But the main problem has always been the battle between Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Altaf Hussain's Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM).
The recent killings of the brothers of two main players, one from each side, within a span of two weeks has led to some soul-searching by both, but whether this will lead to a reconciliation of sorts or more bloodshed is anybody's guess.
Ehsan Ali Shah, a government official and the younger brother of Sindh Chief Minister Syed Abdullah Shah, was shotdead in the first week of December along-with his two friends. In the second week, Nasir Hussain, 62, a retired government official and the elder brother of London-based MQM chief Altaf Hussain, was abducted and killed under mysterious circumstances alongwith his elder son, Arif Hussain, 27. Both parties have accused each other of the brutal murders which sent shock waves throughout Karachi and Hyderabad. Nasir and Arif Hussain were reported missing from their Samnabad residence on December 7. Two days later, their badly mutilated bodieswere found at Gaddap, from where they were taken to the nearby Edhi centre. When news of this incident spread, angry MQM supporters went on a rampage, with groups of armed men resorting to heavy firing at different places. At least 25 persons have been killed in clashes inthe twin cities of Hyderabad and Karachi since then, and intelligence reports indicate the possibility of further violence.
In Karachi, the unrest in fact started mounting the day the MQM Coordination Committee announced that Nasir and Arif had been arrested by a special Rangers team. Though the Rangers publicly denied any hand in the arrests, MQM Coordination Committee Chairman Ishtiaq Azhar expressed apprehensions that both Nasir and his son might be killed by the law enforcement agencies. The bodies were found the next day.
Referring to the earlier killing of Syed Abdullah Shah's brother, Altaf Hussain described the incident as "political revenge...it is the worst example of stateterrorism and absolutely shocking for the entire Mohajir nation''. However, refuting Altaf's allegation, the chief minister has offered his condolences to the bereaved family, the same way Altaf Hussain condoled the recent murder of Syed Abdullah's brother.
Interestingly, both EhsanShah and Nasir Hussain, who fell victim to the PPP-MQM battle, lived in the same locality—Samnabad.
Syed Abdullah Shah has named Altaf Hussain and three others in the FIR of his brother's murder case. Altaf Hussain has followed suit by accusing President Farooq Leghari, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Abdullah Shah, Interior Minister Naseerullah Babar and the Rangers Director General of being responsible for his brother's murder, though the Karachi police is yet to register his FIR.
Relations between the rival sides hit rock bottom after Islamabad demanded that the British Government immediately arrest andextradite Altaf Hussain, alleging that he was involved in masterminding anti-state activities. But the government's efforts proved futile with the London-based International Police (Interpol) replying that the request for extradition could not be considered until the British Government decides Altaf Hussain's case for political asylum in Britain. The MQM supremo, who till recently had been residing in the Mill Hill area of north London on a non-immigrant visa, has now applied for political asylum. According to British law, a person who has been granted political asylum or has applied for the same cannot be handed over to a government against whom he had sought asylum.
The Pakistan Government, however, still insists that Altaf must be extradited by Interpol because he has been declared a proclaimed offender in various cases ranging from murder and torture to abduction. The government has also provided a complete record of Altaf's alleged terrorist activities to Interpol in support of its claim. According to the officialrecord, the first criminal case registered against Altaf dates back to 1979 when he allegedly set ablaze the national flag during a public meeting of the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organisation (APMSO) in Karachi. The crime-wise break-up of the cases registered against Altaf in different police stations of Karachi include: murder (12 cases), sedition (3), assault on public servants (12), criminal conspiracy (7), wrongful confinement (7), attempt to murder (11), kidnapping (19), arson (18), and armed rioting (36).
Following the killing of Ehsan Ali Shah and Nasir Hussain, there were fears that the MQM might call off its intermittent peace talks with the government and intensify its agitation, which would defi-nitely lead to more bloodshed.
However, just three days after the double murders, the MQM'S chief negotiator Ajmal Dehlvi declared that his party was still willing to sit across the table if the government initiates a "sincere and serious" round of talks. "The Quaid-e-Tehrik (Altaf) has always considered the interests of hisparty and the Mohajirs supreme despite last week's brutal killings of his close relatives by the official agencies. We have already reduced the number of demands from six to three to re-open the suspended parleys with the government,'' he observed. The three pre-conditions set by the MQM to resume talks with the government include the shifting of the six arrested MQM Members of the Provincial Assembly (MPAs) from Field Investigation Unit's custody in Islamabad to Karachi Central Jail, the immediate release of Shazia Farooq, the widow of Farooq Dada detained by the agencies in Islamabad, and the shifting of 400 arrested MQM workers from interior Sindhlock-ups to Karachi jails.
"As soon as these demands are met by the government, we will resume the dialogue," Dehlvi observed. However, "if this is not done this month (December), we will be compelled to raise the extreme demand of asking for the Sindh Assembly's dissolution and re-elections in the province," he warned.
But the most astonishing development which followed the murder of Altaf Huss-ain's relatives was the concern voiced by US State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns. In an official statement, Burns said Washington was "deeply concerned'' about the violence in Pakistan's largest city and "particularly concerned'' about the senseless murder of family members of government and political leaders. Over 1,700 people have been killed in Karachi alone this year, including two US consulate officials who were gunned down in March. In a strongly-worded reaction, the Pakistan foreign office said the US statement was not in keeping with the principles governing relations between two friendly countries. "The strong language used in parts and certain issues touched upon exceed the limits of diplomatic propriety and impinge on Pakistan's internal affairs," the foreign office said.
But when asked whether the US State Department's remark was tantamount to interference in Pakistan's internal affairs, MQM leader Dehlvi replied: "If it is so, the point to ponder is, why is it so? How does the government take it when the US asks it to sign the NPT with India or to cap the nuclear programme? Isn't that interference in Pakistan's internal affairs, too.