Saturday, May 12, 2007

Pakistan Political Violence - At Least 32 Dead

By Cernig

I mentioned yesterday the chances of violence during rival pro- and anti-government demonstrations in the Pakistani city of Karachi today. Today AP and others are reporting that clashes have indeed begun and are variously reporting the rising casualty figures as between 27 and 32 dead and between 80 and 150 injured. The violence has meant that the US media have finally began paying attention, with CNN, ABC and others covering the AP story after a drought of weeks while this crisis has been brewing.

The AP reports:
Government supporters and opponents turned neighborhoods of Pakistan's largest city into battlegrounds Saturday, leaving at least 27 people dead in the worst political violence since President Gen. Pervez Musharraf suspended the chief justice.

The justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, flew to Karachi to attend a rally organized by his supporters but never made it out of the airport. He abandoned his plans in the face of street battles across the sprawling city.

Gunmen with assault rifles traded fire in a residential area of bungalows and concrete apartment blocks just a half-mile from the international airport, which was isolated by makeshift roadblocks of stalled trucks and shipping containers. A private TV network came under attack as well, but stayed on air as rioters torched vehicles outside.

...opposition activists accused a pro-government party, the Mutahida Qami Movement (MQM), of attacking them with batons and gunfire as they attempted to greet the judge at the airport.

An AP reporter saw MQM supporters calling for ammunition and firing from buildings, reportedly at opposition supporters, who fired back.

Doctors at the city's four main hospitals said 27 people were dead and more than 100 injured, many of them from gunshot wounds. The number of dead was confirmed by a senior security official in Karachi, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly.
So far, Musharaff has held off from declaring a state of emergency, saying "There is no need for a declaration of emergency as the country is not passing through such conditions that would force us to take such a hard decision". However, since the MQM are widely held in Pakistan as bully-boys for the dictator, the perception will be that he is trying to engineer by proxy a situation where a state of emergency is eventually needed - which would allow him to suspend planned elections and stay on as Army head as well as president.

In the meantime, the governor of Sindh province, which includes Karachi, has called for the Army to be deployed and the paramilitary Rangers, who are attached to the army as internal security troops, are already being deployed.

Update Swaraaj Chauhan, an Indian professor of journalism who blogs at The Moderate Voice notes that most of the dead and injured belong to the non-Islamist and pro-democracy Pakistan People’s Party which is led by the exiled Ms Benazir Bhutto. He adds:
“New York-based Human Rights Watch said the government and its allies had apparently ‘deliberately sought to foment violence in Karachi’, and police stood by as ’silent spectators’.”

One of the greatest problems with the US administration is that it seemingly loves to put all its eggs in the basket provided by tin pot dictators (military and civil), while in the same breath keeps a running commentary about the virtues of democracy.

Will this Orwellian double-speak at all help in the “War-against-Terror’?
Well no, of course it won't. The fact that NATO and others involved in Afghanistan say the Pakistani intelligence agency is harboring and directing the Taliban and other terror groups doesn't help either. Same with the administration's looking the other way or even actively helping groups such as the PKK or the MeK who carry out terror attacks in Iran. It's always been a War On Some Terror.

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