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PAKISTAN: Karachi settlers haunted by violence
Karachi street scene by night
KARACHI, 20 January 2011 (IRIN) - In the courtyard of a busy hospital in Karachi, many different languages can be heard, as families chat to each other while waiting for consultations or to visit patients.
Urdu [the national language], and Sindhi, Punjabi, Pashto and Balochi - languages spoken in the country’s four provinces - can all be heard, along with some others used by the many ethnic and religious groups who make up the 15 million people living in the port city.
But once outside the public space where they have come together by accident, the groups only rarely mingle, making their way home to residences often based in localities where a particular group is dominant. Recently, mounting tensions between ethnic groups, and political rivalries that spur these on, have added to the unrest. These factors have also triggered violence, with 33 people killed and others injured in the latest outbreak of killings this month.
Last year, according to police, over 1,000 people died
in murders carried out in most cases by gunmen who roamed the streets, appatently killing at random. The murders continued
throughout the later months of the year.
Pathans, who have moved to Karachi from the northern province of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa over many decades, usually in a quest for jobs and an improved life; and Muhajirs, people who moved from India to Pakistan at the time of the violent partition of the sub-continent in 1947, are the chief victims of the murders, which follow a “tit-for-tat” pattern.
“Unemployment among young people is a factor in all this. Because such young people are at a loose end they can be quite easily exploited,” Faisel Edhi, trustee of the charitable Edhi Foundation, told IRIN.
The killings, and an operation by security forces in troubled localities across the city, have triggered fear. “There is an awful sense of harassment for us Pathans. My family has lived in Karachi for over 30 years, after moving here in the 1970s, but even now we are treated like unwanted outsiders,” Sheeraz Jan, 40, told IRIN. He said he and other Pathan families had been avoiding sending their children to school.
But the Pathan community is not alone in its fear. In the Orangi area, inhabited by many different ethnic groups, people say they have been detained by security forces for hours, or kept in their houses, as search operations continue. “I felt very harassed because about three paramilitary personnel entered my home and demanded I produce my national identity card. I was forced to stay there till I was able to reach my husband and ask him to bring it in, as he keeps it at his office in a file,” said Sajjida Siraj, 25.
Farooq Rashid, another resident of the area who is Punjabi, says security forces “detained me in my home for hours causing me to miss a day’s work, which I cannot really afford.” He is considering moving back to the Punjab with his family.
“It is sad people in this large city cannot learn to coexist,” said Ahsan Sidiqque, 55, a social worker.
Too many guns
Civil society activists have meanwhile been calling for a “deweaponization
” of Karachi, a city in which there are believed to be over 20 million small arms.
According to a report by the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA
), a worldwide network against gun violence, Pakistan has one of the highest per-capita figures of gun ownership in the world.
Though official figures are not available, estimates put the number of small arms, licensed and unlicensed, in the country at more than 20m, the report added. Pakistan’s population is about 170 million, and rising fast
“When so many people have arms, there is bound to be violence,” said Sidiqque.