Why are PPP governments violent for Karachi?

Published: October 24, 2010
The numbers speak volumes

The numbers speak volumes

KARACHI: It is when the numbers stop meaning anything that Karachi starts to panic. The numerical numbness does not, however, exhaust our hankering for some explanation, any explanation, for the killings. The next best thing we can offer ourselves is the acknowledgement of a trend: The violence has been at its worst when the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has been in power.

The statistics are incontrovertible ‘proof’. This year the number is 1,100. The only other time it was this high was in 1995 during Benazir Bhutto’s second tenure. But in our desperation to extrapolate, we must not frivolously affix blame.

Then and now

Afzal Shigri was the inspector general of the Sindh police force between the years 1993 and 1995. He describes his experience of being at the helm of affairs of the law-enforcement agency at that time as “the most difficult time of my life”. By the end of his tenure, the number for Karachi hit 1,742 — double from year before with 813. This was when the PPP didn’t have any coalition partners in the Sindh government.

“Many of my men were killed during those two years,” Shigri recalls, adding that one of the main challenges he faced was keeping the morale of his forces intact. “There were no-go areas in the city where the police acted as a buffer between two parties who were battling it out with heavy arms in the streets.”

This much was the overwhelming memory of analyst Zahid Hussain, who was a reporter for the monthly Newsline in the nineties. He also says that back then the battle lines had been drawn between the PPP government and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). “There were also gun battles between the MQM and Haqiqi groups.”

In reaction, the authorities launched an operation against the militant wings of political parties. But what former IG Shigri doesn’t recall, however, was that the law-enforcement agencies were also accused of carrying out extra-judicial killings. Nawaz Sharif initiated a crackdown — the brunt of which the MQM came to face. But it was after Bhutto came to power for a second time (Oct 1993) that it gained force under the command of former army general Naseerullah Baber who became notorious for backing the off-the-record murders.

Thousands of activists belonging to the MQM and its student wing the APMSO were arrested. Many of them were killed in encounters with the police, Rangers and the then pro-establishment party, the Mohajir Qaumi Movement-Haqiqi.

According to Shigri, the difference between the killings then and now is that in the 90s there were ‘clashes’ where political supporters in one neighbourhood would open fire on their rivals in the next neighborhood for days on end. “Now we have target killings in which the murderers sneak past the law-enforcers and kill people within minutes and then disappear.”

Analyst Zahid Hussain agrees to this extent that target killings have increased in these times. “But remember that it happened in 1994 and 1995 also and there were many cases of young men being found in gunny bags with gunshot wounds.”

Shigri adds that the mess Karachi is in today is the worst of the violence and has its roots in the 1990s. “Today, apart from politically motivated killings, we have sectarian murders and also the Taliban-backed militants who are [acting up] in Karachi.”

For Hussain, the ‘turf war’ today is now more complex given that there has been a rapid change in the ethnic composition of the city. For example, the Pakhtun-supported Awami National Party didn’t enjoy a power base as it does today as a result of the influx of families from the northern areas.


Police officials say that whenever they round up suspects with political backing involved in target killings, there is tremendous pressure to release them. A former capital city police officer, who wishes to stay anonymous, says, “the problem is that many criminals have taken refuge in political parties. Also, each of these parties has a militant wing”.

He says that even when the police apprehend the murderers involved in target killings, the political parties backing them ensure that they are taken care of and bail them out one way or the way. Although the former CCPO refuses to admit that he had to release such people during his tenure, he says if they don’t, “they get their people released through the courts.”

Shigri says the pressure is not only from political parties. In fact, all influential segments of society, including business groups, also apply pressure.


A senior police official of the Anti-Violent Crime Cell says that his experience shows that violence in the city comes under control following a concerted crackdown. He gives the example of the era of the early 1990s that was a period of political killings. But when asked if the same formula would work in comparison today, he answers by saying that his force is facing a complicated situation in which ethnic, political and sectarian groups are all involved in the bloodletting, and in many ways overlap with each other. The question really is, he says, whether we can launch an operation against all of these groups at the same time. “I don’t think that anyone is in a position to do something like that.”

Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (30)

  • reader
    Oct 24, 2010 - 12:26PM

    The creator of PPP Z. A. Bhutto was himself against the urdu speaking population residing in Karachi, he never let an opportunity go to attribute nostalgic words & frequently use to say that those who migrated to Pakistan after 1957 shall either have to leave or stay in ghetto style slums in lower parts far away from the main city areas. So basically its the mindset to subjugate the population by dividing them linguistically.Recommend

  • Oct 24, 2010 - 2:34PM

    With such hate-filled history with the PPP, I wonder why MQMers hate Nooners more than the jiyalas.Recommend

  • Rabia
    Oct 24, 2010 - 3:32PM

    Good story.Recommend

  • E.Aziz
    Oct 24, 2010 - 4:34PM

    There is yet another link to the problem. Its a relationship between the government in Islamabad and peace in Karachi.
    Numbers mentioned in the chart indicate the positive correlation between these two constructs.
    it can be said that whenever government in Islamabad is unstable, Karachi becomes unstable too or visa versa. Recommend

  • Oct 24, 2010 - 4:51PM

    The article is one sided. It fails to point out that the Sindhi-Mahajir gulf though ever present reached its peak in Zia era. Similarly the inception of MQM and the introduction of militancy in the ethnic tussle was also the blessing of the same regime. Which is when the killings actually started.

    There were two steps during the first PPP tenure which were targeted at positive discrimination, which affected the Urdu Speaking community, first being the rural-urban divide and second the unjust firing of prominent bureaucrats almost all of them Urdu speaking. Other than that the entire Bhutto era was not only peaceful but a significant number of Urdu speaking populace voted for PPP.

    Without giving due credit to the dictators Zia and Musharraf for converting Karachi into a ticking time bomb it is unjust to present a correlation between the two.

    Also, if I’m not mistaken there was a PPP government in place between 1988 and 1990 as well.Recommend

  • reader
    Oct 24, 2010 - 5:17PM

    Lady, am sorry to say am not from MQM-A nor do I support their political ideology, what I have quoted is part of history & not a drawing room discussion, if you do not believe me than you can get this confirmed from labour party leader of that time “Fatehyab Ali Khan” or Maulana Kauser Niazi unfortunately both passed away but Dr. Mubashir Hasan or GM Khar or Hafeez Pirzada can confirm this…Recommend

  • MH
    Oct 24, 2010 - 6:32PM

    I seriously don’t understand why people want a “democracy” in a country that has 80% of its population still teetering on the rungs of illiteracy. I wish there was a button that said restart for Pakistan before Quaid passed away. Recommend

  • Bilal Hashim
    Oct 24, 2010 - 10:11PM

    “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

    Martin Luther King Jr.Recommend

  • Syed
    Oct 24, 2010 - 10:13PM

    @ Natasha
    not true, as far as I am concerned, PMLn is better than PPP, (Better does not neccesarily means good, it means comparability better)Recommend

  • E.Aziz
    Oct 24, 2010 - 10:38PM

    Democracy is not meant for literates of the world. Its a system where people live collective lives, they reflect on their shared problems and come up with decisions agreeable to many if not all.
    Literacy may help people think in better terms but it is not necessary for people living together in decent terms.
    Democracy should not be linked with literacy, it should rather be linked to informed decision making. I think majority of the people living in Pakistan do know what is good for them.Recommend

  • Oct 25, 2010 - 1:29AM

    There is not going to be any let up in the Karachi carnage until the PPP government is folded. Sooner the better for the lives Karachiites.Recommend

  • Oct 25, 2010 - 1:33AM

    The Sindhis and Urdu Speaking were getting along fine. Neither of them had any major party to represent them. Then came along the hate-filled party PPP. The reaction was the APMSO and the rest is history.Recommend

  • Oct 25, 2010 - 1:45AM

    There is not going to be any let up in the Karachi carnage until the PPP government is folded. Sooner the better for the lives of the Karachiites.Recommend

  • Oct 25, 2010 - 1:48AM

    I agree with you. The emphasis on education is misplaced. The most educated populace led by the corrupt would not be able to get anywhere.
    The issue is corruption that has strangled the nation through feudal, bureaucracy, politicians and security forces.

