The latest target killing – or assassination – in Karachi has once again plunged the city into tension. Four unidentified gunmen shot dead MQM leader and member of provincial assembly Haidar Raza during wuzu (ablutions) at a mosque where he had gone to attend a relative’s funeral prayers in Nazimabad Block No.2 this afternoon. His guard was gunned down first.
Some 400 people have died in target killings so far this year in Karachi – but in this sprawling city of over 18 million, life in most areas goes on. Haidar Raza’s high-profile murder, however, sent a wave of panic through the entire city.
Shopkeepers pulled down shutters (or were made to do so) and traffic jams were reported around the city as people rushed home. Driving from Clifton to Tipu Sultan Road via the Korangi flyover at around 8 pm we came across quite heavy traffic, but it went smoothly except near our destination at a crossing where chaos prevailed, resulting in a traffic jam. It took us over 20 min to traverse that quarter-kilometre – and we only got through when we did because a slightly built man jumped in front of a bus, forcing it to stop and allow our lane of traffic to pass. The conductor came out and protested, complaining that the bus had also been stuck in traffic in Nazimabad from where it came, but the man calmly held his ground and waved our car ahead.
We didn’t come across it, but sporadic incidents of firing were reported in places – including Karachi’s posh Defence area. By 10 pm, “even Meerut (kebab house) is shut,” we heard. By midnight, at least 18 people were reported killed and dozens wounded. Several vehicles were torched, including a bus from which the miscreants pulled out the driver, whom they killed, we heard. Most of the others killed were probably also just ordinary people trying to earn their living, or get home to their families.
The MQM has declared a three-day mourning which means shops & businesses will be shut down, daily wage earners will be hard hit. Government has announced all educational institutes shut tomorrow and exams postponed.
The main artery from the airport to the city centre, Shahra-e-Faisal, was open and safe – I confirmed with a colleague at Geo News before returning home around 1 am. There was sparse traffic, and an eerie feeling because of the desolation and darkness at the normally brightly-lit all-night kebab and food places.
The MQM leadership has appealed for peace. Although MQM and the Awami National Party have been at loggerheads, it would be really far-fetched to hold the ANP responsible for the murder of a high-profile politician like Haidar. Interior Minister Rehman Malik suspects the banned, militant Sipah-e-Sahaba – far more plausible given the SSP’s anti-Shia agenda and their continued operations under another name. Here’s my response on twitter to someone who asked if the Taliban could be behind it: “Taliban = SSP = Al-Q. Overall same ideology.”
Prof. Moonis Ahmar, writing on target killings and the battle for Karachi in The News on Sunday (Aug 1, 2010) identifies three major factors behind the situation: Criminalisation (breakdown of law and order); ethnic and linguistic divisions; and the sectarian dimension.
Let’s see what the next few days bring. Thoughts & prayers for all those killed today, and their loved ones.