KarachiPakistan’s Economic Jugular Vein or Hub of Ethnic Violence?→ Aamnaa Yousaf Khokhar
Karachi, Pakistan’s port in the south and the largest commercial city in the country, is finding itself more and more in the news these days. In fact, with the unabated violence among the local ethnic groups it has never really been away from the media’s attention, both local and international. The latest wave of violence has claimed more than sixty innocent lives in the city, which is considered to be the economic jugular vein of Pakistan. According to a report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), over 75 people have been killed in various attacks in Karachi so far in January, while a total of 1,981 people were killed in the metropolis last year.To control the worsening law and order situation, it has been suggested again that the security concerns be handed over to the army. On Saturday, 22 January, a petition was filed in Pakistan's Supreme Court regarding the continuous targeted killings in Karachi. Advocate Tariq Asad filed the petition under Article 184(3) of the Constitution, and made the federal government, through the Interior Secretary, Interior Minister, Sindh Chief Secretary, Sindh Home Secretary and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, respondents in his petition. He requested the court to direct all the respondents to issue a Proclamation of Emergency under Article 232 in Karachi, and call the armed forces under Article 245 of the Constitution to act in aiding the civil authority, until the criminals are eliminated. The petitioner pleaded that Karachi be handed to the Pakistan Army, and the Interior Minister be sacked for failing to maintain law and order in the economic hub of the country. On Saturday, it was reported that the core committee of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), in a lengthy session, has approved plans for a ‘decisive operation’ against elements involved in target killings in Karachi. Although no clear elaboration on the ‘decisive operation’ is available yet, anyone can guess it means large-scale use of force to control the situation.Is the military the only solution left to save Karachi? The evidence of its efficacy in Afghanistan or Iraq, or even the bordering Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) of Pakistan, is not very reassuring. The situation in Karachi requires in-depth study of the root causes of the violence. It requires revisiting the historical incidents, that has perpetuated this unrest, both sectarian and criminal.The violence in Karachi is multi-dimensional; there are myriad theories that explore the causes, the perpetrators’ identities, their motives and their covert exponents. The real issue, nevertheless, remains the struggle for political power and economic dominance. The elite class is as much struggling for power and dominance as is the deprived populace and the so-called terrorists. In a broader perspective, the paradoxes of Karachi revolve around the following factors: (1) Massive diverse migration; (2) Ethnic and Sectarian violence; (3) Rise and spread of crime groups; (4) Political, economic struggle among indigenous ethnic groups and state organs; and (5) Infiltration of Taliban, Al-Qaeda militants.Diverse MigrationOwing to its strategic and economic characteristics, Karachi has experienced several waves of migration since the 1800s. Karachi is no more simply the city of Sindhis or Muhajirs. It in itself is a mini-Pakistan with people of diverse regional and linguistic backgrounds competing in the labour market, for housing, education and, as the population grows, for political power; part of the problem of Karachi’s ethnic dimension of violence starts here. Karachi houses one out of every ten Pakistani and has the largest communities of Muhajirs, Baluchs, Sindhis, Pashtuns and Kashmiris. It has one of the largest Punjabi community apart from having the biggest concentration of Afghans and a sizeable number of other South Asian communities. In 1839 Karachi’s population of 14,000 was dominated by Hindu merchants (Lohana, Bhatia), Muslims (Memon, Khojah), Goan Christians, and Parsis. The rail network of 1861 resulted in a considerable economic growth, which along with bringing prosperity, also attracted double migration from neighbouring provinces, Rajhstan and Gujrat. By 1911, Karachi had emerged as the leading wheat exporting port of South Asia and as a result of its increasing commercial activity, its population increased to 151,901. Further, with the Miram’s Development Plan introduced in 1923, its population is estimated to have increased to 386,655 by 1941. After 1941, the trend of migration to Karachi continued and the first wave of migration began with the creation of Pakistan. About eight million Muslims from India migrated to Pakistan and 20 per cent of them (from the United Provinces, the Central provinces, Delhi and Hyderabad of British India) settled in Sindh province. In 1947, some 600,000 refugees from India settled in Karachi, raising the population figure from 4,50,000 in 1947 to 11,37,667 in 1951 and the inter censal growth rate from 3.70 percent (1941-31) to 11.50 percent (1951-41).A vast majority of the refugees came from Urdu-speaking Muslim communities and settled in urban areas. Muhajirs gradually outnumbered Sindhis in urban Sindh and their dominance soon came to be resented by the Sindhis; ‘the sons of the soil’ began to feel excluded from their own province. At the time of partition in 1947, Karachi’s population was estimated to be 450,000 with Sindhis constituting 61 per cent of the population. But by 1951 the Muhajir population had increased to 55 per cent and Sindhi had dropped to 8.5 per cent.The second wave of migration started after the emergence of East Pakistan as the independent state of Bangladesh. Pakistan accepted about 118,866 Biharis, who were stranded in Bangladesh. The Bihari migration took place amid the growing tension between Sindhis and local Muhajir population. More than 70 per cent of these Biharis settled in Karachi