2-Day Pakistani Toll Rises to 110 in Ethnic Strife
Fierce street fighting with automatic weapons, firebombs, knives and stones resulted in at least 60 deaths here Monday, bringing the two-day toll to more than 110 as a bitter ethnic conflict between Pushtun and Mohajir communities spread to new areas of Pakistan’s largest city.
An estimated 5,000 security personnel--army troops, paramilitary forces and provincial police--patrolled the city in jeeps mounted with machine guns Monday night but were unable to prevent periodic outbursts of violence.
The authorities ordered nearly two-thirds of the Karachi area, with a population estimated at 7 million, placed under curfew. Wounded victims, shivering from shock and near-freezing weather, were still arriving at the city’s hospitals.
Shot by Men in Jeep
“I was sitting by the road waiting for a bus to come and take me to work when Pushtun men in a jeep began shooting at me,” Mohammed Hanif, 22, a power plant worker, said. Hanif received several wounds in the face and chest from shotgun pellets.
Several of his companions at the bus stop were more seriously wounded in the attack.
More than 500 people have been injured in the fighting. The rival groups shot, stoned, stomped and set fire to their adversaries in what is described as the worst ethnic violence in Karachi’s history.
According to Dr. A.M. Rana, emergency medical officer at Karachi Civil Hospital, where 18 dead and 85 injured were taken Monday night, most of the wounds were caused by automatic weapons of the type supplied by the United States and other countries to the Afghan rebels fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan. One man, Rana said, had more than 10 bullet wounds in one leg.
Karachi’s large Pushtun community, estimated at more than 2 million, includes many Afghan refugees. Although most Pushtuns (also called Pathans) live in Afghanistan or in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier province, their numbers in Karachi, where they dominate the transportation business as well as heroin and weapons traffic, have been steadily increasing. Today, Karachi claims the largest urban concentration of the traditional tribal warriors. More Pushtuns live in Karachi than in Kabul, the Afghan capital.
As the Pushtun population has grown, so has the resentment from the even larger community of Mohajirs, the name given the 3 million or more Urdu-speaking Muslims who migrated to Pakistan from what is now India beginning in 1947. The Mohajirs, which means refugees in Urdu, also include Bihari refugees who came here from what was East Pakistan after it became Bangladesh in 1971.
The two communities--Pushtuns and Mohajirs--are the poorest in Karachi. Their sprawling slum neighborhoods face severe water shortages and constant electricity failures. Unemployment is also highest in these areas.
Blamed for Heroin Use
For the Mohajirs, the bitterness has been increased by the presence of the nearly 3 million mostly Pushtun Afghan refugees who have been in the country since 1979. Among other things, the Afghans are blamed by the Mohajirs for creating an epidemic of heroin addiction in the slum areas.
“The Pathans are the ones who have brought in all the drugs from Afghanistan,” said Dr. Aqueel Noorulain, 26, a doctor at Civil Hospital and a Mohajir whose father came to Pakistan from India in 1965. “They are spoiling the economy of Pakistan, so why is the government still treating them like special refugees?”
The first battles between the two groups began in 1965, when Ayub Khan was elected president of Pakistan. Since then, there have been periodic clashes, often touched off after a Mohajir is hit by a vehicle driven by a Pushtun. Such incidents have caused two recent outbursts, one in September and the other in November. On both occasions more than 50 people were killed.
The violence that began Sunday, sparked by a government crackdown on heroin traffic in the Pushtun community, is by far the worst yet.
Most of the victims of Sunday’s violence in the city were Mohajirs, but hospital staff members said Monday that most were Pushtuns.
“I think this is a retaliation from the other side,” Rana said.
Spokesmen for the national government said the violence was instigated by people who were raided in the crackdown on heroin and guns in the notorious Sohrab Goth area of the city, where many Afghan refugees live. They said the crackdown, called “Operation Cleanup,” resulted in the seizure of more than 500 pounds of heroin.
Pakistan is the main supplier of heroin to the United States. Most of the heroin is grown in Afghanistan and northern Pakistan and transported to the West through Karachi.
Several thousand Afghan refugees were rounded up from the Sohrab Goth area over the weekend and lodged in a special camp outside the city, reportedly to be moved later to refugee camps in the north.
Opposition leaders, among them Benazir Bhutto, daughter of the late Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and head of the Pakistan People’s Party, criticized the government for its failure to put down the violence. They said the timing of the drug raids, when communal tension was running high in Karachi, may have led to more deaths in the city.