Family members move the body of a man, killed by unidentified gunmen during a shoot out, from morgue in Karachi
Family members move the body of a man, killed by unidentified gunmen during a shoot out, from morgue in Karachi Reuters

Ethnic and sectarian violence has killed at least 47 people in Karachi, Pakistan over the past three days.

After 24 killings on Monday, the death toll declined to 11 on Tuesday, then 12 more on Wednesday, as the murder spree in the teeming city shows no sign of ending.

All told, 240 people were shot to death in July, making it the deadliest month in the city’s recorded history.

In response, the government has deployed hundreds of additional paramilitary troops to patrol Karachi, city of between 18- and 20-million people and the country’s principal commercial hub.
"House-to-house searches are going on and some suspects have been detained," local government official Sharfuddin Memon told the media.

The local government has also offered rewards to people who bring forward evidence that would bring the killers to justice.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Karachi is suffering "a reign of terror and bloodshed", and that the government will take "every possible action to restore peace".

He added: "I want to warn that you have tested the patience of the government enough. I won't say anything else. You will see the action yourself."

Karachi has a history of ethnic violence, with the worst outbreaks occurring throughout the 1980s, 1990s and the over past five years.

Reportedly, the endless gun battles represent a kind of “war” between supporters of the country’s principal political parties: the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Awami National Party (ANP).

The MQM, which has long dominated Karachi politics, represents the interests of Indians Muslims who migrated to Pakistan during and after partition in 1947. Meanwhile, the ANP and PPP are dominated by the Pashtun ethnic group (who are native to present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan)

It is believed that people affiliated with MQM and ANP are directly fighting each other, while PPP offers covert support to ANP.

Pakistani security officials claim that senior politicians are harboring many of the killers, while police officials claim it is the work of criminal gangs.

The violence has thus far been limited to poor areas of the city.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has asked the government to find a political solution.

"Karachi is in the grip of a multi-sided wave of insecurity-driven political, ethnic and sectarian polarization that has greatly undermined its tradition of tolerance and good-neighborliness," it said.

"While gangs of land-grabbers and mafias have tried to exploit the breakdown of law and order, they do not appear to be the main directors of the horrible game of death and destruction; that distinction belongs to more powerful political groups and it is they who hold the key to peace."

HRCP also said that in the first six months of this year, 1,138 people were killed in Karachi, of whom 490 were victims of political, ethnic and sectarian violence.

The leader of MQM Altaf Hussain has issued a warning that the deterioration in law and order will likely persist and that people should stockpile food and water.

"We are running out of patience. For how long will we collect the bodies of innocent people?" Hussain wrote in a statement to party workers before a party meeting.