Pakistan may deploy surveillance helicopters and paramilitary troops to quell gang and political violence in Karachi, the country’s financial center, after 339 people were shot dead in the past month.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said yesterday that officials feared the wave of targeted killings could escalate into even more deadly fighting between ethnic groups backing rival parties if “strict action” is not taken. After the killing of 313 people in July, a further 26 died in clashes Aug. 1, Sharfuddin Memon, an adviser to the provincial government’s home ministry, said by phone.
“We are planning an operation in which paramilitary troops will be used,” Memon said yesterday.
Karachi, which is home to 18 million people, the country’s stock exchange and its central bank and contributes 70 percent of the nation’s tax revenue, has for years witnessed surges in street violence involving members of the Pakistan Peoples Party of President Asif Ali Zardari, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Awami National Party.
“This is a turf war among various gangs who have some sort of political backing,” Asad Sayeed, an economist at the Karachi-based Collective for Social Science Research, said in a phone interview. “These people are contesting for control of the city, which has been divided along ethnic and sectarian lines.”
The MQM represents people who emigrated from India to Pakistan at the time of both countries’ independence from British colonial rule in 1947 and settled in and around Karachi. The ANP is supported by ethnic Pashtuns from Pakistan’s northwest. The port city also serves as the headquarters in Pakistan for companies such as Citigroup Inc. and Unilever Plc.
The MQM quit the coalition government of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in June, the second time it had done so this year. It left the ruling bloc in January to protest a decision to raise prices of fuel but later reversed the decision.
About 490 people died in city gun battles in the first six months of the year, according to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan data. “Karachi is in the grip of a multi-sided wave of insecurity-driven political, ethnic and sectarian polarization,” the commission said in a statement Aug. 1.
Malik said the authorities would also act against “illegal foreigners in the city.” Karachi has become a bolt-hole in recent years for militants, some of them foreign, who have fled offensives by Pakistan’s army in the country’s northwestern region.
“A solution will have to be negotiated politically,” Sayeed said yesterday. “People have to realize that this city doesn’t belong to any particular group and the economic impact of a continued unrest is huge.”