Concern Over Violence Grows in Karachi as a Social Worker Is Mourned

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Concern over deteriorating law and order in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, continued to grow Friday as politicians and newspapers paid tribute to a celebrated social worker who was shot dead by unidentified assassins.

The victim, Parween Rahman, ran a development agency that works in the city's Orangi slum, one of South Asia's largest. She was gunned down inside her car by assassins riding a motorbike at a traffic intersection on Wednesday evening.

An emotional outpouring followed her burial on Thursday, when protesting students hailed her as "the mother of Karachi." On Friday, the news media paid tribute to her fearless work and progressive vision in a city otherwise blighted by corruption, crime and violence.

"Pakistan loses another brave, devoted and resourceful person," said an editorial in The News International, a major English-language daily. "But tributes, honor and respect are no shield against a gunman's bullet."

Karachi, a sprawling coastal megalopolis of an estimated 18 million people, is already reeling from a series of violent episodes this year, including a devastating bombing in a Shiite neighborhood on March 3 that killed at least 45 people.

No group claimed responsibility for the death of Ms. Rahman, who was in her mid-50s, although much suspicion fell on Karachi's ruthless land mafias, with which she had frequently clashed. The police, however, blamed the Pakistani Taliban, who have in recent months been boldly asserting themselves in some of the poorest parts of Karachi.

Javed Odho, the district police chief for western Karachi, said that Qari Bilal, a Taliban commander who was killed in an exchange of fire on the edge of the city on Thursday night, might have been involved in Ms. Rahman's death.

Although militants have long used Karachi for shelter or financing, the Pakistani Taliban have behaved more aggressively there over the past six months, killing dozens of political workers and police officers, and stepping up efforts to extort money from ethnic Pashtun traders.

Many commentators fear that Ms. Rahman's death will ultimately be added to Karachi's lengthening list of unsolved murders. "What will become of a society that, for the most part, sits quietly as its messiahs are systematically wiped out?" said an editorial in the newspaper Dawn on Friday.

An architect who left her practice to help the poor, Ms. Rahman had been brought into conflict with the city's criminal, political and ethnic networks for her fearless work in slum areas. In an interview last October, she acknowledged the risk to her life.

"For us to say the truth is to face the fire," she said. "We have faced death threats."

The Orangi Pilot Project, which she headed, works with poor communities to carry out sanitation, housing and microcredit projects. Ms. Rahman said she avoided seeking Western assistance, preferring to mobilize Pakistani capital.

"We believe in a partnership between government and their people," she said. "If the World Bank says something can be done with $10, with a little guidance we say it can by done with $1."

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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