August 3, 2010
Anarchy breaks loose in Karachi
Karachi is on fire again. Body after body is being rushed in to the city’s three main hospitals, the one and only morgue has run out of space. Young men waving TT pistols are roaming the streets and picking off random targets. Buses, trucks, cars and rickshaws are being set on fire. Petrol pumps, markets and shops have all closed down. You couldn’t find a place to buy a packet of cigarettes, lamented one desk editor. |
In less than 2 days, by Wednesday night 80 men were shot dead and at least 253 others were injured in the anarchic aftermath of the high-profile killing of a member of the provincial legislative house.
MPA Raza Haider was gunned down in broad daylight while he was washing up for prayers at a mosque before attending a funeral on Monday. His bodyguard Mohammad Khalid Khan was also killed as other worshippers ran helter-skelter to get away from the hail of bullets.
As the news spread, as expected, violence followed in its wake. The victims have been mostly innocent bystanders, commuters and even, in one case a speech-impaired girl whose mother had taken her to a shrine to pray for her recovery. Schools had just opened a day earlier, but were closed again. Because the petrol pumps were closed, hundred of people were stranded. And then, as happened when Benazir Bhutto was killed, traffic went into a gridlock at several important points downtown as drivers broke the rules in a panic to get home.
In a particularly sad case, a Pashto-speaking man was abducted by armed men, who forced him to take them to his house where his three friends were sleeping. They then proceeded to shoot all four of them.
It’s amazing when this kind of violence breaks out, people vanish off Karachi’s streets, that are normally packed and overflowing with humanity. The police and paramilitary rangers, who are generally unable to catch anyone in drive-by shootings, stood grimly at every corner.
We’re almost used to this violence by now. This is how it happens in Karachi. There is absolutely no rule of law and I would be hard pressed to give you even one example in which someone had been put behind bars. The killers are never caught.
WHO IS BEHIND THE KILLING?
Raza Haider was a member of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement [United National Movement or MQM], a political party that is rivaled by none in Karachi. But he was not necessarily killed just because he was from the MQM.
He was also a Shia, which is a minority sect of Muslims. There are several banned militant outfits in Karachi that don’t tolerate Shias. One of them is the Sippah-i-Sahaba (SSP). This name has surfaced in the investigations so far and the Karachi police rounded up several suspects from this organization by Tuesday night. The chief of police Waseem Ahmed wouldn’t disclose any details, but he said about 20 men had been arrested and were being interrogated.
According to media reports from SAMAA TV and Dunya TV, a Sippah man arrested in 2009 had a hit-list with the MPA’s name on it. Furthermore, the Sippah allegedly wanted to also blow up the people who turned up for the funeral with a suicide bomber. Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik urged the MQM’s top brass not to attend the funeral on Tuesday, but naturally this wasn’t going to happen.
When my reporter called up the Sippah people, they said that the man arrested in 2009 wasn’t with their outfit but belonged to the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi or LeJ. The police can even question our men if they don’t believe this, they said. The Lashkar outfit broke off from the Sippah after accusing it of failing to follow its ideology. The Lashkar men are believed to have been behind the bomb attacks on an annual Shia mourning procession last year.
Later in the day, I spoke to an intelligence man who is currently heading police operations in one of Karachi’s 18 boroughs. I asked him whether he agreed with the Sippah explanation and he said he didn’t want to comment until the investigations were complete, but his personal opinion was that they were involved.
The style of the attack was very organized and brazen, he said, while referring how the four or five men barged into the mosque with guns and then took off on motorcycles. This is classic militant style, he pointed out. Also noteworthy is the fact that the mosque was run by the Barelvi sect. The Sippah subscribe to the opposite Deoband school of thought.
The problem also was that Raza Haider was messing with the Sippah in his area. The MPA was heavily involved in opposing the Sippah in Orangi Town. In fact, as a journo buddy of mine said, Raza Haider was scheduled to meet with the police to give them information on the Sippah’s work in the town. He had even been receiving death threats from a militant outfit.
