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Pakistan death toll rises after lawmaker’s killing

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2010

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | At least 54 people were killed Tuesday and Wednesday in Karachi — Pakistan's commercial capital and largest city — when gunfire and arson erupted in revenge attacks after prominent lawmaker Raza Haider was assassinated.

The assassination and subsequent revenge attacks highlighted deep political and ethnic divisions in Pakistan's government and society, which was gripped in outrage and confusion during the hours-long spree of violence.

Mr. Haider was a leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a major partner in the coalition government led by the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party. His party consists mostly of Urdu-speaking migrants from India and rules Pakistan's Sindh province.

On Tuesday, the MQM blamed its main political rival, the Awami National Party, for Mr. Haider's assassination and violence against party members, saying the ANP has supported the Taliban and other Islamic militants.

The ANP rules the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and consists mostly of Pashtun who have settled in Karachi from the northwest of Pakistan, home of the Taliban.

"MQM leadership has been pinpointing Talibanization in Karachi," said Anees Qaimkhani, an MQM leader, accusing the ANP of backing the increased presence of the Taliban in the country.

However, the ANP has lost more than 400 members, including lawmakers, in suicide bombings and gun attacks by the Taliban.

On July 24, the only son of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain, an ANP leader, was fatally shot by Taliban attackers near Peshawar.

ANP leaders roundly rejected the MQM's accusations.

"Could someone believe that we would give Taliban sanctuaries in Karachi who have killed our brothers and sons and made millions of our people homeless?" said Shahi Syed, an ANP leader who blamed the Taliban for the slayings.

Karachi, a city of about 16 million people, is a port city on the Arabian Sea through which supplies to U.S. and NATO troops fighting the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan transit. It is also home to the majority Urdu-speaking community largely represented by MQM.

The ancestors of the Urdu-speaking community migrated from India in 1947, when British colonialists left the Indian subcontinent and divided it into two states — India and Pakistan. A massive transmigration of people moved most of the Hindus into India and most of the Muslims into Pakistan.

Pashtuns, originally living in relatively remote northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on the border with Afghanistan, migrated to Karachi after the formation of Pakistan in search of employment and business.

The rivalry between the two settler communities in Karachi is more economically motivated than anything to do with religious or ethnic terrorism.

While the two parties are engaged in the blame game, authorities and independent observers think the Karachi killings are staged by insurgent groups, rather than any of the political groups.

Pakistani Home Minister Rahman Malik accused the Taliban-linked militant group Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) for the assassination of Mr. Haider.

"On the basis of evidence available at the moment, [the Haider assassination] was carried out by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and Sipah-e-Sahaba," Mr. Malik told reporters in Islamabad.

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is the main umbrella group for the Taliban in Pakistan.

Sipah-e-Sahaba is an anti-Shiite sectarian militant group formed in Pakistan in the mid-1980s with the help of then-dictator Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, and has spawned a large number of militant offshoots across the country.

Because Mr. Haider was a Shiite Muslim, as were many others recently slain in Karachi, authorities say they think that Sipah-e-Sahaba has been involved.

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