Bhutto agonises as Karachi burns

With an ethnic conflict blazing uncontrollably in Karachi - where more than 200 people have died in the fighting this month and more than 800 people this year - Pakistan's Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, is faced with two unwelcome choices: either she calls in the army or she makes peace with the troublemakers.

Even though paramilitary police have failed to restore order, neither solution seems palatable to Ms Bhutto, whose forces are waging urban warfare against gunmen of the Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM), a party which represents the millions of Urdu-speaking Muslims who fled from India to Pakistan after Partition in 1947. This weekend, Karachi was the scene of a small but vicious civil war in which more than 50 people were killed - often at random.

The conflict between the government forces and the Mohajirs flared anew this weekend after an MQM leader, S M Tariq, was murdered. Soon after, the 16-year-old sister of another Mohajir activist was gang-raped, allegedly by a rival faction with shadowy government ties.

In revenge, Mohajir militants went on a killing spree. Gunmen mowed down a group of old men waiting at a bus stop; they exploded a bomb in a financial centre and then shot at the firemen and ambulance drivers who rushed to the blaze. They sprayed a military aircraft with automatic gunfire and lobbed a rocket-propelled grenade into a police compound where children were playing. Some of their victims were tortured before having their throats slit.

Ms Bhutto's response to this mayhem has been predictable. She blamed the violence in Karachi on "foreign" meddling, meaning Pakistan's neighbouring enemy, India. "The Altaf group is foreign-funded, foreign-trained, foreign- motivated and involved in an insurgency against the state," Ms Bhutto said, referring to the MQM's leader, Altaf Hussain, who is living in exile in London.

So far, no proof has emerged of India's direct involvement, but many diplomats in both New Delhi and Islamabad say there are grounds for suspicion: India accuses Pakistan of backing Muslim separatists in Kashmir, and Karachi, with its festering ethnic feuds, is tailor-made for Indian retaliation.

Not only are the Indian refugees challenging Ms Bhutto's political elite for a share of power, but the city has also been racked by communal killings between Sunni and Shia extremists. Everybody is armed. Weapons left over from the Afghan war are plentiful.

The strife in Karachi might ease if Ms Bhutto were willing to give the Mohajirs the political recognition they deserve. The MQM is the main opposition group in the Sindh provincial assembly and the several-million strong Mohajir community is probably the largest ethnic group in Karachi, Sindh's capital. Ms Bhutto said she refuses to open talks with Mr Hussain until his organisation "lays down arms, surrenders criminals and condemns terrorism". But such rhetoric ignores the fact that Karachi, which is Pakistan's main port and financial centre, has turned into a battleground.

The Mohajirs have warned Karachi citizens to stay indoors and maintain a blackout and said they can expect a long, decisive battle. Unless Ms Bhutto is willing to meet some of the MQM's immediate demands, such as the arrest of the teenage girl's alleged rapists, Karachi will continue to burn. It is now doubtful whether even the army could control the problem. When the troops were called into Karachi in 1992, it only served to escalate the fighting.

Suggested Topics
Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football
News
news
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
Melissa and Joan Rivers together at an NBC event in May 2014
peopleDaughter Melissa thanks fans for 'outpouring of support'
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
life
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
News
peopleWrestling veteran drifting in and out of consciousness
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Business Analyst,HR,Halifax,£400-450pd

£400 - £450 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Project Coordinator - Cisco Partner - £110 p/d

£110 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Project Coordinator (SC Cleared), Cisco Go...

Recruitment Consultants - IT - Trainee / Experienced

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £40-50K first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

Primary teachers needed for supply in Huntingdon

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers need...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone