Pakistan security to shoot on sight in Karachi

July 8, 2011 - 4:29 AM
Pakistan

People comfort a man as he mourns the death of a family member who was shot dead in Karachi, Pakistan Thursday, July 7, 2011. Gunmen shot up a bus and opened fire in several neighborhoods of Pakistan's largest city on Thursday, the latest in a spate of violence that has killed at least 49 people in three days, officials said. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — Security forces were ordered to shoot gunmen on sight Friday in Pakistan's largest city, after three days of violence that killed at least 61 people and prompted political leaders to call for a day of mourning that shut businesses and kept public traffic off the roads.

This week's violent spate in Karachi was among the worst this year for a city that has long been a hotbed of ethnic, sectarian and political tensions. At least 34 people died on Thursday alone, when gunmen strafed buses and went on shooting sprees in several neighborhoods.

Police have yet to determine the motive for the killings, but the order to shoot suspects on sight reflected the authorities' desperation to bring the spiraling violence under control.

Sharjeel Memon, the Sindh province information minister, confirmed the latest death tolls and the security order, saying it was aimed at "any armed miscreant" encountered by police, Rangers and other security troops expected to be deployed in the city.

Memon said at least 70 people were wounded in Thursday's violence.

Karachi is a port city of 18 million people that lies on the Arabian Sea. On Friday, the city's most powerful political party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, called for a "day of mourning." That prompted shutdowns across much of the city, with roads and commercial areas largely deserted.

However, occasional gunshots could still be heard in some areas.

U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter expressed deep concern over the escalating violence in Karachi and in a statement on Friday called "on all parties to refrain from further violence and work toward a peaceful resolution of differences."

The MQM party is suspected of links to some of the armed gangs in the city, as are its rivals, the Pakistan People's Party and the Awami National Party.

Pakistan has seen violent crime rise alongside al-Qaida and Taliban-led Islamist militancy in recent years, with Karachi bearing much of the brunt.

Also Friday, a government administrator said Pakistani troops backed by jets killed 11 suspected Taliban militants in the northwest tribal region of Kurram. That brings to 45 the number of suspected insurgents killed in Kurram since the army began an offensive there Sunday, Javed Ullah said.

The Pakistani army's operation in Kurram follows reports that the feared Afghan Taliban militant group, the Haqqani network, is using the territory to help it launch attacks against NATO forces across the border.

But the Pakistani military is more likely focused on Pakistani Taliban militants who have declared war against the state and its security establishment. Many analysts believe Pakistan is hesitant to target the Haqqanis — as demanded by the U.S. — because of historical ties to the group.

The information Kurram is nearly impossible to verify independently because the area is remote and dangerous. It is also unclear how the Pakistani authorities distinguish between insurgents and civilians killed during their airstrikes and other battles.

___

Associated Press Writer Hussain Afzal in Parachinar contributed to this report.