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Violence Worsens in Karachi; Over 100 Killed This Month

By John-Thor Dahlburg
Los Angeles Times
KARACHI, Pakistan

The day two employees of the U.S. consulate were ambushed and slain, the Karachi Stock Exchange's KSE-100 index dropped 29 points, or 1.5 percent.

But the average rebounded the next day, after traders had time to reflect. The slaying of the Americans, they concluded, might not be all bad.

"Finally we may get some honest people here," said broker Yasin Lakhani, the exchange's immediate past president. "Finally, something may be done."

If a city can have a nervous breakdown, Karachi, one of the world's great metropolises and Pakistan's largest and wealthiest city, is surely in the throes of one. While Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto faces many problems, Karachi's turmoil is the greatest and most urgent one.

"Come and invest in Pakistan; your investment is very safe," Lakhani joked. "Only your life is not safe."

The very afternoon when the stockbroker spoke to a visitor in his cubbyhole office, police had just cleared the exchange because of a bomb threat, forcing clerks and brokers onto the street, next to the gauzy awnings where bookies take illegal wagers on cricket games.

Take a taxi to the airport along Sharah-e-Faisal, the road where the Americans were ambushed this month while riding in a consulate van, and the cabby may exceed 75 mph so that trigger-happy snipers can't pierce his vehicle with bullets.

Karachi's boiling stew of ethnic, political and sectarian tensions has even reached the newsroom of Dawn, the city's most famous newspaper.

There, staff members from Islam's minority Shiite sect joke about altering their names to sound like those of majority Sunnis, so they will be less likely prey for armed Sunni zealots.

This troubled seaside city of 10 million people has become the Indian subcontinent's most violent and dangerous. A few snapshots:

Armed robbers held up a computer trading company across from the Central Police Office. The frantic victims summoned police. It took officers 45 minutes to cross the street.

Murder and kidnapping have sown widespread fear. No one feels safe. Mosques have been bombed and invaded by assassins packing AK-47s, and tradesmen were slain as they served customers in their modest curbside shops. Four paramilitary Pakistani Rangers recently were abducted, bound hand and foot, and shot in the head. Their corpses turned up on a garbage heap.

Karachiites dismiss police as cowardly and more interested in bribes than in restoring order. In any event, police have been wholly ineffective at halting the violence. Nightly, 110 mobile units are sent on the streets, "but they've never confiscated a single firearm," complained a high-ranking police official.

Karachi, Pakistan's only major port, accounts for about two-thirds of the country's trade and industry and almost half of its gross domestic product. "The progress of Karachi is synonymous with the progress of the nation," said Nisar A. Memon, general manager in Pakistan for IBM. If so, some businessmen say, this city and the nation are in trouble.

Bhutto insisted on Tuesday that "police are not overwhelmed." During a visit this month, Bhutto noted that Karachi is not the only big city plagued by crime and violence.

"The city is a little bit like New York or Bombay, where there are areas of problems, but areas where there is also growth," Bhutto said.

This month alone, the prime minister noted proudly, she attended the dedication of a half-billion-dollar petroleum refinery project, and during a visit to Singapore, she negotiated the final details of a deal for the construction of a $190 million highway bypass to speed traffic to and from Karachi's port.

When Bhutto visits the United States next month, she doubtless will repeat those figures and arguments to try to coax more investment and trade for her country, where the average income is $410 a year.

However, some well-informed Karachi residents think the March 8 ambush-murders of U.S. consulate workers Jackie Van Landingham and Gary C. Durell, plus a general increase in homicides and violence, have brought affairs to a critical mass.

More than 100 people, the two Americans included, have been slain this month, and at least 340 this year.

Since Bhutto took office in October 1993, vowing to reduce bureaucracy, liberalize the economy and open her country wider to foreign investment, $12 billion worth of contracts and memoranda of understanding have been signed with U.S. and other foreign companies.

But in most cases, the final deals still need to be closed, local business leaders say, and Karachi's reign of terror has put many Western investors into a wait-and-see mode.

Continued jitters about the city's future have helped pull the KSE-100 index down by about 25 percent, or $2 billion in lost market capitalization, since August.

Nervous foreign investors, made even warier by the recent crash of the Mexican economy and general disenchantment with emerging Third World markets, have withdrawn about half of the $3 billion they had plowed into the 735 companies listed on the Karachi exchange.

Bhutto and her leadership are betting the downturn is a passing thing, and have ordered a series of measures - including increased police patrols, powers of arrest and investigation for the Rangers and a crackdown on illegal immigrants - to try and quell Karachi's disorders.

By Richard Morin and Sharon Warden
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

Three out of four Americans surveyed said they opposed affirmative action programs that give preference to minorities to make up for past discrimination, and a virtually identifical proportion felt that way about programs for women, according to the survey. More than two out of three say those programs should be changed - or eliminated.

The survey found affirmative action sharply divides whites and blacks. And within communities of color, a debate about affirmative action also rages: Nearly half of all African Americans interviewed said they opposed affirmative action programs giving preference to minorities.

The poll of 1,524 randomly selected Americans and subsequent in-depth interviews with 40 survey participants suggests the debate is shaped by divergent views about the nature, extent and existence of racial and sex discrimination.

Many women and blacks are torn over affirmative action, the survey disclosed. Two out of three women opposed affirmative action preference programs for women, compared to three out of four men. And while 52 percent of blacks interviewed said they supported preference programs for minorities, 46 percent did not.

Many minorities expressed concern that affirmative action blinds whites to qualifications of minorities and women, who become lumped together as "preference hires" even when they had won jobs or promotions by merit.

The poll found fifty-one percent of those interviewed said white men had been adversely affected by preference programs, while 46 percent disagreed.

These views varied sharply by race. Fifty-seven percent of all whites interviewed and 63 percent of all white males thought affirmative action had hurt white men - a view shared by just 19 percent of all blacks.

The survey found only 10 percent of white males interviewed said they had been denied a job or promotion because of gender and 17 percent said they had faced employment discrimination because of race.

Supporters and opponents generally do agree on one thing: They're dissatisfied with existing affirmative action programs.

But what changes should be made? Make sure preference are used only to boost minorities or women who otherwise meet requirements, many said. And end hiring practices that amount to quotas, a view that echoed results from surveys conducted over the past 10 years.

"I can't see doing away with it, not until there's a utopia," said Donald Smith, 48, a senior medical technologist in Princeton, W. Va. "I wish we didn't have to fool with it period. But I don't guess we'll ever reach that goal. I don't think man will ever get to the point where he's not going to be selfish and non-prejudiced.