Despite this, however, the MQM has been pointing the finger elsewhere. And that is where it is starting to get complicated.
For its part, the MQM has blamed a rival political party, the ANP or Awami National Party, for Raza Haider’s assassination. This is where the element of a turf war enters.
The MQM wants to run Karachi and doesn’t want any interference. The ANP recently turned up on the scene and started to make a stink. The ANP basically is a party that represents Pashto-speaking people. This is a linguistic-ethnic division. The MQM is backed by Urdu-speaking people.
The Pashto-speaking people or Pathans originally (mostly) hail from the north of the country – the North-West Frontier Province, now renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Many of them started to migrate to Karachi in the 1990s in search of better jobs.
Over the years Karachi’s Pakhtun population has swollen to several million. In fact, many people will say that the Pakhtun built Karachi as these hardy mountain men formed the majority of the construction labour force. They have also a virtual stranglehold on its public transport system of taxis, rickshaws and buses.
(When the high court wanted them to get rid of polluting two-stroke rickshaws and replace them with the more environmentally friendly four-stroke ones, they got together and blocked all of the city’s main routes downtown in a display of clout. Bumper-to-bumper buses brought life to a standstill that day in Karachi, in a previously unseen show of solidarity by the Pakhtun)
Then the ANP started to gather steam and the Pakhtun realized that they needed a political party to represent them in Karachi, where the only other choices were the MQM and Benazir Bhutto’s PPP. They managed to have two men elected to the provincial legislative house, the Sindh Assembly, much to the chagrin and surprise of rival parties.
The problem is that the MQM and ANP are now locked in a turf war over Karachi. For its part, the MQM claims that the ANP patronizes the Taliban, who are also largely Pashto speaking and from the same northern areas. Whether this is true or not, I’m not so sure personally. But it is very convenient for the MQM to claim this and demonise the ANP. The Taliban and al Qaeda are largely believed to be using Karachi as a bank, and are probably running some element of their operations here. But the MQM would like to have the ANP kicked out with the ‘Talibanisation card’.
That said, however, the ANP is just as bad. Its men are also armed to the teeth.
The Raza Haider killing comes at the heels of a slew of target killings in drive-by shootings that had the MQM and ANP at each other’s throats. If an ANP man was killed in the morning, by afternoon the body of an MQM man was dispatched to the morgue. The tit-for-tat killings came in two waves this year and with Raza Haider’s murder, I expect more violence.
Sadly, no one will ever speak up against the MQM. No newspaper or journalist will take the risk. My own newspaper won’t. We all just sit like ducks. I don’t trust the police either because they are bought as well. We all toe the party line. And it’s not as if any of them will even squeak the truth, because they all fear Altaf Hussain sitting in London. The party discipline is tight from top to bottom. No investigative journalism there.
(Incidentally, I’ve always wondered why the British government allows the MQM’s Altaf Hussain to live there. A senior journalist told me once that the Brits allow him to stay because they think the MQM is the only liberal party that can be pulled out of the rabbit’s hat if the shit hits the fan and the mullahs take over Karachi/Pakistan. I’ve never really quite known what to make of this claim.)
Muttahida Qaumi Movement
The MQM is a party that was started to represent Urdu-speaking migrants from India who came to Pakistan in 1947 at Partition. The party was formed in the late 1980s by a charismatic, smooth-talking, urbane Altaf Hussain, who was a pharmacy studies student at the University of Karachi.
Since then it has transformed itself into a powerhouse of a political party and the only force that rules Karachi, a city of 20 million people and thus one of the world’s megacities. While it claims to be ‘national’ party, the MQM has not been able to make inroads in any other province of Pakistan.
Its leader, Altaf Hussain, by now a thick-jowled orator, whose speeches run on for hours, is living in exile in London. Every once in a while he threatens to return to Karachi but party workers beg and plead him to stay away for fear of his life. As a result, he works the strings via telephonic addresses, an obedient hierarchy and plenty of cash steadily sucked up from Karachi in the form of extortion.