By Ambreen Agha
At least 114 persons were killed in just five days of violence, commencing July 5, 2011, in Karachi. Unidentified assailants on a shooting spree in several neighbourhoods in Pakistan’s commercial hub, killed 14 persons on July 5; another 25 on July 6; 36 on July 7; 35 on July 8; and 4 on July 9. On July 7, President Asif Ali Zardari ordered the Sindh Government to give ‘shoot at sight’ powers to the Police and the Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA) against those suspected to be involved in the incidents.
According to South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) data, a total of 453 persons have been killed in Karachi in incidents connected with a range of armed non-state actors, over the last six months. These include 378 are civilians, 36 Security Force personnel and 38 militants. In addition, the Karachi Chapter of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), records a total of 1,138 killings, including a range of criminal and ‘target’ killings, between January and June 2011.
The present spike in violence emerged a week after the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) parted ways with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led coalition Government at the Federal and Provincial levels on June 27, 2011. The MQM withdrew support after increasing bitterness between the two parties during the course of Elections in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Urban ethnic violence in Karachi has a complex history, dating back to the formation of Pakistan. There have always been tense relations between Mohajirs (Urdu speaking ‘refugees’ from what became India) and Pashtuns, who have struggled to consolidate power in Karachi. The Mohajirs who came to Karachi, faced resistance from established Sindhi families. The Pashtuns had their difficulties with Pakistan, translating into rising aspirations for Pashtunistan – a separate homeland for the Pashtuns. The radicalization of these diverse ethnic grievances has created a dynamic of entrenched violence in Karachi.
The current spate of killings in Karachi principally resulted from clashes between MQM and PPP‘s ally, Awami National Party (ANP), drawing a line of blood between the 45 per cent of Urdu speaking Mohajirs in the city, on whose behalf the MQM claims to act; and the ANP, ‘representing’ the city’s 25 per cent Pashtun population. [The remaining 30 per cent comprise Punjabis, Sindhis, Balochs, etc.] The MQM has retained power since it became part of mainstream politics in 1985, by entering into alliances with major political parties [at different times, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the PPP]. This radical ethnic formation has also enjoyed the support of the Army, with the aim of undermining the Pashtun groups. Meanwhile, counter-insurgency operations in the Pashtun-dominated North Western areas (Federally Administered Tribal Areas – FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) have resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands of people from their homes, with an estimated 300,000 Internally Displaced Persons pushing into Karachi, destabilizing established equations.
The consequent and drastic demographic shift embittered the Mohajir-dominated MQM, which accused the ANP of Talibanising Karachi. On May 11, 2009, the party’s Coordination Committee had alleged that PPP elements in the Sindh Government and ‘criminal elements’ in the ANP were “not only patronising ‘Talibanisation’ in the city” but also “harming the country’s sovereignty”; and further, that the ANP enjoyed the support of some PPP leaders in protecting Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) elements and patronising the drug and land mafia.
Earlier, on August 5, 2008, the TTP chief Maulana Faqeer Muhammad and spokesman Maulvi Umar had declared, at a joint Press Conference at Inayat Kalay in Karachi: “This is a warning for Altaf Hussain to cease his statements against the Taliban and end his kingdom in Karachi, otherwise we will launch attacks against the MQM and its leaders.” Umar boasted that the TTP had ‘massive’ support of Karachi’s residents and it “could take control of the city whenever it wanted to”.
Later, on June 7, 2009, Karachi Senior Superintendent of Police, Fayyaz Khan, following the recovery of 10 suicide jackets, 60 kilograms of explosives and 10 hand grenades with the arrest of a TTP militant, Naeemur Rehman, had observed, “Terrorists have a network here and whenever they get a chance to carry out an attack, they will grab it… They want to do something major because when something happens here, it creates much more pressure on the Government.” Conspicuously, while the military was clearing Swat of militants, the TTP was holing up in Karachi, not only as an escape mechanism but to expand their militant base.
Meanwhile, confirming the presence of TTP in Katti Pahari and other areas of Karachi, the Federal Minister of Interior Rehman Malik stated, on July 8, 2011, “Intelligence Agencies have identified presence of the TTP in Karachi and the Government is working on it.”
The problem of violence in Karachi exacerbates further with a huge inflow and circulation of arms. Since 2009, there have been calls for de-weaponisation of Karachi, but the situation has only worsened. On July 6, 2011, Karachi Police recovered 87 Russian made hand grenades from a drum near a flood relief camp situated on the Super Highway near the Sabzi Mandi area. There are a thousands of illegal weapons hoarded in Karachi, which need to be eliminated for sustainable peace According to a November 30, 2010 report, Federal Minister of Interior Rehman Malik acknowledged that there are over 30,000 illegal arms licenses, acquired fraudulently through corrupt officials, in the city – and that individuals often hold up to 10 weapons against each such license. Earlier, on August 1, 2010, Malik had said that “some people in Karachi are keeping around 50 weapons on a single licence”. Interior Secretary Qamar Zaman Chaudhry on January 24, 2011, told the Public Accounts Committee that out of 45,000 weapons’ licenses issued in Karachi, only 15,000 were ‘legal’. In addition, thousands of illegal weapons are smuggled into the city each year by a range of non-state actors, including terrorist groups; armed, ethnic, sectarian and political formations; organized crime groups, as well as significant numbers of individuals.
There has also been a shift in the nature of violence in Karachi. The issues of ethnicity and control of power has shifted and expanded to include sectarianism and jihadism. Farrukh Saleem, Executive Director of the Center for Research and Security Studies, observes, “To be sure, the primary driver behind the current mayhem is political in nature. Secondary drivers include sectarianism, ethnic rivalry, criminal gangs, drug mafia, land mafia, and other criminal elements and a powerful weapons mafia.”
Worse, these domestic and regional wars have strained the already exhausted resources of this commercial city. The Islamabad Center for Research and Security Studies in its January 2011 Report warns of the huge economic costs of violence in Karachi, for the national economy. According to the report, Karachi makes up over 50 per cent of the total revenue collected by the Federal Bureau of Revenue, and accounts for about 20 per cent of the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Pakistan. This high GDP is attributed to the concentration of main centres of finance and industrial production. The World Bank identified Karachi as the most business friendly city in Pakistan. The Report observed that Karachi’s economic potential has been seriously jeopardized, and that there has been a flight of capital from the city.
Any effective state response would primarily require the Government to pick up elements among its own allies, and even its own ranks. Unsurprisingly, there is a complete lack of political will to act against the extremists responsible for the bloodshed in Karachi. With military operations once again targeting the Kurram Agency in FATA, a renewed inflow of refugees and Talibanised militants into Karachi becomes likely. The spectre of increasing Talibanisation, the entrenchment of TTP networks, and the further radicalization and militarization of various political and sectarian formations looms over this beleaguered city.
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management