Fareed Khan/Associated Press
Family members of Raza Haider, slain leader of the Muttahida Quami Movement, cried during his funeral in Karachi yesterday (Fareed Khan/Associated Press)
KARACHI, Pakistan — The ruling party in Pakistan’s largest city accused its main political rival of supporting Islamist militants suspected of assassinating a party leader, further stoking tensions yesterday after 45 people died in a night of revenge attacks and arson.
The accusation appeared to reflect the complex and vicious political and ethnic fault lines that crisscross Karachi, also Pakistan’s commercial hub and home to the main port for supplies to US and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan.
It has long been plagued by political violence between supporters of rival parties that draw votes from different ethnic groups that live in the city of 16 million people. Their supporters are accused of running protection rackets and illegally seizing land, muddying the picture as to the reasons for the bloodshed.
The killing of politician Raza Haider was the most high-profile in a series of slayings of party activists over the last month.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik of Pakistan was quoted by militants as saying Islamist militants were likely suspects, saying Haider was on an extremist hit list.
Haider was a senior member of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the party that runs Karachi and represents mainly descendants of Urdu-speaking migrants from India who settled in Pakistan when it was created in 1947. The movement’s main rival is the Awami National Party, a nationalist party made up mostly of ethnic Pashtuns from the northwest, where the Taliban are based.
Pashtuns have been arriving in the city in greater numbers in recent years, fleeing Pakistan Army offensives against the Taliban. The movement has long spoken out against the alleged “Talibanization’’ of the city. While some militants have found safe haven here, critics say the movement is exploiting the issue for political purposes.
“If you see the record of militants arrests in past years you would see almost all of them were in the Pashtun-dominated areas,’’ Faisal Sabzwari, a movement leader, told the Associated Press. “And for sure the ANP gives them support.’’ The charge was repeated in a televised news conference by other Muttahida Qaumi Movement leaders.
A leading Awami National Party politician dismissed the allegation, noting the party has been repeatedly attacked by the Taliban in the northwest, where it supports the army offensives against them. “We share their [the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s] pain,’’ said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, whose son was killed by insurgents last week.
Police promised to investigate the slaying, but few killers in such cases have ever been brought to justice, nor the motives for the attacks revealed.
Within hours of Haider’s assassination, rival 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, without revealing details on who they were.
Schools were closed and most business stopped yesterday as the city braced for further violence, but by nightfall there were no reports of fresh unrest.
Flood waters surged into Pakistan’s heartland and swallowed dozens of villages yesterday, adding to a week of destruction that has ravaged the mountainous northwest and killed 1,500 people.
The rush of muddy water over river banks in Punjab threatened to destroy vast stretches of crops that make the province Pakistan’s breadbasket, prompting the UN to warn that an estimated 1.8 million people will need to be fed in the coming weeks.
Adding to the misery, fresh rains in the northwest threatened to overwhelm a major dam and unleash a new deluge, while rescue workers struggled to deliver aid to some 3.2 million people affected by the floods despite washed-out bridges and roads and downed communication lines.
The government has struggled to cope with the scale of the disaster at a time when it is grappling with a faltering economy and a brutal war against the Taliban.
Several foreign countries and aid organizations have stepped in to support the government, including the United States, which announced yesterday that it was sending six large military helicopters from Afghanistan to help with the relief effort.
But many flood victims have complained that aid is not reaching them fast enough or at all. That anger could grow as floodwaters surge through Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province.
“We just ran away with our children, leaving behind everything,’’ said Fateh Mohammad, who was caught by surprise when water breached a protection bank in the Kot Addu area.
“All our possessions are drowned in the water. We have nothing,’’ said Mohammad, who was evacuated along with some 4,500 others by the army on boats and helicopters.