A two-year-old government effort to restore order in this Pakistani port city has halved the notoriously high murder rate, but security officials’ tactics have intensified confrontation with a powerful political movement that vows it won’t easily be subdued.
In 2013, as Karachi endured a record 2,789 homicides and a number of bombings, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered paramilitary forces known as the Pakistani Rangers into the city. Their goal was to reverse decades of lawlessness spawned by mafia groups, Islamist militants and drug cartels that had long jockeyed for local control. But one particular target has been gangsters, some of whom were suspected of links to the city’s ultra-influential Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).
According to MQM leaders, 4,000 of their supporters have been arrested over the past two years, with some saying they were tortured for crimes they did not commit. Now, Pakistani forces appear to be cracking down on the secular party’s long-standing practice of soliciting donations from businesses to help fund its vast charitable network.
The high-stakes question for Sharif’s government is whether the Rangers can cement the security gains in the city of 20 million without triggering more ethnic and cultural division.