By Zia Ur Rehman
KARACHI – Disarming Karachi is essential to control the city’s skyrocketing rate of assassinations, analysts say.
Worried about increases in targeted killings, political observers are demanding that the government de-weaponise the city and divert funds into economic policies, such as reducing poverty and increasing job opportunities, to curb the violence.
The government has formed a committee to look into implementation of a de-weaponisation programme, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah said, adding the government has ordered a judicial enquiry into the increase in targeted killings from January 2010 until the present.
About 42 people were killed July 21-26. Some of the dead were affiliated with the Awami National Party (ANP), the Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Punjabi Pashtun Ittehad (PPI); most were not political activists.
The MQM and ANP have blamed each other for the recent violence, but Federal Home Minister Rehman Malik rejected accusations of either party’s involvement and instead denounced the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
“People from different castes, creeds and backgrounds live in the city in harmony, but terrorists want to spark violence on an ethnic basis in order to achieve their dirty motives,” Malik said.
Karachi killings blamed on illegal arms trade
Despairing citizens have held protests across the city to denounce the assassinations but to no avail. In recent years they have endured surges of killings every two or three months that take scores of lives; law enforcement agencies have failed to control them.
“In the first six months of this year, 889 people have been murdered, of which some 260 were targeted in the city,” Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) data indicate.
Last year, Karachi saw 884 homicides; 184 of them were targeted killings, the report added. “The rate of killings in the city has doubled this year”, Abdul Hai, provincial co-ordinator of the HRCP, told Central Asia Online.
“The presence of illegal arms is the main reason behind the violence destroying law and order in the metropolis,” Iqbal Jamil, president of the Karachi-based National Social Forum and an activist for a weapon-free Karachi, told Central Asia Online.
Small arms – including automatic rifles and handguns – are readily available on the black market and find their way into the hands of various political parties and militant groups, Jamil said.
About 95% of “hit-and-run shootings” in the city were carried out with 9mm and .30-calibre pistols, media reported, citing police sources.
Though there is no official figure, nearly 125,000 – 9mm pistols were sold in the city in 2009, the report added.
In the courts, the number of cases involving illegal arms is higher than that of any other type of crime in the city, Makham Khattak, a lawyer, told Central Asia Online.
Currently, lower courts try those accused of illegal arms possession, which is also a billable offence, Khattak said.
“The incumbent government has proposed a joint course of action devised by the coalition partners to de-weaponise Karachi,” Engineer Muhammad Raffiq, a minister of the Sindh government, said.
Pakistan considers harsher penalty for arms charges
The federal government is considering an act that would impose a maximum punishment of life in prison for carrying illegal arms and would send suspects charged with possession to an anti-terrorism court, Jamil said.
Most targeted killings are committed with illicit weapons, Raffia said. “A huge cache of illegitimate weapons has been seized in a recent crackdown against the anti-peace element,” he said.
Economic frustration, particularly youth unemployment, is one reason behind the rise in violent crime, said Akhter Hussain Baloch, a journalist-cum-activist associated with the Society for Development and Human Rights (SDHR), a Karachi-based rights group.
“Political and religious parties … exploit feelings of economic frustration in order to harden support for identity-based mobilisation,” Baloch said.
Targeted killings linked to ethnic differences
A “Say No to Target Killings” peace committee has been formed to curtail the growing violence and to educate city residents. Intellectuals, citizens, political and peace activists, and trade unionists are on the committee.
“Some elements are putting an ethnic colour on the violence, which is increasing fear among Karachi dwellers belonging to different ethnic communities, but we, as concerned citizens, will resist it,” said Saleha Aapa, a noted women’s rights activist and member of the committee.
The Pashtun (from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Muhajir (who migrated from India during the partition) communities are two groups that have suffered from ethnically focused violence.
“I am a labourer and not linked with any political party,” said Ashraf Khan, 33, a Pashtun who grew up in Karachi. “But for the first time, I am afraid that I could be killed.”
A Muhajir community member echoed that sentiment.
“(Now) we are scared to go into … other communities,” said Atif Raza, 38.
First published at Central Asia Online