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Last Updated: Monday, 14 May 2007, 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK
Pakistan's bitterly divided metropolis
By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News, Karachi

Pakistani rangers
It's argued that security is too thin on the ground
Scores of people idle about in the main avenue of Orangi Town Number-one, a sprawling north western neighbourhood of Pakistan's southern port city, Karachi.

Among them are some motorcyclists who are in two minds about whether to ride through a hostile area to reach other parts of the city.

The area in question is inhabited by Urdu speaking people - called Muhajirs or refugees - whose families migrated from India at the time of independence in 1947.

Like most Muhajirs in Karachi, these people are the supporters of the city's largest party, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM).

Retaliatory strikes

Like the motorcyclists, they too are fearful of travelling.

Riaz Ahmed
I am not necessarily an enemy of the Pashtuns, all I want is food and water for my children
Karachi resident Riaz Ahmad

To do so, MQM supporters must pass through areas controlled by ethnic Pashtun people, who fought pitched battles with MQM activists for several hours on Sunday.

"We are under siege, there is no food in the house, and no provisions have passed into the area since Saturday," says Riaz Ahmad, a resident of the area.

On Saturday MQM activists closed down much of the city to prevent people from joining opposition rallies that were intended to welcome the country's suspended Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, to Karachi's main airport.

But Saturday's clashes in the city left a large number of Pashtun political activists dead, and sparked retaliatory strikes on Sunday in which Pashtuns targeted MQM offices, activists and sympathisers.

Motorcyclist in Karachi
Parts of the city are no-go areas

The trouble has confined people to their homes and brought business activities to a halt. Many families in low-income localities report they have run out of provisions.

"I voted for the MQM, but I am not necessarily an enemy of the Pashtuns, all I want is food and water for my children," Mr Ahmad says.

But the mood among the Pashtuns is one of anger and revenge.

'Deaths avenged'

"Look at this picture, these are five dead bodies of unarmed Pashtuns who went to receive the chief justice," says Mohammad Wasim, a resident of Sohrab Goth area, pointing to an Urdu language newspaper in his hand.

Sohrab Goth is dominated by the Pashtun population, and is located on the main highway that connects Karachi with the rest of the country.

The residents have often resorted to choking this artery whenever ethnic riots broke out in the city in the past.

"We will still do it, until the deaths have been avenged," he says.

Pashtuns, who are the second largest ethnic group after Muhajirs, feel they have been slighted by the MQM.

"We provide the workforce for this city, we built this city, we have lived here all our lives, now where is our right to hold a procession or receive a guest who is our hero?" says Gulab Khan, a resident of Landhi, another Pashtun-dominated area of the city.

Petrol station in Karachi
Fuel is in short supply

His cousin is one of 34 people who were killed on Saturday. "He was in a procession when the Muhajirs opened fire from a flyover. He received a bullet in the chest."

For local commentators who have witnessed ethnic killings in the city during 1986-96, these sentiments sound ominous.

The atmosphere is further marred by the deserted roads of the city that still carry scars of Saturday's mayhem.

In several areas, streets are strewn with rocks and bushes, and smoke is still rising from shops burnt on Sunday.

Markets in the entire city have remained closed on Monday in response to a nationwide call for a strike by the opposition parties who are protesting against Saturday's killings.

'Sense of security'

Fearing more violence, the Sindh provincial government called for a public holiday on Monday, and imposed restrictions on political gatherings.

The MQM, which is a coalition partner in the government, also took damage-control measures by announcing an indefinite closure of their party offices in the city.

On Monday morning, some 16,000 paramilitary troops rolled out of their barracks to take over security duties in the city, with powers to shoot or arrest miscreants.

Cricket in Karachi
Cricket is one of the few activities that carries on as normal

But tension continues to run high in several parts of the city.

"What can 16,000 troops do in a city of 15 million? How frequently can patrols pass our street to give us a sense of security?" asks Zeeshan Ali, a resident of Orangi Town.

He can find no public transport to take him to the hospital where his mother has been admitted for a kidney operation, and his motorbike ran out of fuel at a time when all filling stations in the city have been closed since Saturday.

The only part of the population that seems to have made the best of the strike are youths who played cricket on deserted roads all day Monday.

The fear is that they will grow up in a divided city.


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