Karachi braces for fresh wave of violence: 'The police are just spectators. I want the army to take control'

Faced with spiralling levels of violence, residents of Pakistan’s biggest city are looking to the military for help

Karachi

The city is bracing itself.

Amid a fresh wave of violence, Karachi is readying for a security operation to target criminal gangs and armed political groups which  have been bleeding Pakistan’s largest city as they battle for control. There have even been demands to send in the army.

The situation is an important test for Nawaz Sharif, the recently elected prime minister, who will travel to Karachi on Tuesday and meet police and security forces before deciding what steps to make.

“I think it is a major challenge and I think he has to take it,” said Irfan Ullah Khan Marwat, a member of the provincial assembly and a senior figure within Mr Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). “He has to come up with a plan to tackle the situation and that means an across-the-boards operation.”

The vast port city, home to as many as 25m people from across Pakistan and beyond its borders, has long been rocked by violence that has it roots in a deadly combination of ethnicity, political affiliation and a battle for Karachi’s resources. But the targeted killings and bomb attacks have spread in the last few years, and following a lull in the aftermath of the May election, they are once again on the rise.

“The violence has grown. The political people are ruining the peace of the city,” said Amjad Ali, a courier driver who keeps in his head a list of the city’s most perilous neighbourhoods. “None of the political parties are sincere about the city - it is all about personal interest. If the government wanted to stop this, it could do so in a day.”

The evidence of the daily killings is revealed in stark fashion on the front pages of the city’s newspapers. Lal Mohammad, owner of a tea-shop in Kharadar, an area close to the docks, likes to buy several publications every morning for his customers to browse. He ensures he always buys Jaanbaaz (Fearless or Daredevil), which specialises in crime stories.

The front-page of last Friday’s edition contained the faces of nine men who had been killed the day before; all the images had been taken in the mortuary and the men’s faces were broken and blood-stained. It listed their names – Arshad, Noshad, Habib Memon, Javed Memon, Yasser Baloch, Abdul Malik Karacha, Nyab Langra, Aziz and an unidentified man - and claimed six were members of political parties.

“People like to look and see which people were killed and which political party they were linked to,” said Mr Mohammed.

Mr Mohammad knew a thing or two about political violence. Every month, he said, he handed over R5,000 (£30) to two politically-affiliated gangs which sent him demands. “If I did not pay, they would kill me.”

Asked why he did not turn to the police, he said: “The police are just spectators. I want the military to come and take control. A military operation would rid us of the extortionists and criminals.”

Many of the major political parties – the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which controls the provincial government and which has traditionally been supported by the city’s Baloch community, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which represents the Urdu-speaking community that moved to Karachi after partition and whose leader, Altaf Hussain, lives in London where the party is the focus of a murder probe, and the Awami National Party (ANP), which gets support from the growing Pashtun population – have been accused of supporting armed gangs. All deny it.

Karachi also has its fair share of sectarian violence and killings carried out by Taliban militants. But last week, the head of the paramilitary unit with responsibility for tackling the city’s violence, said the current spate of killings were directly linked to mainstream political groups.

Speaking at a special hearing of the Pakistan Supreme Court, established to look into the crisis, Maj Gen Rizwan Akhter said the killings were the handiwork of the militant wings of political parties.

Karachi is responsible for generating anywhere up to half of Pakistan’s  GDP, more if tariffs and taxes on imports are included, and the violence has a debilitating impact on businesses.

Muhammad Atiq Mir, an official of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry, claimed a single shutdown of the city could result in losses of an extraordinary £2.5bn.

“During the last five years, the markets have not been able to stay open all the time. There have been more than 50 such strikes,” he said. “Around 30 per cent of the city’s neighbourhoods are affected by the violence.”

Among the areas that have been the focus of violence is Lyari, a working-class area of narrow lanes located close to the docks. Traditionally a stronghold for the PPP, other parties have been trying to establish themselves. 

Among the organisations blamed for the violence in Lyari and accused of gangsterism is the so-called People’s Aman Committee (PAC), an outfit widely considered to be a militia of the PPP. (Both the PPP and the PAC deny such a link.)

The outfit is supposedly outlawed, but when The Independent visited the home of its “former spokesman”, Zafar Baloch, he was lying on a mattress and taking part by means of his mobile phone in a one-hour talk show with a local television news channel. (While Mr Baloch participated in the discussion, his colleagues and young daughter watched an animated cartoon about a cat, dubbed into Baloch, on a flat-screen television.)

Though he displayed a government licence that apparently permits him to own an AK47 assault rifle, Mr Baloch claimed the PAC had been disbanded and that it was only ever a charitable group.

“Yes, there is fighting,” said Mr Baloch, whose leg remains badly injured following a gun attack two years ago. “The is fighting is about different things, different affiliations, donations, the animal skins collected after Eid.”

As to the current spate of violence in his area, he said: “The MQM wants my land. I want my rights. It’s an ideal location – it’s near the port, near the seafront. It’s strategically important.”

In recent weeks there have been clashes in Lyari between the PAC and members of the Kutchi ethnic community, which is said to be supported by the MQM.

Nabil Gabol, a former PPP politician who is now an MQM member of the national assembly, denied his new party had links to any armed militia. “I have never seen any armed groups,” said Mr Gabol, who was recently informed he was on a Taliban target list.

The Kutchi community also denied any formal link to the MQM. But Hussain Kutchi, head of the so-called Kutchi Rabta Committee, said the MQM offered “moral support” to his community. Members of the community have been forced to flee Lyari in recent days as a result of the violence and around a dozen families are sleeping on the floor of a nearby community centre as they are unable to return to their homes.

Sitting in candlelight as his quarter of Lyari was plunged into darkness by one of the ubiquitous power-cuts, Mr Kutchi said be believed the fighting was the result of a struggle to control a handful of roads that led to the port.

“This is a transit route for cargo, for the NATO trucks,” he said. “They want to control those vehicles.”

Man answers bail over killing linked to defection from political party

Paul Peachey

A 52-year-old man is due to answer bail in London this month over the murder in Britain of a senior figure in the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in Britain in 2010.

The MQM – which represents Urdu-speaking Muslims who moved to Karachi after partition of India in 1947 – operates from London where its executive under leader Altaf Hussain is based after claiming exile in 1999. Dr Imran Farooq was found dead outside his home in September 2010 in a suspected politically motivated plot after rumours he was planning to split from MQM.

The suspect, reportedly a Briton, was arrested in June after he flew into the country from Canada and was bailed until this month. Only one other person has been arrested in connection with the killing – who was released without charge in 2010 – despite a £20,000 reward on offer. The MQM has denied any involvement in the death of Mr Farooq.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor