(IRIN) – The wave of ethnic and political tension in the Pakistani city of Karachi which left 90 people dead within four days last week has raised fresh fears that some minority groups could be the target.
“My two sons are not going to their tuition classes or to the martial arts club they regularly attend, and my wife calls me in fear if I am even five minutes late getting home from work,” said Haider Ali, 40, a Pukhtoon, and a member of the minority Shia Muslim sect, who have been repeatedly targeted.
“I feel especially vulnerable due to both these factors, but we have nowhere else to go,” he added. “My family moved here three generations ago; I have a good job here and this is the only home I know.”
The government of Sindh Province (in which Karachi is located) issued shoot-on-sight orders to law enforcers in a bid to control the situation, but the killings continued.
“I am running out of the packaged cereals my nine-month-old baby eats, and also out of sufficient milk for the two older children [but] it is too risky to even walk to the corner shop,” said Asiya Khan, 27, a mother of three. The family is ethnically Pukhtoon, hailing from the northern province of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, and this puts them at risk amid tensions between Pukhtoons and Mohajirs – a group of people who migrated to Pakistan at the time of the partition of the sub-continent in 1947.
Tensions are stoked by the affiliation of the two groups to rival political factions. Karachi, the country’s largest city, is made up of many diverse ethnic groups who have migrated to the metropolis mainly in search of jobs. In the past, violence has broken out between these ethnic groups.
There have also been repeated incidents of sectarian killings. According to the autonomous Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), 490 people were killed in Karachi because of ethnic, sectarian or political reasons in the first six months of 2011.
Some 748 people died in similar killings in 2010, while 272 died in 2009, according to HRCP.
“Terrible fear among children”
“Another cycle of the now familiar violence has erupted in Karachi,” Zohra Yusuf, the HRCP chairperson, said in a statement. “Karachi is no stranger to violence or the absence of law and order. However, it is scandalous that the alarm and indignation that such a heavy toll on human lives should evoke, is absent.”
Sharfuddin Memon, a spokesperson for the Sindh interior ministry, told IRIN that some suspects had been detained and “police and paramilitary troops are patrolling troubled areas to control things.”
By the weekend, barricades and checkpoints set up by security forces could be seen along many streets, with people being stopped regularly for questioning.
“The fact, however, is that when there are gunmen roaming streets and shooting at random, or ambushing vehicles, there is very little we can actually do to protect people. The criminals are better armed than us in many cases,” said a policeman who asked not to be named.
Ahsan Maqbool, a primary school teacher, warned that the situation could create distrust and hatred among children belonging to different ethnic groups and could result in “more violence as children grow up in such an environment”.
“This situation has created terrible fear among children,” he added. “Some of them have seen bodies lying on the streets – and their sense of trauma is reflected in their writings and drawings.”