- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 2, 2011

KARACHI, Pakistan — Authorities called in paramilitary soldiers and police to quell political and criminal violence in Pakistan’s largest city Tuesday after 34 people were killed here in less than two days, officials said.

Violence in Karachi, a sprawling port city of 18 million, has added to the political instability in the nuclear-armed, U.S.-allied nation and provided another distraction for the government as it fights a Taliban-led insurgent movement. It also undercuts Pakistan’s struggling economy, because Karachi serves as the country’s main commercial hub.

Police have found bodies scattered across different parts of the city since Monday morning, some riddled with bullets and others that showed signs of torture and were tied up in gunny sacks, said Sharufuddin Memon, the security adviser to the chief minister of Sindh province.

Karachi, which is the capital of Sindh, has a long history of political, ethnic and sectarian violence, and much of the fighting is blamed on gangs allegedly affiliated with the city’s main political parties.

“There are political rivalries in the city, but criminal elements like drug and land mafias capitalize on the situation, making the things worse,” Memon said.

He said that 11 people were gunned down Tuesday, and 23 were killed the day before. The killings fit into a broader pattern of violence in Karachi that claimed the lives of more than 300 people in July, he said.

In an attempt to contain the violence, authorities have called in 1,000 paramilitary troops from the Frontier Corps and also police from the Frontier Constabulary, Memon said.

The recent bout of violence followed a decision in late June by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the city’s most powerful political party, to leave the federal coalition led by the Pakistan People’s Party and join the opposition.

Fighting intensified in mid-July after Zulfiqar Mirza, a senior member of the People’s Party, lashed out at the head of the MQM. Mirza called Altaf Hussain a murderer and an extortionist and also maligned the city’s Urdu-speaking community that makes up the party’s base — although he later apologized.

A large number of MQM’s supporters are Urdu-speaking descendants of those people who came to Karachi from India soon after the birth of Pakistan in 1947. The party dominates politics in urban areas of Sindh, including Karachi, but over time it has seen challenges to its power from the People’s Party and the Awami National Party, a Pashtun nationalist party.

There were at least 490 political, ethnic and sectarian killings in Karachi during the first half of the year, and more than 1,100 killings of all kinds, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Also Tuesday, a roadside bomb killed two Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border, said intelligence officials on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

The soldiers were patrolling near Ladha town in the South Waziristan tribal area when the attack occurred, they said.

South Waziristan was the main sanctuary for the Pakistani Taliban before the army launched a large ground offensive in 2009. Thousands of soldiers are still based in the area, and violence still occurs frequently.

Associated Press writer Ishtiaq Mahsud contributed to this report from Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan.

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