Saturday, February 23, 2013

[Social Eye] Violence in Karachi

Violence and vice in Karachi has taken center-stage over the past couple of years as instances of bombing, targeted-killing, extortion, kidnapping and drug-abuse have risen many-fold. Political parties are at the center of all this as they fight for supremacy in Pakistan's largest metropolitan and financial hub, often resorting to extreme brutality.

Political entities have established militant wings that mete out street justice to rival political workers and even leaders. Political headquarters of parties are heavily barricaded bastions and politicians in general are more active in eradicating opposition than working for the people.
I trust only myself and my Kalashnikov - Nabil Gabol (Lyari MNA).
Nabil Gabol, Pakistan People Party MNA from Lyari, has only visited his constituency twice in four years. Lyari is home to constant clashes between street thugs and the police force and is one of the poorest region of Karachi. Once a strong-hold of PPP, support has dwindled as Gabol's lack of interest in local matters has dissuaded the local populace. Gabol is more focused on his ongoing popularity-war with, Uzair Baloch, leader of the now defunct Peoples Peace Committee. Baloch has emerged as more of the people's person than Gabol ever was. He has established schools, water and sports facilities for the local residents. Meanwhile, Gabol is striving hard to label Baloch Public Enemy #1 and uses his influence to conduct police raids and register cases against him. The people are the ones that suffer in the end.
At Katti Pahari  natural and unnatural differences meet.

As Karachi grows exponentially, another factor makes the violence in the city all the more frequent - land. Land is the rarest commodity of all which has embroiled the two biggest political parties in the city in a deadly turf war. United National Movement (MQM), catering to the Urdu-speaking linguistic group and the Pushtun-centric People's National Party (ANP) engage in shootouts and murders throughout Karachi. The violence is most pronounced in the region of Katti Pahari (Cut Hill) where the MQM and ANP territories practically face-off. A line of red flags along the main road demarcate the strongholds.
80% of target-killings are political in nature.

As an off-shoot of the political violence, a group of people thrived - hitmen. Although popularly known as target-killers, given the precise nature of their job. Political parties and mafias acquire their services to eliminate hindrances for the most nominal of fees; a typical target-killer is paid between PKR. 70,000 to 100,000 ($700 to $1000) per hit.

These laughably paltry fees for a hitman are because of the increased competition between this niche of criminals. According to a target-killer, whose interview is available on Youtube, there are around 600 cold-blooded killers roaming the streets of Pakistan's biggest city. This killer also stated that 80% of the hits he carried out owed to political differences.

Most target-killings in Karachi are carried out through
motorcycle drive-bys. So quite aptly, this target killer chooses
to give his interview wearing a helmet.
Being backed by political forces in government, these target killers have also gone blatant with their antics. Recently, a religious cleric was gunned down, in broad daylight, on Sharae Faisal, the busiest road in the city. The gruesome act was caught on a security camera but the killers remain at large.

The much reviled local police does almost nothing regarding the deteriorating law-and-order situation. All it is involved in are some showy, search operations in the Pushtun-dominant Orangi town and some much hyped standing-around-the-corner operations in Lyari.

Despite all the violence, Pakistan owes 25% of its GDP to Karachi's economic output. Only recently the real estate heavyweight, Abu Dhabi Group, signed a pact to invest $45 billion in constructions ventures in Karachi. This shows that the situation in Karachi has the potential to improve. Although, this might not happen overnight but the oppressed of Karachi have a window of opportunity in the coming elections. If they use their vote rightly, they might oust the forces that are gradually constricting Pakistan's carotid artery. If they don't, Karachi will slip deeper into this mess of animosity and brutality and become a lighted-fuse that would threaten to explode the powder-keg that is Pakistan.

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