Revenge killings follow shooting of Karachi politician

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Businesses remained closed for a second day on Wednesday in the Pakistani financial capital of Karachi, to mourn Raza Haider, a leading politician of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), assassinated on Monday. Nineteen people were killed on Tuesday in revenge killings, bringing the death toll to 49 over two days. Twenty-five shops and a number of vehicles including trucks and buses were burned in a series of arson attacks across the city.

Haider was gunned down while attending a funeral near the centre of the city. An officer at the Nazimabad police station said "[t]he number of attackers and the mode of their transport are not clear, but initial investigations suggest that there were more than two people who came on a motorcycle and they were probably backed by armed men in a car. They first shot at the legislator’s guard Khalid Khan and then entered the mosque and fired at Mr Haider who was in the ablution room."

Following the first night of revenge attacks and arson the MQM accused its main political rival, the Awami National Party (ANP), of supporting the Islamist militants suspected of the assassination. The MQM is a coalition partner with the ANP in the national government and is known as a party that holds great potential for mass mobilization in the province of Sindh.

The Associated Press (AP) said that the MQM's accusation "appeared to reflect the complex and vicious political and ethnic fault lines that crisscross Karachi."

The AP also said that Sharfuddin Memon, the head of the Citizen's Police Liason Committee had speculated that Haider's killing may be related to a government operation against "land mafias", who illegally occupy commercially valuable land. According to the AP's report it is alleged that some of these mafias have the backing of political parties.

According to human rights organizations there have been more than 300 political killings in Karachi this year.

By Tuesday evening the Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Centre had received 17 dead bodies and 55 injured. The head of the hospital, Dr Seemi Jamali, said that they had transfused 200 blood units to victims of targeted violence and that 31 gunshot victims had been operated upon that day.

This week's wave of violence and attacks began with the assassination of Raza Haider, but due to the nature of Karachi politics the exact motive behind Haider's murder is unclear. The Associated Press commented that the city has long been plagued by political violence between supporters of rival parties "that draw votes from different ethnic groups in the city of 16 million people." The publication said this muddied the reasons for the bloodshed.

Rehman Malik, Pakistan's Interior Minister was quoted by media as saying Islamist militants were likely suspects. He said that Haider had been on the extremist hit list. The BBC reported that they had been told by security officials in Karachi that there is evidence to suggest the assassination was carried out by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Pakistan's deadliest militant group.

The BBC News website also reported that senior MQM leader Babar Ghauri had said: "Every MQM activist will now be looking to pay back the people involved in this heinous act".

Raza Haider was laid to rest on Tuesday at the Martyr's Graveyard in Azizabad, northern Karachi. Hundreds of MQM members and supporters attended to pay their final respects to Haider and to his guard Khalid Khan, also killed in the shooting. The funeral took place under tight security, and with activists raising slogans against the violence that has gripped the city.

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