ISLAMABAD – Pakistan's largest city reeled Wednesday after gunmen opened fire in a commercial market, killing 11 people in the latest spasm of violence to underscore the poor state of law and order in this U.S.-allied nation.
At least 51 people, including several political activists, have been killed and dozens more wounded since Saturday in Karachi, a sprawling port city of more than 16 million residents that is prone to political, ethnic and religious strife. Many killings in Karachi have been linked to gangs allegedly controlled by political parties.
The attack on the market occurred late Tuesday and its victims included eight Pakistanis of Baluch descent, said Sharmila Farooqi, a provincial government spokeswoman. The wave of violence in the city has coincided with Sunday's election to replace a provincial lawmaker killed in August.
Because of its status as the country's main economic hub, keeping Karachi calm is of prime importance to Pakistani leaders who have already seen criminal activity soar alongside Taliban-led Islamist militant violence.
A major chunk of supplies for U.S. and NATO troops is shipped to the city before traveling overland in Pakistan and into neighboring Afghanistan.
Farooqi said police had detained 55 suspects in connection with the latest violence, and that some were linked to local political parties. Security forces were patrolling the city to prevent fresh violence Wednesday, she said.
The two parties most linked to violence in Karachi — the Muttahida Quami Movement and the Awami National Party — have their electoral bases in different ethnic groups that make up a large share of the city's population.
The MQM claims to represent the Urdu-speaking descendants of those people who came to Karachi from India soon after the birth of Pakistan in 1947. It is secular and likes to speak out against the so-called Talibanization of the city, a jab at the Awami National Party, which represents the ethnic Pashtuns from the Taliban heartland in the northwest.
Raza Haider, the member of the provincial assembly who was gunned down in August, was a senior member of the MQM.
Both parties were competing for Haider's vacant seat, but the ANP announced Saturday evening that it would boycott the election, saying the MQM would rig the vote. The MQM won the seat.
MQM lawmaker Haider Abbas Rizvi said the party had handed authorities a list of 150 alleged criminals it suspects in the attacks but that nothing had come of it. He not only blamed the ANP, but also faulted the Pakistan People's Party, which control's the provincial government.
ANP spokesman Amin Khattak said the MQM was to blame, noting that the killings began shortly after his party said it would boycott the election.
Also Wednesday, a police constable was wounded when someone threw a grenade at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Pakistan's main northwestern city, Peshawar, said Liaquat Ali, a senior police official. Peshawar is right on the edge of Pakistan's tribal belt, a lawless stretch of territory along the Afghan border where many militants shelter.
Associated Press Writer Riaz Khan contributed to this report from Peshawar.