Karachi Paralyzed. 30+ Dead. Targetted Killings Continue. Citizen Brace For Even Worse.

Posted on April 30, 2009
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Law & Justice, Politics
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Adil Najam

It is not as if there is a dearth of bad news in Pakistan. But bad news attracts more bad news. That is the nature of the politics of downward spirals.

Karachi has been far from calm for a very long time (here, here, here, here). Yesterday, the heat went up again. During this month of April alone there have been more than 50 targetted killings in Karachi. Yesterday, more than 30 died as more escalated public violence broke out. Today the city is reported to be paralyzed. Even though there exisits an uneasy calm in town, many wait in fear as things going even worse in Karachi will really surprise no one.

In a post back in November, 2008, I had written:

Karachi used to be called “the city that never sleeps.” It may as well now be called “the city that forever bleeds…

Everyone seems to know the script of the drama that is about to unfold, yet again, on the streets of Karachi. Except that the deaths will be real, not make-believe. Those who will be doing the killing have been arming up. Those who will be doing the instigation have already upped their rhetoric of hate, division and violence. Those who will be doing the dying, remain on knife’s edge, hoping that they will not be called upon to be sacrificed in the rituals of ethnic murder, so close to the Eid of sacrifice. The rest sit stunned in inaction as the politics of mayhem readies to raise its ugly head yet again. We see Pakistani kill Pakistani in the name of Pakistan. We sit afraid. Very afraid.”

The post was titled, “Karachi Bleeds Again: Worse To Come?” Obviously, it came. One can ask that question again: Will things get even worse? Many would answer, “Nearly certainly.” I hope they would be wrong, but hope does flickers when things get as bad as they have.

One assumes that our readers know all the gory details of what has been happening in Karachi. If not, here is a story from Dawn:

The city remained virtually paralysed by fear on Thursday with most businesses closed and many public transport vehicles off the city roads, as violence, which was triggered on Wednesday, killed scores of people in 24 hours and forced citizens to remain indoors. Incidents of firing and arson early Thursday morning further convinced citizens to remain at home rather than go to work, resulting in low turnouts at both private and government offices. Several bank branches remained shut due to the lack of staff. Normally abuzz with activity every morning, the city wore a deserted look, as schools and all other educational institutions also remained closed, in line with a late-night government decision.

With no official word from the authorities so far regarding the reasons for the violence, transporters and representatives of the business community doubt the situation will get much better in the coming few days. ‘The majority of transporters are convinced that the situation is not fit for business,’ said Irshad Bukhari, president of the Karachi Transport Ittehad. ‘A total of 55 minibuses and coaches were set on fire in less than 12 hours and some four drivers lost their lives in incidents of targeted killing,’ he said. He said a senior official of the provincial transport ministry approached him after the incidents of arson, and assured him that further deliberations and discussions on the subject would take place to provide protection and security to transporters. ‘But there has been no response yet after that single call. We have called our general body meeting on May 2 to plan our future strategy in the wake of the recent spate of violence,’ added Mr Bukhari. ‘But I don’t think that there would be any positive response from our members to cooperate with the government without any solid measures [on the government’s part].’

MOST MARKET REMAINS SHUT. The transport sector was not the only one badly hit by the violence. Major business centres in the city also remained closed, while there was hardly any activity at retail markets in the metropolis. Most markets remained shut, though a few did open in residential areas in the southern district of the city. Business leaders allege that though currently shops and businesses are being targeted on the basis of the ethnicity of the shops’ owners, shopkeepers of all ethnicities are still worried about the development. ‘In old areas of the city, there are nearly a dozen retail and wholesale markets, and people there received threats from unknown groups through pamphlets to keep their businesses closed,’ said Ateeq Meer, chairman of the Alliance of Market Associations, which is seen as a common platform for nearly 300 market and traders’ associations in the city. He observed that while the majority of market associations decided to shut down of their own volition, given the unavailability of transport and the absence of staff, traders in Mithadar, Kharadar, Light House, Kapra Market and some other busy markets were formally asked to observe a ‘holiday’.

‘We have seen a dangerous trend in the recent violence, as the shops of only those traders have been damaged who belong to a particular ethnic group,’ Mr Meer said. ‘For instance,’ he added, ‘the majority of those who have lost their shops were traders of carpets, cloth and second-hand garments. These people have been engaged in these businesses in Karachi since the inception of Pakistan.’ Both the transporters and traders were in agreement over their reaction to the government’s promised measures to contain the violence and arrest those responsible. ‘We have been given assurances for decades, but they have never worked,’ said Mr Bukhari, of the Karachi Transport Ittehad. Mr Meer, of the AMA, echoed these thoughts, saying ‘it is time to act, rather than to make pledges. We witness government announcements after every outbreak of violence, but the bloodshed returns after every few months.’

