Karachi: At least 35 people have been killed in the Pakistani commercial hub of Karachi, after a member of the dominant political party in the city was shot dead, police said on Tuesday.
Raza Haider of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), was gunned down on Monday along with his bodyguard while attending a funeral, an attack that apparently set off a new round of ethnic and sectarian-related clashes in the city of 18 million.
Such violence has raised fears of instability in Karachi, and the flight of Taliban militants to the city after army offensives against their bases in Pakistan’s northwest has also sounded alarm bells.
“This obviously raises concern and anxiety, and if these things continue, Pakistan’s economy gets undermined,” said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a political and security analyst.
Karachi is home to the country’s main port, stock exchange and the central bank.
“It is a pathetic situation and exposes the helplessness of the government to perform its basic duty towards its citizens,” said Rizvi.
The main stock index was up 0.13% by 10.30 a.m. (0530 GMT) but in very dull trade as dealers said there was thin attendence due to security concerns.
“This could be the last nail in the coffin and could be disastrous for the market because as it is, volume has been below average and this may lead to foreign investors exiting the market,” said Sajid Bhanji, a dealer at brokerage Arif Habib Ltd.
“Since yesterday, 35 people have been killed, about 90 people injured and dozens of shops and vehicles have been burnt down,” said Karachi police chief Waseem Ahmed.
Ahmed said the police had credible information that Haider’s killing was carried out by a banned sectarian organization, though he did not say which one.
Police officials said that they found evidence suggesting that a banned organization had planned a suicide attack during Haider’s funeral, scheduled for later on Tuesday.
Political forces and armed groups
Rizvi said anyone could have been behind Monday’s attack.
“All political forces in Karachi have their armed groups,” he said. “And then there are a lot of other groups - criminal, sectarian, drug mafia... So we are not sure who is involved at what time.”
Schools were closed in a tense city with very thin traffic on the streets. The MQM has called for three days of mourning.
A total of 102 people were killed in targeted attacks from January to June, with 40 more last month.
Karachi has a long history of ethnic, religious and sectarian violence. It was a main target of Al Qaeda-linked militants after 11 September 2001 attacks on the US, when Pakistan joined the US-led campaign against militancy, and foreigners were attacked in the city several times.
Mohajirs, the descendants of Urdu-speakers who migrated from India after the creation of Pakistan in 1947, are the biggest community and dominate the city’s administration through the MQM.
It is also home to the largest concentration of ethnic Pashtuns outside the northwest.
Government officials also say criminals, including drug lords competing for turf in the city’s teeming neighborhoods, take advantage of the tension, complicating the police’s difficulties.