By Guillaume Lavallee, AFP
KARACHI — Pakistan’s financial hub Karachi saw its deadliest year in two decades in 2012, with around 2,000 people killed in violence linked to ethnic and political tensions, raising fears for elections due this year. Karachi, a business center with a population of 18 million, is the beating heart of the nuclear-armed country of 180 million.
It accounts for 20 percent of GDP, 57 percent of tax revenue and elects 33 lawmakers to the federal parliament. Yet enormous waves of migration have tightened resources and exacerbated a fight for identity and control that has only become deadlier in the five years since the main ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) took office in Islamabad. Trapped in the middle are ordinary people who one day leave home, never to return alive — victims of faceless gangs condemned by political parties yet linked to ethnic and political factions, and who escape with impunity. “My son went to pay his respects at his father’s grave, but he never came back. We found his mutilated body in a bag,” says Shahida, sobbing uncontrollably in her damp home, lit only by a naked bulb hanging from a cracked ceiling. Faysal, 16, was her only son. When he vanished last month from their home in a rubbish-strewn alley in the working class district of Lyari, her world collapsed. He was shot in the head, and there were drill marks on his head and stomach, says Faysal’s uncle Mohammed Hussein. “We don’t know who did it and why … I don’t have a reason to live any more,” his mother cried. According to the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee, 2,124 people were killed in Karachi in 2012, the worst year since records began nearly 20 years ago. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) says 1,800 people died in targeted killings in the first nine months of 2012. In 2011, it put the number at 1,000, which was then the deadliest in 16 years. Karachi has all the ingredients of an explosive cocktail — gang warfare, land grabbings, drugs, Islamist extremism, political rivalries, ethnic tensions, extreme poverty and a mushrooming population owing to migration. Police insist killings related to ethnic and sectarian disputes accounted for only 20 percent of the murders, but rights activists say a shortage of law enforcement officers is part of the problem. “Karachi is becoming a city where controlling violence is becoming increasingly difficult because of an insufficient police force, which is less than 30,000 for around 18 million people,” says Zohra Yusuf, HRCP chairwoman. Pakistan is scheduled to hold elections by the end of May, which will mark the first democratically elected transition of power ever in the country, dominated for decades by military rulers.