Insight: Spiral of Karachi killings widens Pakistan's sectarian divide

Sat Feb 23, 2013 8:02pm EST
 
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By Matthew Green

KARACHI (Reuters) - When Aurangzeb Farooqi survived an attempt on his life that left six of his bodyguards dead and a six-inch bullet wound in his thigh, the Pakistani cleric lost little time in turning the narrow escape to his advantage.

Recovering in hospital after the ambush on his convoy in Karachi, Pakistan's commercial capital, the radical Sunni Muslim ideologue was composed enough to exhort his followers to close ranks against the city's Shi'ites.

"Enemies should listen to this: my task now is Sunni awakening," Farooqi said in remarks captured on video shortly after a dozen gunmen opened fire on his double-cabin pick-up truck on December 25.

"I will make Sunnis so powerful against Shi'ites that no Sunni will even want to shake hands with a Shi'ite," he said, propped up in bed on emergency-room pillows. "They will die their own deaths, we won't have to kill them."

Such is the kind of speech that chills members of Pakistan's Shi'ite minority, braced for a new chapter of persecution following a series of bombings that have killed almost 200 people in the city of Quetta since the beginning of the year.

While the Quetta carnage grabbed world attention, a Reuters inquiry into a lesser known spate of murders in Karachi, a much bigger conurbation, suggests the violence is taking on a volatile new dimension as a small number of Shi'ites fight back.

Pakistan's Western allies have traditionally been fixated on the challenge posed to the brittle, nuclear-armed state by Taliban militants battling the army in the bleakly spectacular highlands on the Afghan frontier.

But a cycle of tit-for-tat killings on the streets of Karachi points to a new type of threat: a campaign by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and allied Pakistani anti-Shi'ite groups to rip open sectarian fault-lines in the city of 18 million people.   Continued...

 
Supporters of religious party Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, which was formerly known as Sipah-e-Sahaba, take part in a demonstration against what they say was the killing of their members during a security operation, in Quetta February 22, 2013. REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed