Violence In Karachi Shaped By Crime, Targeted Killings

May 5, 2015

With America’s impending withdrawal from Afghan, Pakistanis are shifting their focus from the U.S. role in the region to their own internal problems. At the top of the list, homegrown violence that continues to wrack the nation.

This port city is Pakistan’s business and media capital. It is also one of the most violent cities in the world. To give you some sense:  the crime log in the Express Tribune newspaper the other day was sub-titled “Grenade attacks and encounters.”

These are the kinds of “encounters” you don’t want to have. They included the ambush of a convoy carrying the city’s chief of counter-terrorism; the attempted assassination of another government official; nine other targeted killings; a grenade attack on a bus stop, and a shoot-out that killed four armed militants.

Oh, and a guy who shot a policeman was burned alive by an angry crowd.

Just another day in Paradise.

Some of this involves crime gangs; others battles between political factions – often one-in-the-same. But some reaches beyond those boundaries.

And that’s where things get complicated.

A wave of targeted assassinations has shaken the intelligentsia.

Killings in the last few weeks include a university professor, the owner of a bookshop that hosted frequent free speech events, and the marketing manager of one of the largest media groups. An American teacher was also shot and wounded. The professor was a close friend of another faculty member assassinated a year ago this month.

Among the educated elite, as one columnist put it, “Public and private conversations in Pakistan have been reduced to obituaries.”

My meetings with journalists, educators and activists this week, inevitable begin with a discussion of who is behind the killings. Conspiracy theories abound. The more Machiavellian, the better. They can make your head spin.

Much speculation ties the deaths of at least some of the targets with their support for rights in the rebellious province of Baluchistan, implying the military had them killed. Others say it was the Baluch rebels trying to make it look like the military was responsible. Islamist fundamentalists. Sectarian rivalries. Gangs associated with the political party that controls Karachi. A “foreign hand.” Unnamed “dark forces.” They’ve all been blamed.

Circles within circles, Shadows within shadows. And so it goes.

The reality is: there is no proven link between – or motive for – any of the killings.

But that doesn’t change the fact that people are afraid. Even those who are not overtly political. As one university professor told me… “The low level of anxiety we all feel has kicked up a notch. We all think we’re going to be next.”