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Another news item in Dawn, explains how this is an escalation of a longer campaign of violence:

As many as 50 people were killed and 94 others were wounded in different incidents of targeted killings carried out in the city during the month of April. Up till April 28 the police record showed that 16 people had been shot dead in different incidents of targeted killings. However, on April 29 there was a sharp spike in the violence, as the figures soared to 34 persons killed and 40 wounded in a matter of hours by unidentified gunmen in different parts of the city, statistics gathered by the police showed. The statistics further showed that during the month-long acts of violence, 43 people belonging to the Pakhtun community were killed while seven Urdu-speaking people were slain in different parts of the city, the police data indicated, lending strength to the argument advanced by some observers that the violence was designed to foment ethnic unrest in Karachi.

Apart from the loss of life, mostly private property including shops, hotels, auto-rickshaws and minibuses, were also set on fire by unknown suspects in different parts of Karachi. It should be noted that while these targeted killings occurred across the city throughout the month, the police and Rangers failed to check these incidents. Following city-wide disturbances which erupted after the targeted killing of an activist of the Pukhtoon Students Federation at Pakistan Chowk in the limits of the Aram Bagh police station, the administration imposed a ban on pillion-riding in the city. But despite the imposition of the ban the targeted killings continued unabated, as the law enforcement personnel failed to nab even a single suspect involved in the violence.

The ethnic dimension of how events are unfolding in Karachi makes things even more worrisome and dangerous. Using religion as a justification for violence, as extremists and terrorists are doing in Swat and elsewhere, is dangerous. Using ethnicity to do so is no less dangerous.

35 responses to “Karachi Paralyzed. 30+ Dead. Targetted Killings Continue. Citizen Brace For Even Worse.”

  1. Mansoor says:


    I read a few comments here and with due respect to your opinions, would really like to ask you all that why do you hate MQM so much? Why?

    Please correct me if I am wrong but I think democracy means people get to choose their representatives.
    People of Karachi have chosen MQM as their representatives then why such hatred towards it. Why?

    No matter what happens in Karachi MQM is blamed by default. Why?

    Why today every political party talks about arms in Karachi but I struggle to find anyone talking about deweaponising the NWFP where the abundance of weapons is not hidden from anyone and which is openly used in tribal conflicts claiming countless lives? or Lahore where my own friends proudly tell me about how they used their amunition against their rivals and on basant? Why?

    Please dont take me wrong I am against arms and believe that police should take strict action against anyone using violence for any reason including MQM but I strongly feel that my fellow Pakistanis are heavily biased when they express their opinion about Karachi in general and MQM in particular.

    I would also like to make a correction to Truthseeker’s records that my family migrated from Jaipur in India leaving behind whatever we had and settled in Karachi and a vast majority of the people around me have a similar background.

  2. Owais Mughal says:

    Raza Khan, in my opinion your last two lines said it all: “they don

  3. Raza Khan says:

    @Truth Seeker, whatever you said is all true, whoever spend time from 1990-2000 will agree with you, all the atrocities committed by MQM to control the City are undeniable, even those who support MQM also couldn

  4. Truth Seeker says:

    Dear all,

    I have been in karachi for more than 15 years and spent prime time and witnessed many incidents, killings, massacre. Also witnessed act of deceit by the political parties like MQM, JI and PPP.

    Let me clarify that during partition, most people who lost their families and witnessed attacks got settled themselves in Punjab not in karachi. Main flux in karachi have been of those people who migrated after partition till 60s through ferries without any major damage. The migrants settled in Punjab never raise any voice against state or people of punjab.

    Karachi being port city like any other port city of world witnessed shifting of people for business, job etc. and presently have mix of all.

    MQM was raised under flag of Zia in order to break the power of PPP and raised the sound of muhajir. Zia to save own skin sowed the seeds and ultimately, MQM employing un employed youth on newly found bhatta system, started ruling on the roads.

    Whatsoever said on MQM wrt drill culture, torture, body bags, torture cells is always correct. Saleem Shehzad including present highups were in the same chain. Saleem Shehzad who escaped to India and later shifted to London n then Khi for reorganization is main soul behind these butchers.

    MQM gained power again under Mushi. Mushi beside sacrificing this country for his rule sacrificed khi to these butchers too. They showed thier power on 12 may which was eyeopener to common citizen but a shock for MQM. Since that day beside carrying targetted killings, ethnic cleansing, MQM is doing all efforts on behest of her masters to further desatablise pakistan.

    People might say what i am saying is one sided view, but truly speaking, this is my personnel judgement and i am not sympathetic to any party but only to our motherland.

  5. NotAnMQMSupporter says:

    Before MQM, Fatima Jinnah was poisoned and Urdu speaking were persecuted by a dictator.

    It is the people who killed her gave reason for this militant organization to exists. Action, reaction.

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