By now, everyone in Karachi is used to regular bouts of violence interspersed with periods of calm. Except now, the moments of peace seem to be getting ever shorter. After being spared violence for 10 days, Lyari exploded yet again on April 13, when police engaged in a day-long gun battle with members of the outlawed People’s Amn Committee (PAC), leading to the deaths of at least three people with another dozen injured. Easy as it is to blame either the police or the PAC, depending on where your political sympathies lie, the fact remains that violence in Karachi is not monopolised by any one group. Every political actor in the city has used the threat and reality of bloodshed to further its own interests.
As is always the case in Karachi, the shootout in Lyari could quite possibly take on an ethnic dimension. The Baloch community that resides in Lyari will take the violence as a sign that the police is targeting it. It is most likely to respond by taking out its anger on other ethnic groups in the city, and that could lead to another round of violence, and so on. And who suffers the most in all of this, as the provincial government stands by idly and does nothing? The ordinary residents of the city. Political differences quickly become more combustible because of the ethnic component and feed an already-waging conflict that may otherwise die out in a few days.
An added problem is the fact that the police, which should be studiously neutral in ethnic conflicts, usually ends up (or is pressured to) taking sides. This only adds to the sense of injustice felt by the aggrieved parties and leads to even more violence. In Karachi, a feeling of victimisation is present in all political parties, who feel that they are being repressed in some way or the other. Their list of complaints is as long as their list of solutions is short. For the sake of the city, though, we continue to hope that they will eventually realise that politics can be practised without needing to pick up guns.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2012.