A long-time contributor to FRONTLINE/World, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy was born in Karachi and is the first woman in her family to receive a Western education. Most recently she has reported on the growing Taliban threat in her home city and investigated the plight of Pakistan's children caught in the war between militants and the Pakistan Army.
This video report was produced in association with The New York Times.
Karachi, a city of 17 million people, is Pakistan's commercial capital. It is dominated by the ethnic group the "Mohajirs," who migrated from India at the time of partition in 1947.
Traditionally, the city has always welcomed migrants from across the region who come here for work. Pathans or Pashtuns as they are more commonly known, the ethnic group that dominates the North West Frontier Province, began migrating in large numbers to Karachi from the Pakistan-Afghanistan tribal belt in the 1950s, seeking economic security.
Today, they are the city's second-largest ethnic group, after the Mohajirs, dominating the transport and clothing retail industry. By some estimates, there are close to 7 million Pashtuns in Karachi.
Initially, the Pashtuns settled in two neighborhoods, Pathan Colony and Sohrab Goth, but as their numbers grew, they spread in to new neighborhoods rubbing alongside other ethnicities. By the mid-1990s, the city was plagued by ethnic tensions, primarily between Pashtuns and Mohajirs. The accidental death of a Mohajir girl, hit by a minibus thought to be driven by a Pashtun, ignited months of Pashtun-Mohajir violence causing at least 1,000 deaths in the city. Since then, there have been other flare ups and contentions between the two groups.
The Mohajirs have long claimed that the Pashtuns are involved in land grabbing and smuggling operations in the city. The Pashtuns for their part say that under the Pakistani constitution their citizens are free to move to any part of the country, so they are well within their rights.
Since 9/11 however, the group's tenuous relationship with the city has taken another turn. The Mohajirs, who are mostly affiliated with the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), one of Pakistan's more progressive center-left parties, launched an anti-Talibanization campaign across the city. This angered the Pashtuns, who felt they were being singled out for victimization. (A note about the video report: The Taliban fighter I interview is not a member of the Pashtuns from the Northwest Frontier Province but from a different tribal area of Baluchistan.)
Two months ago, internally displaced peoples (IDPs) began pouring into Karachi from the Swat Valley. The MQM and other political parties insisted that the refugees be confined to camps established by the government outside the city.
When I talked to Nasreen Jalil, Karachi's deputy mayor, recently, she said the Taliban have definitely infiltrated the city since the September 11 attacks. "They are here, they are hiding in various neighborhoods, and we need to act against them," she said.
Another official, Mazahir Amir Khan, a member of the provincial assembly and the MQM, told me that the government cannot track the displaced people because they now live amongst the local population.
"How do we know who is a genuine IDP and who is a Taliban? The government can only keep tabs if people are confined to a certain area," he said.
When U.S. Adm. Mike Mullen toured one of the largest displacement camps this week, he said the Pakistan Army had regained the upper hand in Swat, paving the way for residents to return. As the first handfuls of wary civilians head back under a guarantee that the Pakistan Army will stay in Swat to protect them, there remains close to 2 million others who fled the region in February when the peace deal broke down.
Meanwhile, Pakistan's largest city faces rising tensions over how to deal with the thousands of Swat residents who are in Karachi and the militants who may be among them. The most recent skirmishes in the city between the two rival ethnic groups left more than 30 dead.
-- Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
For more video stories from Pakistan, including recent reports from Obaid-Chinoy from Swat Valley, visit Conflict Zones, where you will find all our coverage from the region.
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