Monday, June 1, 2009

IDPs inflame ethnic strife in Karachi

* Pashtun influx is provoking resentment among Muhajirs and Sindhis

The refugee influx has inflamed ethnic rivalries in Karachi, the Wall Street Journal warns.

Dozens of people, it says have died in clashes in recent weeks between the rapidly growing Pashtun population and Karachi’s majority community. Armed factions backing the two are locked in a bloody contest to control the city of 18 million people.

This strife adds a new dimension to the security crisis that threatens the survival of the Zardari government.

The Urdu-speaking Muhajirs, are themselves refugees having fled India following the Subcontinent’s partition in 1947. Hundreds of thousands of Pashtun war refugees have joined established communities of earlier economic migrants.

Despite their occasional street battles, the two groups are formal allies in Zardari’s coalition government.

The MQM bills its conflict with the ANP as part of an overdue offensive against the Taliban. “The Taliban in Karachi are clean-shaven, wearing a shirt and pants, and holding an ANP flag,” says the MQM mayor. MQM leaders have called for screening the refugees for Taliban sympathisers.

The Pashtun influx also is provoking resentment among ethnic Sindhis. This week, Sindhi nationalist parties staged protest strikes in Karachi, shutting down parts of the city as they called for a ban on new refugees.

Karachi’s Pashtun leaders laugh off the accusations of Taliban sympathies. Muhammad Amin Khattak, ANP’s provincial secretary-general, notes that he hasn’t been to a mosque for months. “The people who are coming into Karachi, they are the ones who are suffering [at the hand of] the Taliban.”

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