Pakistan's Sindis Clash Over Rights
Pitched battles in Bhutto's home province signal deep ethnic tensions and threaten democracy. KARACHI'S URBAN WARFARE
FORTY-two years ago, millions of refugees fled India for Karachi to pursue their dream of a Muslim homeland. But today, these 'emigr'es known as mohajirs, see that vision darkening in this troubled, sprawling city of 8 million people.
Last month, a brewing political confrontation between the Mohajir National Movement (MQM), a refugee party with growing clout, and Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) exploded in vicious urban warfare.
More than 50 people were killed during a one-day general strike Feb. 7 called by the MQM. Armed gangs took over Karachi's deserted streets, battling police and the Army.
The violence capped a week-long spree of abductions by student gangs from both parties. Scores of youths, kidnapped and gruesomely tortured by both sides, were later exchanged only after intervention by the military.
Sind Province and its capital, Karachi, often have been torn by ethnic strife. However, Pakistani observers say that the recent outburst has cast the conflict in a new light and signals a political collapse that could undermine Ms. Bhutto's governments in Sind and at the national level.
``None of us could have conceived that Pakistani politics would degenerate to this level,'' says M.B. Naqvi, a Karachi political commentator and one-time refugee from India.
The battle for Karachi and other Sind cities springs from the deep bitterness between native Sindis and Punjabis, on one hand, and the mohajirs, the force behind the movement to partition British India and create the Muslim nation of Pakistan, on the other.
Part of the tide of 9 million Muslims fleeing predominantly Hindu India for Pakistan in 1947, most of the better educated, Urdu-speaking 'emigr'es settled in Sind and take credit for building the new capital in Karachi.
But the dream began to sour as Karachi's population mushroomed and ethnic quotas were imposed for scarce government jobs and college admissions. The quotas first went into effect in the 1950s, although today many mohajirs blame Bhutto's father, the late Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, for their stringent enforcement.