Ethnic hate violence in the New York of Pakistan is out of control. Gunmen aligned with two competing ethnic/political groups, are carving up the city, each other and bystanders in brutal attacks on a scale not seen in the city in decades.Matthew Green takes a look at the city and the violence in yesterday’s FT:
Like no other city, Karachi distils the mix of gun politics, ethnic tensions, sectarian strife, state weakness, militancy and organised crime that makes the whole country so fragile. It is these trends that will determine whether Pakistan’s hesitant journey from military rule to a semblance of democracy will deliver greater stability or deeper fragmentation.
Karachi is important on a national scale as well. President Zardari is continuously involved with Karachi political parties in evolving coalitions. On one side is Karachi’s largest party, the predominately ethnic Mohajir, Urdu-speaking Muttahida Quami Movement, which is based on Muslim refugees from India who reached Karachi after Partition; the party has recently dropped out of President Zardari’s governing coalition. On the other side are ethnic Pashtuns who have migrated from northwest Pakistan and organized themselves politically into the Awami National Party.The stakes are bigger than political and economic power in Karachi.
“We are not evolving into nationhood. We’re breaking up into ethnic groupings,” says Amber Alibhai, secretary-general of Shehri, a pressure group that campaigns against rampant land-grabbing in the city. “The social contract between the citizens among themselves and between the state has been destroyed.”The violence reflects a more fundamental struggle: a multi-sided war for control of votes, land and protection rackets. Shadowy alliances between power-brokers, slum landlords, drug barons and gun-runners sharpen its deadly edge. Killers do not always stop at murder. “They chop the bodies into pieces and put them in sacks and throw them in the street,” says Seemin Jamali, who manages the casualty ward at a Karachi hospital.
An important part of the cycle of violence is the impotence and disinterest shown by Pakistan’s police and politicians.
With the state unable even to provide reliable electricity, expectations for justice are low. Outgunned and undermanned, the police are afraid to arrest assassins protected by powerful politicians. “We need the nod from the government to start looking for the people who are behind the targeted killings,” says a security official. “We’re not getting it.”
President Zardari is powerless to stop the violence while Interior Minister Rehman Malik made matters worse by suggesting that the vast majority of murders were committed “by angry girlfriends or wives.”The escalating violence and lack of response from the country’s political leaders leads many to assume it can only get worse. With each freshly dug grave, the tension, distrust, and dislike between ethnic and political groups increases. The BBC summarizes the social situation succinctly:
But both the Pashtuns on the hill and the Urdu speakers below now talk about their rival community using almost exactly the same demonising terms. They claim the other is more immoral, more heavily armed, more barbaric. They are talking about their former neighbours, often their old friends.
The basic idea of Pakistan is that there were two nations in British India: a Hindu nation and a Muslim nation. Each nation would get a state; India for the Hindus, Pakistan for the Muslims.The core problem for Pakistan, and it is a huge one, is that this idea doesn’t seem to be working in practice. The different ethnic groups in Pakistan increasingly dislike and resent one another. Balochis increasingly want — and some are fighting for — an independent state. Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan makes no sense unless you remember that Pakistan fears that Pashtuns on both sides of the border (which Afghanistan doesn’t recognize) would like to unify. Non-Punjabis increasingly resent what they see as Punjabi domination. I’ve heard very well placed and wealthy people in Sindh talk about the need for Pakistan to break up.As ethnic disintegration deepens, and as the country falls farther behind India every year, Pakistani authorities try to ramp up the Islam. It is all they have; if Pakistan isn’t an Islamic republic in which a common faith binds disparate peoples into a greater unity, Pakistan turns into, in Winston Churchill’s expression, “a geographical expression.”That seems to be what is happening anyway — slowly, messily, one corpse at a time. Karachi is bleeding; it is Pakistan that needs intensive care.