"Karachi will witness ethnic cleansing like Bosnia if govt doesn't wake up"

Karachi, Nov 19 (ANI): Karachi may witness ethnic cleansing like that in Bosnia, if the government continues its apathy towards ethnic clashes and target killings rampant in the city, the Secretary General of Citizens for a Better Environment has warned.

"If our government is not going to wake up, I fear Karachi will have ethnic cleansing like Bosnia. There's no one to stop it. Who's going to stop it? The police? The army? They can't," The New York Times quoted Amber Alibhai, as saying, referring to gruesome clashes between the Mohajirs and the Pashtuns.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan recently reported that more than 1,350 people had been killed in Karachi in targeted political killings so far this year, more than the number killed in terrorist attacks in all of Pakistan.

This tally has solidified Karachi's grim distinction as Pakistan's most deadly place, outside its actual war zones, where the army is embroiled in pushing back a Taliban insurgency.

Indeed, it is the effect of the war, which has displaced many thousands of ethnic Pashtuns from the northern tribal areas and sent them to this southern port, that has inflamed Karachi's always volatile ethnic balance, the paper said. For the most part, extremists who torment the rest of Pakistan with suicide bomb attacks exploit the turmoil here to hide, recruit and raise funds, it added.

The attack last week on the police headquarters by a suicide bomber that killed dozens was the exception, the first attack by extremists against a government institution in the city, as far more common have been killing by gangs affiliated with ethnic-based political parties hunting for turf in a city undergoing a seismic demographic change, the paper said.

Karachi has long been dominated by ethnic Mohajirs, the Urdu-speaking people who left India in the 1947 partition and who have been represented politically by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.

The MQM has a long association with violence, the paper said, noting that back in 1992, the army had moved into Karachi to suppress it, accusing it of a four-year rampage of torture and murder. During what amounted to a two-year occupation by the army, "several thousand" people were killed, according to accounts at the time.

The latest challenge to the MQM's hold is the influx of Pashtuns who have fled the war to seek work and shelter in Karachi's slums. Though the Pashtuns number some five million here now, they remain politically underrepresented, and the frustrations of the newcomers have increasingly been channeled into violent retribution by the Awami National Party, the paper added.

It said that the two sides have set their gangs on each other. In August, after a senior MQM member was shot to death at a funeral, over 100 people were killed in a weeklong orgy of violence. The army, asked by some political parties to move in again and keep the peace, declined.

It is the persistent lack of Pashtun representation in the city and provincial governments that underlies the troubles, said Abdul Qadir Patel, the chairman of the parliamentary committee that said 603 police officers had been assassinated since 1996, and 33 this year alone.

"The Pashtuns are frustrated and the A.N.P. says, 'We'll fight back,' "Patel said.

In rare candour for a Pakistani government document, his report said "ethnicity, sectarianism, perceived insecurity due to demographic changes, gang war between mafias and clash of interests among workers of political parties have been the real cause of violence in Karachi." (ANI)

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