Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Dawn Editorial: Karachi violence continues

Karachi violence continues
Dawn Editorial, Feb 02, 2010

A disturbingly familiar pattern of violence is once again emerging in Karachi, where over 15 people belonging to specific ethnic backgrounds have been killed since Friday. The latest round of violence began with the killing of an MQM activist, which led to greater bloodshed.

Political violence of this kind usually has a political explanation, and it appears that a turf war may have broken out now that the tentative date for the next local government elections has been announced. Lending credence to this theory are the areas in which the violence has broken out: neighbourhoods and townships such as Qasba and Orangi have pockets of Pakhtun populations and the ANP may be harbouring ambitions of electoral gains there — ambitions that are sure to be fiercely opposed by those who believe that these areas ‘belong’ to them.

Whatever the reasons for the violence, though, they are completely unacceptable. The city is being nudged towards ethnic strife. The parties that have clout in the restive areas must be bluntly told to control the violence. (Given the pattern of such violence — turned on and off like a faucet — it is inconceivable that the parties involved cannot stop it.) We understand there are other, historical reasons that are contributing to the violence: the fact that the city is armed to the teeth, the reality of a police force that is nakedly and thoroughly politicised, etc.

However, there is this fact, too: in certain areas inhabited by a specific ethnic group, no ‘outsider’ can even sit on a bus and pass through a ‘rival’ neighbourhood without being forced to disembark and questioned about his ‘unauthorised’ and ‘unwanted’ visit. So, whatever the grievances, whatever the rivalries, whatever the fears, the political parties must bluntly be told to take their hands off the trigger and in fact to exert their influence in a way that reduces, instead of exacerbates, ethnic tensions. Karachi is as much a tinder box for historical reasons as it is for the proclivity of its present masters to readily turn to violence, a proclivity that needs to be decisively curbed. We have said it before: there is something truly awful about the fact that Karachi is no safer from ethnic strife despite the fact that the three major parties in the city are all in government together. We did not expect democracy to be an immediate panacea. But neither did we expect a return to the bad old days so quickly.

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