Karachi killing continue

October 8, 1999

The deaths of nine worshippers at a Karachi mosque were barely reported in British newspapers. But they were another landmark in four years of sectarian and religious strife, which has cost an estimated 4,000 lives in Pakistan's largest city.

The minority Shi'a Muslim community blamed masked Sunni extremists armed with automatic weapons for the attack. Karachi has become the focus of tension between the native Sindi population and Urdu-speaking Mohajirs who came from India to settle in Pakistan after partition in 1947.

Feuding between Sunni Muslims and the Shi'a minority, many of whom are Mohajirs from the Shi'a heartland of Lucknow, was evident in the early 1980s. But violence reached its peak in 1994-95 after the Mohajir Quami Movement, then the third largest party, split into rival factions.

David Taylor, an expert at London University's School of Oriental and African Studies on the significance of religion in the politics of India and Pakistan, said: "My sense is that there is no direct contact between MQM violence and this sort of sectarian violence. But Karachi, because of its urban hot-house conditions, has generated all sorts of violence and there may be some subterranean connections."

When violence between two rival wings of the MQM was at its peak in Karachi, there were suggestions that it was being fomented by the army in collaboration with the opposition to destabilise Mrs Bhutto's powerbase in Sind. But with Mrs Bhutto's arrest on corruption charges and subsequent exile, Pakistan's political map was redrawn.

Dr Taylor is sceptical about whether there is any such political force behind the violence. "If Karachi was to go up in flames, it could backfire on the government," he said.

The Muslim League government of Nawaz Sharif has been criticised by human rights agencies for its failure to safeguard religious minorities, the repression of political opponents and for the number of extrajudicial executions by police and the security services. Nevertheless, pressure for Sind separatism has eased, Dr Taylor said.

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