Thursday, August 05, 2010

Pakistan: Assassination of Raza Haider - deadly revenge

By B Raman
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From my article of Feb 7,2010, titled “Karachi & Af-Pak Policy Options” at

“The increasing virulence of the Mohajir-Pashtun and Punjabi Sunni-Mohajir Shia animosities is once again making Karachi a bleeding city . Since the beginning of this year, over 50 persons are reported to have died in Mohajir-Pashtun clashes and about a hundred Shias have been killed in attacks on Shia religious gatherings by Sunni extremists.

If the increasing violence in Karachi is not controlled in time, it will further damage an already weak Pakistani economy, pave the way for the ingress of the Taliban into the city and create additional problems for maintaining the logistic supplies to the NATO troops in Afghanistan. Law and order has to be maintained in Karachi and the efforts of the TTP ( Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) to gain a foothold there thwarted. Despite the deteriorating situation in Karachi, one has the impression that neither the federal Government of President Asif Ali Zardari nor the Pakistan Army nor the US-led NATO forces is paying serious attention to the important task of restoring law and order in Karachi. One sees a disturbing policy of drift which could prove dangerous. The importance of Karachi for the success of the US "war" against the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda has hardly been given any prominence in the discussions in Washington DC on Af-Pak policy options.”

At least 63 people were killed and more than 150 injured during two days of violence in Karachi following the assassination of Raza Haider, a member of the Sindh Provincial Assembly belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), on the evening of August 2,2010. He was a respected leader of the Shia community of Karachi.

2. Initial suspicions and allegations by the MQM that he had been assassinated by the Awami National Party (ANP), a Pashtun-dominated political party with which the MQM has serious animosities despite the two supporting the ruling coalition in Islamabad and Karachi led to widespread retaliatory attacks by the followers of the MQM on the Pashtuns living in Karachi. This predominantly Mohajir ( Muslim refugees from India) city has more Pashtuns than Peshawar, the capital of the Khyber-Pakhtoonkwa Province ( previously known as the North-West Frontier Province). Speaking in the Senate, the upper House of the Parliament, on August 3, Mr.Haji Adeel, a member of the ANP, said that on the first day of the violence as many as 38 Pashtuns from Khyber-Pakhtoonkwa and Balochistan living in Karachi had been killed and another 130 injured. Hotels and kiosks and over 30 vehicles belonging to Pashtuns were gutted.

3. Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah said at Sukkur on August 3 that the assassination of Raza Haider was not an incident of targeted killing but an act of terrorism. He reassured the Mohajirs that the ANP had nothing to do with the assassination. He claimed that a banned religious outfit was responsible for the assassination. He did not name it, but it was believed that he was referring to the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ). The Karachi police have also detained a number of suspected members of the LEJ for interrogation.

4. Mr.Rehman Malik, the Interior Minister, has accused the anti-Shia Sipah-e-Sahaba, the parent unit of the LEJ, and the TTP of being responsible for the assassination of Haider. According to him, they killed him in order to drive a wedge between the ANP and the MQM. Independent police sources also suspect that Haider was assassinated by the LEJ and that the ANP had nothing to do with it. The fact that the MQM members went on a rampage against the Pashtun community underlines the continuing fragility of the relations between the Mohajirs and the Pashtuns in Karachi.

5. Even though the Sipah-e-Sahaba and the LEJ have killed more than a hundred prominent members of the Shia community in Karachi, many of them refugees from India, neither the Federal nor the provincial Government has been able to put a stop to the activities of these anti-Shia organizations. The LEJ repeatedly targets the Shias of Karachi because they are highly educated and affluent and constitute the intellectual elite of the Shia community of Pakistan whereas the Shias of Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtoonkwa, Gilgit-Baltistan and Khurram largely come from the land-owning and peasant communities. It kills the latter because of their devotion to their sect and the Shias of Karachi because of their intellectual attainments. (5-8-10)

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.