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Anita Joshua, The Hindu / August 19, 2011.
A woman gestures toward a bullet-riddled wall after security forces took control of a troubled area of Karachi after several days of ethnic violence that killed at least 93 people in July 2011. Photo: AP.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says Karachi is in the grip of a multisided wave of insecurity driven political, ethnic and sectarian polarisation.
Even by Karachi's own standards, the recent spate of ethnopolitical violence has been brutal and prolonged. For well over a month now, Pakistan's largest city and commercial capital has been on the boil, with 318 people killed in July alone. And, according to a body count done by the Human Rights Commission of akistan (HRCP), 1,138 people were killed in the first six months of this year.
The HRCP's count, by its own admission, is usually conservative but with 1,456 people killed and still counting — nearly 40 people including a former member of the National Assembly have been killed since Wednesday evening — violence has become a constant in Karachi this year. To the extent that people, according to Karachi-based civil society activist Zeenia Shaukat, have learnt to adjust themselves to the threat levels. “When vehicles are set on fire in a certain area, people don't step out of their houses; when shops are forcibly shut, people wait for a while and try to find out if the grocery shops are serving back door. Also, if one reads on a TV ticker that there is tension in a certain part of the city, and if one is planning to go out, one will take another route.” When a city remains in the grip of violence for such long stretches and so frequently, staying indoors is a luxury few can afford.
Especially since the brunt of what is described as “organised warfare” has been felt most in the poorer quarters of the city. Some of the affected have openly said Israeli atrocities on Palestinians are not a patch on what Karachi'ites are going through in this seemingly never-ending turf war among the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). Though there was a time when the MQM — representing the Urdu-speaking populace which had migrated to the city and Hyderabad following Partition — was identified with much of the violence, today nobody can quite say who the biggest villain of the piece is, as all are equally culpable.
What is worse is the extent of the ethnic rivalry. Increasingly, there are reports of one community barring people from the other from being treated in hospitals, burying their dead or sending their children to school in its areas. When violence peaks, such is the level of ethnic profiling that an innocent bystander's attire could get him into trouble, with the Urdu-speaker identified by his trousers and the Pashtun by his salwar kameez.
While all major political claimants to the city — which is said to account for 20 per cent of Pakistan's GDP — have their areas of influence, local media reports suggest that the perennial sense of insecurity is leading to ghettoisation which will only deepen the fault lines. Through it all, as per the HRCP's fact-finding mission, the law-enforcing agencies either looked the other way, abandoned their posts, delayed responding to distress calls or just joined hands with the criminals. In fact, there have been reports of the police suggesting violence to victims as a remedy for their misfortune.
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