Awami National Party], a secular party that has a strong Pathan base, and the MQM agreed to form an alliance. Not surprisingly, these riots demonstrate that these political statements of unity for the greater good of Pakistan do not amount to much. Many say that it was the two parties, MQM and ANP, that stirred up this conflict. As for how exactly this started, or who is behind it, I do not know, but it seems plausible that the underlying hostilities between these two groups have created a tense situation that can explode into violence with very little prompting. It will be interesting to see how the story unfolds over the next week as hundreds of people involved in the riots were arrested and are now in police custody.

Regardless of who is responsible for fomenting the recent spate of violence, it’s obvious the supposed PPP-MQM-ANP alliance does not run very deep. The police and paramilitary Rangers exercise little power, and, once things spiral out of control, everyone sits back until the smoke clears and the politically motivated blame game begins.

To read Jackie’s other guest posts, click here.

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CHUP recently introduced its new correspondent. Each week, Jackie, an American now living and working in Karachi, [see her first post], will discuss the prevalent day-to-day issues occuring on the ground. Below, she addresses the controversy surrounding Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal‘s alleged award of being the world’s “Second Best Mayor”:

ah-111108-11Last week, several media outlets, including Dawn, reported that Foreign Policy (FP), a U.S.-based magazine, identified Karachi Mayor Syed Mustafa Kamal as the “Second Best Mayor in the World.” Shortly after, major billboards around Karachi were blanketed with pictures of Altaf Hussain, founder of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), hugging Kamal and congratulating the young mayor on his award, [see image to the right].

For those unfamiliar with the MQM, it is one of the largest political parties in Pakistan, and was founded by Altaf Hussain in 1984. It sprung out of a student organization, All Pakistan Muhajir Students Organization, also led by Altaf Hussain. Amid rising tensions between the military and MQM in the 1990s, Altaf relocated to London where he continues to serve as the party’s leader in self-imposed exile.  The party’s initial goal was to organize the ethnic Urdu-speaking group known as Muhajirs, but it later adopted a more inclusive mandate of returning power to the ‘people’ – i.e. the lower classes. How successful this has been is up for debate; many people view the MQM as a bunch of thugs who use violence, intimidation and bribery to achieve political and personal gains. Less questionable is the MQM’s very influential role in Pakistani politics, particularly in Karachi. Syed Mustafa Kamal is the current mayor of Karachi and an increasingly important member of this party.  Since taking office in 2006, he has received international recognition and attention for many of the public works and infrastructure projects he has undertaken.  In June, National Public Radio (NPR) ran a series focused on Karachi, during which Kamal was interviewed, [CHUP also covered this series, in this post].

Towards the end of last week, a rumor began circulating –  FP did NOT name Kamal as the world’s second best mayor. I did some very basic research and it appeared that the recent flurry of praise and media coverage were not entirely merited. Karachi was mentioned in an FP piece entitled, “The 2008 Global Cities Index.” Mayor Kamal appeared in a “Mayor of the Moment” segment which was a smaller part of this larger piece, however, he was not recognized as the second best mayor in the world.  Just to be absolutely sure, I called FP headquarters and they confirmed my suspicions.  In fact, they received an overwhelming amount of inquiries regarding this matter, and recently posted the following link on their site, entitled “What FP didn’t say about the mayor of Karachi.”

While this “Mayor of the Moment” recognition deserves an accolade, the local media’s misrepresentation of FP’s story and the MQM’s ‘takeover’ of Karachi’s billboards detract from this proud moment.  As Pakistan’s economy continues to plummet and violence is on the rise, particularly in Karachi, the ruling MQM  has inevitably suffered a decline in popularity. Could this be a MQM hoax to gain popularity at a time when Karachi is falling apart or just a misunderstanding? By now, many people are well aware of the mistake, so why are the pictures still on the billboards? Why, just yesterday on front page of the Dawn, was there a quarter-page, color advertisement congratulating Kamal on his recent award? Shame on the major papers for not investigating this matter further and instead taking the information at face value from whatever source.  Perhaps this is an exaggerated response to what might be an ‘honest mistake,’ but seeing these billboards of Altaf clasping Kamal to his bosom is getting a little old as other headlines continue to tell stories, daily, of violence, kidnappings and murders in their city. [Image from Karachi Metblogs]

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