At least ten people, including journalists, were injured after a war of words between two groups turned violent in Khairpur on Thursday.
The clash erupted when members of one sect were reportedly playing devotional poetry at a loud volume in Achi Khohi, Mir Ali Bazaar. Another group objected to this, claiming that there was a Quran recitation ceremony being held in the area. After the two groups verbally sparred, one went ahead and lodged a complaint at a police station.
The other group also followed them to the police station and another altercation ensued. The two groups then resorted to throwing stones at each other, resulting in a number of injuries. The police tried to separate the fighters, but when they refused to leave, the police fired tear gas shells and opened aerial fire.
Journalists covering the incident also came in the line of fire, and three, Barkat Chachar, Aziz Soomro and Khan Mohammad Solangi, were injured. The police’s attempts at laying down the law apparently fuelled the situation, as members of the two sects also began shooting in the air.
The district administration then summoned the Rangers and armoured personnel carriers (APC), hoping that Rangers personnel could gain a semblance of control. But armed men from both sects continued aerial fire, though a heavy bout of tear gassing by the police forced many to leave. The markets in the area have been closed and Khairpur is reportedly deserted, save for the police and Rangers patrolling the streets. Other reports claimed that there was a virtual curfew-like situation as no one was allowed on the streets.
“There is a curfew like situation in the city while all markets and shops are closed. People are afraid of the clash escalating further because the tussle is between two religious groups,” said a citizen, Irfan Phulpoto.
He said that the tense areas were Nao Goth, the stronghold of one group and in Panj Gula, the stronghold of another sect.
The house of Sindh Home Minister Manzoor Wassan and MNA Nawab Wassan is located in Achi Khohi, where the clash began.
Some 600 policemen and 200 Rangers officers were reportedly deputed to patrol. Two pickets were set up with APCs.
The injured including Syed Zulfiqar Ali Shah, Ali Gul Lashari and Naeem Abbas were taken to Civil hospital for treatment. The “A” section police have registered two separate FIRs against 15 persons from each sect on behalf of the state. Two men, Ahmed Ali Tunio and Irfan Tunio, have been arrested.
According to a representative of the SSP Khairpur Irfan Baloch, the situation in the city was under control by Thursday evening.
The banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) has a considerable presence in Khairpur. In 2009, SSP leader Allama Sher Hyderi was killed in the district. SSP leader Malik Ishaq also spoke at a well-attended rally in Khairpur in July organised by the Jamiah Haidriah. Ishaq was released from Kot Lakhpat jail, Lahore this summer after 14 years of imprisonment. He was accused of killing 70 people in over 40 cases. Analyst and author Dr Ayesha Siddiqa said at the time that sectarian groups were rapidly spreading in the province.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 30th, 2011.
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