KARACHI (Reuters) - Up to 30 people have been killed in a fresh outbreak of violence in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city and commercial capital, but police on Thursday said the clashes now focused more on gang turf wars after months of ethnic and political disputes.
Much of the fighting erupted in and around the old district of Lyari, long a focus of spats between rival gangs and a stronghold of President Asif Ali Zardari‘a Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
A former PPP lawmaker was among the dead.
An official at the city’s main government hospital put the death toll at 30 over the past 24 hours. Nineteen bodies had been brought in since Wednesday evening.
“Most of the killings have resulted from clashes between criminal gangs operating in Lyari and surrounding areas,” a senior police official said.
“It’s not the kind of fighting that we saw last month, this is more of a gang war.”
But police said turf wars between gangs dealing in drugs and extortion rackets were by no means a new development in Lyari.
“These gangs regularly clash and kill members and supporters of rival groups,” the senior official said.
“Many times, innocent people are also targeted in this rivalry. However, many of those killed end up linked to one gang or the other. Some of these gangs do have political support and backing, but still you cannot term this as a political war as such.”
He acknowledged that “a few” of those killed may have been targeted over their ethnic or political affiliation.
A city of more than 18 million, Karachi has a long history of violence, and ethnic, religious and sectarian disputes and political rows can often explode into battles engulfing entire neighborhoods.
Street thugs and ethnic gangs have been used by political parties as foot soldiers in a turf war in a city which contributes about two-third of Pakistan’s tax revenue and is home to ports, the stock exchange and central bank.
Pakistan’s interior minister earlier this month vowed to restore peace in the city after a fresh bout of violence and warned of stern action against militants and criminals.
Hundreds of additional police and paramilitary troops were deployed in Karachi last month to quell the unrest.
About 300 people were killed last month - one of the deadliest months in almost two decades - in fighting linked to ethnic and religious tensions that plague Karachi.
According to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 800 people have been killed in the first seven months of this year in ethnic and politically linked violence alone.
Al Qaeda-linked militants targeted Karachi for bombings, kidnappings and assassinations after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, when Pakistan joined the U.S.-led campaign against militancy. Foreigners were repeatedly attacked.
Editing by Chris Allbritton and Ron Popeski