Karachi violence widens ethnic divide

By Mahendra Ved


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New Delhi : Much of the ongoing violence in Karachi involves those who thronged Pakistan's largest city in search of home and work after the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947.

The city is the home to settlers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, called 'Mohajirs' and some of its localities bear names like Benaras Chowk, Aligarh and Bihar Colony.

It is here that Benarasi silk sarees are woven, and locks and brassware are made as they are in Aligarh in Moradabad in India.

The settlers have often clashed with the Pakhtuns from Balochistan and North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The Orangi Town has slums and settlements of both the Mohajirs and Pakhtuns and has witnessed violence even during peace times.

At the city level, while the Mohajirs dominate the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), the Pakhtuns are organised by the Awami National Party (ANP). At the level of Sindh Province, however, they have to contend with Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

Political workers killed in last weekend's violence belong to all these parties. The violence – apparently between supporters and opponents of President Pervez Musharraf – was triggered by the turmoil over the suspension of chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. But media reports said there was much settling of ethnic scores.

Ethnic violence had engulfed the city in the 1980s and 1990s. For a period in the early 1990s, the army had taken charge of the city's governance.

Karachi, with numerous densely populated areas, is estimated to be the world's fourth most populated city. Located on the Arabian Sea, it is both the principal port and commercial hub and owes its growth to its cosmopolitan character. Most of Pakistan's skyscrapers are in Karachi.

From a mere 58,000 population in 1856, Karachi's demography has undergone radical changes in the last 150 years and now packs an estimated 145 million people within 3,537 sq km. It is called the "melting pot" of Pakistan.

Karachi is home also to several mosques and madrassas, among them the Binori Masjid, where Osama bin Laden stayed in the mid-1990s before he moved to Afghanistan.

The largest concentration of Hindus, mostly living in Sindh, is in Karachi. While some landmark in the city like Mohtandas Market and Sir Ganga Ram Hospital retain their original names, media reports indicate the kidnapping of Hindus for extortion and forcible marriage of Hindu girls to Muslim boys.

Karachi also has its share of sectarian violence among Muslims. The Sunni Tehrik has found its top leadership wiped out by violence twice in recent years. An explosion at a Moharram rally killed its leaders last year.

MQM chief Altaf Hussain Saturday ridiculed reports of violence on ethnic lines and said this was a ruse to divide the MQM. The party, he claimed, had its share of Pakhtuns.

However, the Pakhtoon Action Committee (PAC) Loya Jirga said that if they are not compensated for the losses suffered in the violence within the next three days, they will announce a course of action involving massive anti-governmental movements.

"The MQM should stop terrorism against us. The entire country will suffer if we give up our peaceful policy," said PAC leader Shahi Syed, The Daily Times reported Monday.

He said that 16 ANP members were killed last Saturday and Sunday and that the MQM's attacks were tantamount to "state terrorism".