In what appears to be yet another ethnic clash, property worth millions was torched and at least 10 people were killed on Monday night.
Authorities worry that the incident, believed to be a fight over land-grabbing between Seraiki-speaking people from southern Punjab and Pashto-speaking people, may be the beginnings of a new ethnic war.
Surjani’s population is a mix of Urdu-, Seraiki- and Pashto-speaking people. Usually clashes between ethnic groups across the city are thought to be between certain groups but for the first time, a new group has entered the fray.
“This is the first time that I have seen Seraiki- and Pashto-speaking people fighting,” said Additional IG Saud Mirza, who has been in a slew of meetings with officers across the city in an attempt to stem the violence. “It is definitely not a good sign.” He feared that this new violence could escalate and spread. More and more law enforcers have been deployed to Surjani in an attempt to nip the danger in the bud, he added.
A police official told The Express Tribune that the whole issue, like most political clashes in the city, is the land mafia’s doing. In the beginning, two land grabbers locked horns and the scuffle gradually went from two ethnicities fighting to a political clash.
He said that land grabbers and the supporters of political parties use each other to their own advantage. “If you compare the Seraiki and Pashtun, then you find that the Pashto-speaking men are more in number,” he said. “The Seraiki do not have the resources, weapons or manpower to take on the Pashtun.”
Both are, however, backed by political parties.
Pakistan Seraiki Qaumi Ittehad (PSQI) chairman Colonel (rtd) Jabbar Abbasi told The Express Tribune that the clash was not a random, isolated incident but was the result of a chain of many small fights that have been breaking out between the two groups for a couple of months now. He denied the involvement or support of any political party.
He claimed that it started when a Pashto-speaking person allegedly urinated on a newly constructed house belonging to the PSQI general secretary, Haji Nazeer Ahmed, in Surjani, leading to a fight between the two groups.
Next, a Seraiki-speaking person identified as Allah Dita, was killed and four others were wounded in firing while they were on their way to the Northern Bypass to hold a protest over the abduction of Seraiki children, also apparently by the rival group. “We are targeted each time,” he said. “How long are we meant to bear it? The police never catches the actual culprits.”
On Sunday, Tahir Khan, identified as Allah Ditta’s killer, by the Seraiki group, was murdered in Surjani. “The Seraikis and Pashtun have always lived together in harmony, but recently these small fights have escalated into a bigger problem,” Abbasi said. “When Tahir died, the Pashtun began attacking our houses and we did what we had to do to protect ourselves.” Pashtun leader Younus Buneri contradicted Abbasi, claiming that the Seraiki and Pashtun have nothing against each other and the Pashtun have always supported the Seraikis. He said that the same force that is behind the violence across the city is responsible for the unrest in Surjani. The people behind the violence take minor scuffles over personal matters and turn them into ethnic or political issues, he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2011.