city. Then came the third wave of migration with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Between 1978 and 1998 some 600,000 Afghan refugees were registered in Karachi by National Alien Registration Authority (NARA). Earlier, they settled in some refugee camps or with relatives in NWFP and Baluchistan, but economic opportunities attracted them to Karachi. According to official 1998 census results, between 1972 and 1998, some 3.8 million migrants were added to Karachi, 40 per cent of the total reported population of 1998. The fourth wave of migration began in the post 2002 period after the US invaded Afghanistan and later forced Pakistan Military to launch operations in the bordering tribal belt and northern districts. After the 9/11 attack, thousands of Afghans, Arabs, Uzbeks, and nationals of other African and Asian countries, who wanted to avoid the wrath of US invasion fled from Afghanistan to safer areas in Pakistan. There are no official figures available but in 2004 about 1.8 million immigrants were estimated to have settled in the towns Baldia, Katchi Abadi, Saryab Goth, New Sabzi Mandi, Lyari and Korangi in Karachi. The migration of Afghans and Arab militant elements only intensified ethnic and sectarian violence and also gave rise to the mob culture. The military operations in FATA, Swat, and Malakand Division have also been creating internal migration waves, adding fuel to fire. As of January 2010, the illegal immigrants in Karachi are estimated to be between 1.6 and 2 million. Hardly 15 to 20 per cent of them are registered with NARA.Ethnic and Sectarian ViolenceThe massive migration of various regional ethnic groups gave birth to multi-dimensional ethnic and sectarian violence in Karachi, which continues to hurt Pakistan till today.The Ethnic violence is three dimensional: Muhajir vs Pashtun, Muhajir vs Sindhi, and Muhajir vs state and MQM splinter groups. Violence between Muhajir and Pathan communities can be traced back to the death of an ethnic Bihari girl in an accident on 15th April 1985 in Nazimabad colony. The following riots led to massacres in 1986 and 1987 in Aligarh and Qasba colonies. Street violence and mayhem ensued further in 1988 and 1989, and in 1990s it took the form of mafia-style operations and executions.The tension between Muhajirs and Sindhis began over the question of language. At the time of partition, Sindhi was spoken by around 61 per cent of Karachi’s population but it receded to only 8.5 percent in 1951. Beside language issues, the dominance of Muhajirs and the government’s failure to help Sindhi populace get their land back also irked the indigenous inhabitants. Now, due to the diversity of the ethnic groups, more and more of these were striving for land share. But the tension remained mainly with Muhajirs, who had several advantages over their Sindhi co-nationalists. For instance, 70 per cent of them were literate, compared to only 10 per cent of the indigenous inhabitants of the province. Similarly, Muhajirs brought with them considerable entrepreneurial and administrative experience which were largely missing among the Sindhi population. The government had also decided to declare Urdu as the national language.Muhajir vs state and MQM splinter group violence began in 1991 when two high-ranking officers of the MQM, Afaq Ahmad and Amir Khan, who had been expelled from the party on charges of corruption and conspiracy against Altaf Hussain, formed the breakaway MQM-Haqiqi (real) group. A series of targeted killings began between the two MQM groups. To control the law and order situation, the army launched “Operation Clean-up” with the aim of clearing the city of gangsters. Peace returned to the city, but it was short-lived. The MQM militants started targeting security personnel as well. Till June, 62 policemen and more than 500 civilians were targeted. In November 1994, after the army had withdrawn from Sindh, the police and the paramilitary took the charge of law and order.In Karachi, sectarian violence is as old as the city itself. However, the city emerged as a ‘hotbed of sectarian violence’ only after 1970. The violence pitted Islamists and Muhajirs against each other. Although, in the initial days after partition, Muhajirs supported Jamait-i-Islami (JI) in the municipal elections, soon the two sides were in violent clashes with each other after the third wave of migration. The Muhajir community accused JI of supporting Pashtuns, who brutally carried out the massacre of 1980. The JI, for its support to Zia’s Taliban regime against Soviets, failed to take any action against the Pashtuns. It was amidst rising clashes between the JI and MQM in the early 1990s that the extremist militant groups Sipah-e-Sahaba and Sipah-e-Mohammad suddenly emerged and gave birth to sectarian violence in 1993. Rival Shia and Sunni extremist religious groups routinely carried out attacks on either’s mosques, processions, Imambargahs, and targeted killings. However, the ordinary members of the two communities remained calm and exercised caution to avoid violence. They refused to succumb to the deliberate provocation. Sectarian violence in Karachi killed about 3000 people from 1995 till 2005.The rise of religious seminary (Madrassah) culture in Karachi in the 1980s is also said to have contributed to the creation of a number of religious-extremist groups. The most famous of these seminaries is the Binory town Madrassah (Darul Uloom Islamia Binori), which has become the hub of Deobandi Islam in Pakistan, along with the Haqaniyah Madrassah of Akhora Khattak, due to its role in the rise of the Taliban and later in the foundation of the Jaish-e Mohammed (JeM).The year of 2006 was deadly for Karachi. Many targeted killings were reported to have taken place between Shia and Sunni groups. However, violent sectarianism was not limited to attacks between Sunni-Deobandi and Shia militant groups; rather, bloody clashes between Deobandi and Barelvi activists for control of Sunni mosques also occurred regularly.(To be continued)The author is a Pakistani journalist.