By Zia Ur Rehman
KARACHI – Eight people were killed September 4 in violent clashes between two rival militant groups in Karachi’s Godhra area, worsening the city’s already perilous law-and-order situation.
The armed clashes between banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and Sunni Tehreek (ST) prompted a joint operation by police and Rangers, who arrested more than 100 suspects.
“Eight people were killed in the clashes in Godhra, and the victims were not linked with any group but were caught in the crossfire,” said Asim Qaimkhani, a senior police officer in the area.
The bereaved families and mourners placed the victims’ bodies on the road and protested the killings.
“Owing to intense firing by the two groups, the population of the area was compelled to stay at home,” Ashraf Mustafa, a local resident, told Central Asia Online, demanding the government take action against both religious groups’ activists.
Earlier clashes (June 30-July 1) between the two groups left eight dead and injured a dozen, media reported. On June 11, 2010, an ST-SSP clash severely injured 10 people and left several shops and vehicles burning, Mustafa said.
“Initial findings show that there is a community-run hospital in the area,” said Salam Sheikh, another senior police officer in the area. “A dispute between the groups over the administrative control of the hospital turned violent.”
Battles over funds and mosques
The groups have a history of conflicts over collection of donations and forcible occupation of mosques, police and Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the Pak Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), said.
To prevent infighting over collection of Zakat (Muslim tithing) donations, the Punjab and Sindh provincial governments banned the SSP and 22 other organisations during Ramadan this year while ordering police to observe ST activities, media reported.
“There are political motives behind the violence in Karachi insofar as every political or religious group wants to gain control of an area,” said Shahid Hussain, a college teacher, adding that those groups’ efforts to show muscle inevitably lead to violence.
“(They fight) over forcible occupation of mosques and seminaries, and the collection of Zakat and animal hides has become the source of income for these violent religious groups, including the SSP and the ST,” Hussain told Central Asia Online.
“In armed attacks by the militants of banned SSP, two activists of ST have been killed,” said Fahim Qadri, a leader of ST, demanding an operation against the activists of the outlawed organisation linked with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Afghan Taliban.
The SSP has reacted to a government ban by taking a new name, Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat (ASWJ), he claimed, adding it has been committing murders, burning houses and seizing local hospitals, mosques and other buildings to accommodate its illegal activities.
ASWJ spokesman Maulana Taj Hanfi denied the accusations and said that his organisation had no links to the deaths of the two ST activists.
“It was simply a clash between local people belonging to different schools of thought, and ST is trying to implicate the ASWJ,” he contended. He demanded police arrest armed ST miscreants.
SSP is banned; ST is under surveillance
The Pakistani government has banned the SSP (a Deobandi sect organisation) and put the ST (a Brailvi sect organisation) in November 2003 on its terrorist list because of its violent activities, Rana said.
These groups’ violent activities are making the city’s unprecedented breakdown of law and order (about 1,500 murders since the start of 2011) even worse, Hussain said.
However, Rana draws a distinction between the ST and SSP. The ST, albeit violent, doesn’t belong on lists of militant organisations that include the SSP, since the ST has no links to militancy or terrorism in Afghanistan, Kashmir and elsewhere, he said.
“Actually the ST was created to counter the growing influence of different groups belonging to the Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadees school of thoughts, and soon after its inception, it began clashing with the SSP and Lashkar-e-Taiba,” he added.