    The one-point agenda the nation needs to follow is end of corruption. Recommend

  • Mohsin
    Oct 25, 2010 - 9:45AM

    I agree with this article, PPP Govt. has always been harmful for the country in way of corruptions and for Karachi their sleeves are filled with unjust killings and extra judicial encounters of their political opponents.Recommend

  • KNS
    Oct 25, 2010 - 3:49PM

    “According to Shigri, the difference between the killings then and now is that in the 90s there were ‘clashes’ where political supporters in one neighbourhood would open fire on their rivals in the next neighborhood for days on end. “Now we have target killings in which the murderers sneak past the law-enforcers and kill people within minutes and then disappear.””

    Technology and Optimization of resources are the two things man have learned in 20th century, and we can see its effect in Target Killing also. Why spray bullets on people around and plunder resources like it was done in 1994-95. Better use target operation to eliminate your opponent and conserve resources, however result (number of deaths) in both decades is same. Recommend

  • Oct 25, 2010 - 5:11PM


    That doesnt explain why Sharif is hated more than the PPP. That’s my general perception about MQM. They are more bitter about PMLN than PPP , the ones they keep fighting all the time.


    I dont get to hear that much from MQMers. But Im sure once out of this coalition, MQM will perhaps be more bitter about PPP. It’s the unnatural alliance that is not letting the ‘true’ feelings out. It’s different on the streets , yes.Recommend

  • Oct 25, 2010 - 5:13PM


    India is an illiterate nation too. Perhaps more jahil than us in some ways. Democracy’s working fine there.Recommend

  • Oct 25, 2010 - 5:31PM

    flesh point.Recommend

  • PeaceAndMore
    Oct 25, 2010 - 7:23PM

    Natasha, you represent what’s wrong with Pakistan and its people. How do you know Indians are savages? Are you the judge whose responsible for judging others? Look at your self before you make inflammatory comments about others!Recommend

  • Mustafa Zaidai
    Oct 25, 2010 - 8:26PM

    There are elements that are trying to destabilise the government, and I appreciate government for being so much patient. Conspirators must know that government is not going anywhere until it fulfills its five-year term.
    Pakistan People’s Party government respects the Supreme Court’s (SC) verdicts and a difference of opinion cannot be considered a clash between the two institutions. Government has already slammed such news regarding rumours about the withdrawal of the judges’ reinstatement. Stern action should be taken against those who spread the rumours.
    There should be no doubt whether, the party that created the constitution, has read Article 6 or not.
    No doubt the government should be proud of having removed the anomalies from the constitution through the 18th amendment and asserted that efforts to destabilise the government should be foiled by people of Pakistan.

    PPP is the only party which has suffered from extra constitutional actions but it has never resorted to any extra constitutional acts.Recommend

  • Oct 25, 2010 - 10:44PM

    I wonder why we’re always talking about ethnicities and religions. Why can’t we talk about Pakistanis for a change? Is a Pashtoon living in Karachi a lesser Pakistani and vice versa? Isn’t Karachi a national city? Isn’t Karachi a part of Pakistan inhabited by Pakistanis? Who cares if Pashtoons Balochis Sindhis or Punjabis decide to call it a home? Why’re we so against promoting nationalistic character?Recommend

  • Oct 26, 2010 - 12:28AM

    There is nothing wrong in talking about ethnicity. So imposing artificial requirements of not talking about ethnicity is not going to work. What we need to talk about is how each ethnicity is allowed to cherish its respective heritage, without being trampled upon by the others, and how each ethnicity interacts with one another. Recommend

  • Anonymous
    Oct 26, 2010 - 12:12PM

    The situation in Karachi has become beyond the general mind.No one can can predict or guess
    about the coming days.Every thing getting out.Police has failed,Rangers are also failed.Innocent people are killing by insurgents.Many time as have seen public transport is off the road,and businesses are closed.

    But the above noted situation,the parties concerned are not agree in the action government want to take.local administration proposed to impose curfew but opposed by leaders.On other hand federal government looks not in favor of military action.

    The question before us is that what will be solution of this problem getting out the control of local administration and federal government.

    people are being targeted by insurgents,they are living in Karachi and acting in karachi.Some quarter concerned saying they have been imported by local mafia that is true to some extend.

    We should also consider this situation in the international scenario,
    Karazia government has invited Talban for peace negotiation, these negotiations has united states back but they put Pakistan aside that is very considerable.Reality of the time is that peace in the region without Pakistan is impossible.

    My considered opinion is that Pakistan should move forward to TTP for negotiation,
    that is essential for peace in Karachi.
    If United States and Afghanistan can have talk with Talban without us why we can not.Recommend

  • Oct 26, 2010 - 12:30PM

    Karachi situation needs negotiations,
    negotiations with those really involved in the situation,
    without agreement with them peace in karachi is very hard.

    If United States backed government in Afghanistan
    can have negotiations with Talban,
    without Pakistan’s participation that is front line ally of the United States
    why Pakistan have not?

    we shouldn’t wast time,
    time is really running out.
    Innocent people are being killed,
    target killing is going up day by day with remarkable speed that considerable,
    it need urgency and prompt action.

    As have seen,
    police and rangers has failed bringing peace in the city,
    the situation need a action comprehensively,
    for this purpose we have a one option,leading to peace in the city,

  • Oct 26, 2010 - 12:47PM

    There are many option on the table,
    there are option before us,
    some options has been adopted but remained useless,
    there is a last,last one,that is military action.Recommend

  • GH
    Oct 26, 2010 - 1:05PM

    MQM has a history of conflicts with each n every party. They had long standing hatered with Jamat-i-Islami, PPP, HAQIQI,PML. There isn’t any single party they are happy with.
    A Normal Karachite knows what they are doing! They established a party for the rights of Urdu Speakers, What they have achieved? If you talk about political reconciliation then you have to start it from the Ground level.Recommend

  • Oct 28, 2010 - 7:44PM

    The MQM seems to have problem with everyone because it is the “odd man out” of the Pakistani politics. They have two choices. 1) to be perpetually persecuted by staying the opposition where they naturally belong, or 2) to get intermittent respite by making alliances with various parties.

    They have chosen the latter option. That’s all.Recommend

  • Masroor
    Oct 29, 2010 - 10:24AM

    I just wana say ” The numbers speak volumes “!!!!!Recommend

  • Syed
    Nov 10, 2010 - 3:10PM

    @ Natasha
    Well the bitterness of MQMers against PMLN is not action but a reaction, to PMLN For about one year after the elections PMLN kept issuing anti MQM statements for no apparent reason at all, they even went as far as saying that MQM has done nothing for Karachi, (referring to CDGK), on which even the media became active and criticized PMLN, and asked the leaders to venture out of Punjab for once.

    From your comments it seems that JI, PML PPP are good parties, and MQM is bad because it is the odd one out?? (I purposely omitted Haqiqi, because its not a Party, it was army created Mafia that was in control of eastern Karachi, so much so that MQM was not even allowed to enter there, even after that MQM won elections there, as opposed to Haqiqi, which even being in full control could not, and the irony is that, till 2002-03 Elected MNAs and MPAs of MQM from malir, wernt even allowed to enter their constituency by Haqiqis.
    Your mentioning of Haqiqi as a party, clearly says that either you are not from Karachi, or you are politically ignorant.Recommend

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