On Monday, Pakistani politicians called on political parties to help bring an end to inter-ethnic clashes in the country’s main port of Karachi, where over 30 people died in three days of violence. More police were deployed to quell the violence, which broke out between the city’s Urdu-speaking community and ethnic Pashtuns at the weekend.
Pakistan's commercial capital Karachi has a history of political, ethnic and religious unrest
Although it was business as usual on the financial markets and in banks on Monday, tension remained extremely high in Pakistan’s main port. Schools and universities were shut and exams were postponed. Public transport was only just running.
Cars and shops had been burnt down across the city. Petrol stations were shut to prevent the spread of fires. At least 30 were dead; more than 50 had been injured. The casualty numbers were rising, according to hospital officials.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called on the local authorities to take “strict action” against the rioters and all those violating the law.
But isolated incidents continued to take place throughout the city on Monday, explained Karachi’s police chief Waseem Ahmad: “There have been some ding-dong battles between the police and miscreants. There are some miscreants who want to create trouble. But the police, with the help of the Pakistan Rangers, are up to the task.”
Shoot to kill orders
Deploying more police officers and paramilitary rangers to Karachi, Sindh Province’s interior minister Zulfikar Mirza said extreme measures would be taken: “I have given clear orders to the law enforcement agencies to ‘shoot to kill’ anyone who opens fire. All criminals should keep in mind that no relatives or friends of theirs in any political party will be of any help.”
Violence broke out at the weekend between members of the ruling coalition party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and members of the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party.
Tension has been simmering ever since officials from the MQM, which represents the city’s Urdu speakers, said that Taliban militants, who are mostly ethnic Pashtuns, were gaining strength in Karachi. Reportedly, officials asked people to buy guns to defend themselves.
There has been an influx of ethnic Pashtuns into Karachi from North West Frontier Province over the past few years. They have flocked to the city in search of work. Some of the city’s Urdu speakers -- mainly descendants of Indians who moved to the area during partition in 1947 -- resent the newcomers.
Some MQM officials allege that their coming has coincided with a rise in crime. But representatives of the Pashtun community claim that the MQM uses the fear of crime and the Taliban as an excuse to mistreat them.
Pakistan’s commercial capital has a history of violence -- political, ethnic and religious. In the 1980s and 90s, tensions often escalated into serious clashes with dozens of deaths. There have been periodical bouts of rioting over the past decade.
Politicians and local community leaders fear that the violence could escalate once again if more is not done to address the simmering tensions and bring people together.