Last Updated: Friday, 27 November 2015, 12:04 GMT

Pakistan: Ethnic violence stalks Karachi

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 27 May 2010
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Pakistan: Ethnic violence stalks Karachi, 27 May 2010, available at: [accessed 29 November 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

KARACHI, 27 May 2010 (IRIN) - A wave of ethnic violence pitching Pashtuns (originally from the northern Khyber-Pakhtoonkh'wa province) against Muhajirs (descendants of people who migrated to Pakistan after Partition in 1947) in Karachi has resulted in at least 34 deaths since 19 May.

Both groups are linked to political parties, adding a further complication to the violence, which has taken the form of targeted shootings. Karachi has a population of some 15.5 million people, with Muhajirs considered the largest ethnic group at nearly half of Karachi's population, followed by Punjabis and Pashtuns.

Accusations and counter-accusations are traded between the Muhajir Qaumi Movement (MQM), and the Awami National Party, which has its roots in Khyber-Pakhtoonkh'wa, but commands a vote in Karachi too, mainly from ethnic Pashtuns, after each bout of violence.

"Our political parties need to behave with far greater responsibility," I.A. Rehman, the secretary-general of the autonomous Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), said.

Pakistan's Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, speaking to the media in Islamabad, blamed the violence on "militants from Swat and the tribal areas who want to destabilize the country".

"We don't know what the truth is, but the violence affects us badly and leaves us afraid," said Jamila Bibi, 40, who lives in a community where Pashtuns and Muhajirs have frequently clashed.

Poverty a factor 

But there is also another dimension to the violence. Faisal Edhi, trustee of the humanitarian Edhi Foundation charity, told IRIN that poverty, unemployment and political instability were also behind the violence.

"The jobless youth fall into the hands of criminals who use them for their purposes. Some elements in political parties are also involved in such activities," he said.

Commenting on the ethnic nature of the violence, he said: "A criminal has no religion or ethnicity. To fulfil his nefarious designs, he sometimes appears in the garb of religion and sometimes ethnicity."

Edhi said better economic policies, a reduction in poverty and increase in job opportunities would help to stop such killings and other criminal activities.

The unemployment rate for Pakistan is put at 15.2 percent for 2010 by international organizations compared with 7.40 percent the previous year.

Economists attribute this to low investment levels, due to political instability and militancy.

"There is growing unemployment or under-employment, and with this comes frustration - especially among the young," local analyst Siikander Hameed Lodhi told IRIN. The competition for jobs is especially fierce in urban centres such as Karachi.

According to a March report by the Crisis States Research Centre entitled The Open City: Social Networks and Violence in Karachi, the conflicts between Muhajirs and Pashtuns or Muhajirs and Sindhis represent economic contests over resources, and these contests are typical within classes that subsist on public resources.

"When people are jobless they can be easily exploited. Both militant groups and other forces have taken advantage of this in the past," Muhammad Karam, a volunteer who works with youth in the Orangi area of Karachi, told IRIN.

He also said that in the settlement, made up of shanty towns where both Pashtuns and Muhajirs live, "Tension means children are not sent to schools and lives are disrupted."

Growing fear

The periodic violence has created a growing sense of fear among the minority Pashtuns, many of whom are involved in the transport industry - the owners or drivers of the colourfully painted buses that ply the roads across Karachi.

"I was born and raised here, but culturally I am a Pukhtoon [Pashtun]. The idea that I could be killed just because of this is terrifying. For the first time in my life I am wondering if this is a safe place to raise my children," said Abdul Jalal, 32.

Similar unease exists on the other side of the divide. "We live in an area where there are many Pashtuns and sometimes we are scared," said Muhammad Imran, 25, a Muhajir.

Karachi's ethnic clashes have brought the paramilitary Rangers on to the streets. But as the experience of the past year has shown, taming the ethnic unrest is no easy matter.

Illegal weapons

The illegal arms in Karachi contribute to the violence, with 16 cases of unlicensed arms possession registered on average each day, according to local media reports.

There are believed to be more than 20 million small arms in circulation in the country.

"A programme of de-weaponization is essential to curb violence," I.A. Rehman of HRCP said.

However, in the past such programmes have had little success in Karachi and this adds to the violence creating havoc in the city, say observers.


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