The International Crisis Group (ICG) has said in a recent research that decades of neglect and mismanagement have turned Karachi, Pakistan's financial capital, and the country's largest and wealthiest city, into a pressure cooker.
The Brussels-based NGO said ethno-political and sectarian interests, intensified by internal migration, jihadist influx and unchecked movement of weapons, drugs and black money, have made for an explosive mix.
A heavy-handed, politicized crackdown by the paramilitary Pakistani Rangers has only compounded the problems.
The over 30-paper research report titled "Pakistan: Stoking the fire in Karachi" said, "To address complex conflict drivers, the state must restore the Sindh police's authority and operational autonomy while also holding it accountable. Over the longer term, it must redress political and economic exclusion, including unequal access to justice, jobs and basic goods and services, which criminal and jihadists groups tap for recruits and support".
Addressing the nerve of the conflict, the ICG states, "With Sindhis now fewer than 10 per cent of Karachi's population, less than Mohajirs (Urdu speaking migrants from India and their descendants), Pashtuns and Southern Punjabi speakers, the contest between the PPP, Sindh's largest party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the Karachi's largest, is not primarily electoral but over the nature of the city's governance."
With both parties politicizing state institutions and controlling and providing services in a partisan manner, Karachi's citizens lack reliable access to healthcare, water and affordable transport and accommodation.
This politicization has also aggravated ethno-political conflict, says the report.
The NGO has also shown concern over growing linkages between the political parties and terrorist outfits in Karachi. The report stated: "With sectarian violence again threatening Karachi's peace, some of the country's most dangerous religious and sectarian groups are actively contesting turf and resources, compounding law and order challenges. The predominately Pashtun, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which established a base in the city after military operations against it in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), is targeting the anti-militant Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party and using force to assert its writ".
In its report, the Crisis Group also raised concern over the functioning of paramilitary Rangers in Karachi city. It said, "Characterised by heavy-handedness and human rights violations, including extra-judicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances, it instead breeds ethnic tensions and could boost recruitment to criminal, including jihadist networks".
The report further added, "Anti-India outfits like the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba/ Jamaat-ud-Dawa (LeT/ JuD) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) continue to operate madrasas and charity fronts with scant reaction from the Rangers or police".
Escalating tensions and administrative failure to defuse the impending ethno-political crisis and rein in criminal and jihadist networks threatens to sink Pakistan's most important economic centre further into conflict.
The Crisis Group has recommended that major political parties, including the PPP, MQM and Awami National Party should restart a comprehensive dialogue to address Karachi's political and security challenges.
It has also recommended ending the Rangers' operation and commit to a law enforcement policy rooted in a reformed criminal justice system, including an operationally autonomous but accountable police force.
Among its many suggestions to political parties, police and judiciary, the Crisis Group laid stress on to investigate all allegations of custodial killings, torture, illegal detension and other human rights abuses by any security agency and hold individuals to account.