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The MQM prides itself on being the protector of middle-class, liberal, secular values in a country where extremism and religious conservatism hold sway. It says the Taliban began moving into Karachi in force, driven south by a military offensive in 2009, and is wreaking havoc while hiding among the Pashtun.

“We are trying our level best to keep Karachi alive,” said Engr Nasir Jamal, of the MQM.

The ANP and the Pashtuns believe the MQM is nervous that Pashtun population growth will undermine their hold on Karachi, and that it is targeting Pashtuns to intimidate them.

The Pashtuns acknowledge that the Taliban are a big problem, including for them, because the terrorist group also has been killing its members. But they say the MQM exaggerates the problem.

The battle lines are visible across the city. MQM flags and posters blanket the Urdu-speaking neighborhoods, and red flags and graffiti mark ANP territory in the poorer, blue-collar neighborhoods.

Theirs is hardly the only conflict. The Pakistan Peoples Party, which heads the national government, says 450 of its activists have been killed over the last 4 1/2 years.

Nationalists from Baluchistan province find refuge in the city, Sunni extremists target Shiites they consider infidels and the Shiites fight back. Add waves of people displaced by floods over the last three years, and the lack of land and resources becomes a toxic brew.