The images of the rioting in Malir on Monday may signal the sad return of sectarian strife in Karachi on a grander scale. In the complex politics of religious parties in Karachi, the police and the Rangers’ task will become harder until swift justice is not meted out.

The protesting started on Sunday, as members of different Shia groups carried out a protest on Benazir Bhutto Road against the arrests of Allama Mirza Yousaf Hussain, chief of All-Pakistan Shia Action Committee (APSAC), and former Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Faisal Raza Abidi in Karachi. The major concern for these protestors was that the state was protecting leaders of banned outfits, and this is concern is not unwarranted. However, street protests cannot be allowed to pressure the police to withdraw from any investigation, regardless of the sect of those detained. Yet, the fact is that leaders of violent Sunni groups have been getting away with criminal activity for years, especially until the Rangers came to Karachi. The levee of patience was bound to break.

On October 30, a Shia congregation was attacked, killing five. This was followed by two attacks, killing three Tableeghi Jamaat members, followed by six of Ahle-e-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat (ASWJ, the renamed banned sectarian-terrorist outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba). The Shia community has come down to fighting fire with fire, and rather than a thorough crackdown to fuel the fire, the groups protesting must be reassured and convinced to leave the justice-seeking to the state.

Violent crime has dropped significantly in Karachi since the launch of a paramilitary operation three years ago, but targeted attacks are still frequent. In light of yesterday’s protest, the Sindh Rangers reportedly arrested ASWJ leader Taj Hanafi and shifted him to an undisclosed location. The paramilitary force also claimed to have recovered arms and ammunition from the leader’s possession.

A simultaneous development in this regard has been the announcement that the provincial Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) has arrested a gang of terrorists involved in various incidents of targeted killings, including the murder of famous qawwal Amjad Sabri in Karachi, so it seems that the law enforcement agencies are working to find culprits and are well intentioned. Sindh CM Murad Ali Shah stated on Monday that, “The ongoing operation in Karachi is not against any specific community but terrorists.” The statement is exactly what we would like to hear, but law enforcement agencies must make an effort to be seen as non-partisan and non-discriminatory when it comes to arresting and prosecuting criminals.