THEY LOOKED LIKE CROWS perched along telephone wires strung through the hills on the outskirts of Orangi Town in Karachi. But in fact they were armed men from the Pashtun-nationalist Awami National Party (ANP), crouched over and looking through the crosshairs of their rifles at homes near the bottom of the hill in Qasba Colony.
Up to 100 people were killed from gunfire within four days when violence erupted in Karachi in early July. The murder of an ANP activist triggered the ever-simmering war between the ethnic Muhajir Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Karachi’s largest political party, and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa based ANP. The majority of the killings took place in Orangi Town, which has become a hotbed of violence when tensions rise—it is home to a large Muhajir community whose claim to the area has been threatened by the surge of Pashtun migrants settling in Karachi. Violence is used as a political tool throughout Karachi: both parties take advantage of, and sustain, ethnic tensions between the communities to exploit the public’s vote in exchange for security.
On the fourth day of violence I stood along a deserted road staring at the men on top of the hill, the air thick with the sound of gunshots in the distance. A Muhajir resident from the area approached me and whispered through his paan-stained teeth: “Do you want to see where they are shooting from?” I hesitated, as the only people not hiding in their homes at this time were likely to have a political affiliation. I put my fate in his hands as he took me to the top of the Zubeida Medical Center. “When you get to the landing on the second floor, duck and run to the next staircase,” he said as his eyes darted to the hilltops and back. It was becoming clear that he was taking me to his own hideout, which was a target of the rival group. When we reached the top, the hastily hidden guns and ammunition confirmed my suspicions. He handed me a pair of binoculars and instructed me and my cameraman to look through the holes: “Keep your eyes on the wall with the ‘ANP’ graffiti and you’ll see a man coming out and firing.” We spent 15 minutes capturing the best possible footage to satiate the public’s, and admittedly our own, voyeuristic urges.