Bhutto gags press as killers run amok toll spirals

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The Independent Online
After the Pakistani police have collected the corpses from a day's violence in Karachi - the tortured body tied up in a sack and left in a rickshaw, the mechanic who was killed when a badly aimed grenade fell inside his garage, and a dozen other victims scattered around this city - the paperwork comes easy. Every police report filed these days on a murder in Karachi routinely blames a man who is a thousand miles away in London: Altaf Hussain.

Mr Hussain is the most implacable enemy of the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto. A fiery man with a moustache, Mr Hussain, 41, is leader of the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM), which represents more than 20 million descendants of the Indian Muslims who left after the 1947 Partition to join in the dream of an Islamic republic in Pakistan. Today, many Mohajirs claim they are made to feel like unwanted trespassers by native Pakistanis. "They are hunting Mohajirs like birds and animals. They have a licence to kill us," he recently declared.

Through Interpol, Pakistan on Wednesday issued a demand for Mr Hussain's extradition. It is doubtful that Britain will oblige; no extradition treaty exists between Pakistan and Britain, which is why Mr Hussain took up exile in London. Mr Hussain is accused of "terrorism", of stirring up an ethnic revolt in Karachi, one which has left more than 800 dead in the past six months and brought Pakistan's largest city to the edge of civil war.

Few aside from Ms Bhutto think that the city's ethnic strife would miraculously vanish even if she could lock up Mr Hussain. All the evidence shows the contrary: that only by talking with Mr Hussain and other MQM leaders, who are either jailed or in hiding, can Ms Bhutto's government hope to restore peace in this city of 12 million people. Ms Bhutto, however, is heading in the opposite direction. She indirectly accuses the MQM of being infiltrated by Indian agents and wants the party to be declared a "terrorist insurgency".

Invoking a law from the old days of martial rule, Ms Bhutto yesterday slapped a 60-day ban on six Urdu-language newspapers, read by the Mohajir community. The newspapers reporting on Karachi's carnage were too "sensationalistic" and inflamed ethnic hatreds, Interior Ministry officials said.

One angry journalist commented: "Instead of using the courts, Bhutto resorted to a draconian law that is so sweeping in its powers it can even make it illegal for a husband to sit on the same couch with his wife." Journalists working for other national papers were deciding whether to go on strike to force Ms Bhutto to lift the ban or to challenge her legally.

On a day which most traumatised Karachites would describe as calm, more than 15 people were killed yesterday in various sniper shootings and gun battles around the city. This time, however, there are signs that other ethnic groups - the Punjabis, the Pathans and the Baluchis - who so far have stayed clear of the security forces' battle with the Mohajirs, are being drawn into the fray.