Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistani policemen patrol on vehicles after overnight violence in Karachi, where dozens of vehicles and shops were set ablaze as security forces struggled to regain control.
Gunmen killed at least 45 people in the city of Karachi after the assassination of a lawmaker, officials said Tuesday. Dozens of vehicles and shops were set on fire as security forces struggled to gain control of Pakistan's largest city.
Gunmen killed at least 45 people in Pakistan's largest city after the killing of a prominent lawmaker set off a cycle of revenge attacks, officials said Tuesday. Dozens of vehicles and shops were set ablaze as security forces struggled to regain control of Karachi.
Schools were closed and most business ground to a halt Tuesday in the southern city of more than 13 million, Pakistan's main commercial hub. While a thriving trading center, Karachi has a history of political, ethnic and religious violence and has long been a hide-out for al-Qaida and Taliban militants.
NPR's Julie McCarthy reported from Pakistan that the violence started with "the gruesome and brazen" assassination of Raza Haider, a senior leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the political party that runs the city and represents mainly descendants of Urdu-speaking migrants from India who settled in Pakistan when it was created in 1947.
"Haider was gunned down in a mosque where he had been attending a funeral, and his assassination just touched off anarchy across the city," McCarthy said.
Within hours, gangs torched buildings in Karachi, and gunfire erupted in several parts of the city. Many of the dead were killed in targeted, execution-style attacks, authorities said. An investigation was ordered into who was behind the attacks.
The MQM immediately blamed the ethnic Pashtun community for Haider's assassination. The party's main rival is the Awami National Party, a secular nationalist party centered in Pakistan's northwest and whose base is the ethnic Pashtun community living in Karachi.
Pashtuns displaced by violence in the northwest have poured into the city in recent years, exacerbating tension with the MQM -- which is virulently anti-Pashtu -- and upsetting the balance of political power, McCarthy said.
Independent analysts say followers of all political parties in Karachi are heavily involved in criminal activities such as protection rackets and illegal land dealings. In certain neighborhoods, armed men linked to political parties stand guard at checkpoints.
While violence is still common, the city was far more dangerous in the 1980s and 1990s, when there were regular outbreaks of political and ethnic slayings that left dozens dead each week.
Police surgeon Hamid Parhiar said Tuesday that 45 people were killed and 93 people had been wounded, citing data from state-run hospitals in the city.
Sindh province spokesman Jamil Soomro said at least 10 people were arrested, and police and army rangers were dispatched throughout the city to impose order. But gunfire could still be heard Tuesday morning, and fires were still being set in some areas.
Schools and colleges in Karachi and other urban centers in the surrounding province were ordered by the government to stay closed Tuesday.
Officials did not say who was to blame for the violence.
"It is very sad, and we believe that it is the work of those forces who want to destabilize the elected government," Soomro said. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.