The Pucca Qila Massacre: A Legacy of Ethnic Violence in Pakistan

This essay explores the Pucca Qila Massacre of 1990, a pivotal event exposing deep ethnic divisions between Muhajirs and Sindhis in Pakistan’s Sindh province. We delve into the historical, social, and political roots of the conflict, examining the role of the Muhajir Quami Movement (MQM). The analysis goes beyond the massacre itself, placing it within the broader context of ethnic violence in Pakistan. Finally, we explore efforts towards reconciliation and the challenges that persist.

The Pucca Qila Massacre of 1990 stands as a tragic chapter in Pakistan’s history, exposing the deep ethnic tensions simmering between Muhajirs and Sindhis in Sindh province. This essay delves into the socio-economic and political factors that fueled these tensions, examines the role of the Muhajir Quami Movement (MQM) in mobilizing Muhajirs and responding to the massacre, and analyzes the Pucca Qila incident within the broader context of ethnic violence in Pakistan. Finally, the essay explores efforts towards reconciliation and the challenges that remain.

The master propagandist of the twentieth century Goebbels had once said,

He who can conquer the streets can also conquer the masses; and he who has conquered the masses has thereby conquered the state



The Pucca Qila Massacre, a brutal episode of ethnic violence that unfolded in Hyderabad, Pakistan, in May 1990, remains a contentious issue with long-lasting repercussions. The massacre was a culmination of historical grievances, socio-economic disparities, and political competition that had been simmering for decades between Muhajirs, Urdu-speaking Muslim migrants from India, and the Sindhi population in Sindh province (Rahat, 2020).

Ethnic Tensions in Sindh

The roots of the Pucca Qila Massacre lie in the complex historical context of Pakistan’s creation. Following the Partition of India in 1947, a large influx of Muhajirs settled in Sindh, particularly in urban areas like Karachi and Hyderabad. While initially welcomed, the sheer number of migrants caused demographic anxieties among the Sindhis. This shift, coupled with the perception of Muhajirs dominating government jobs and business opportunities due to their educational qualifications, fueled resentment among some Sindhis (Jalal, 2009).

These historical tensions were further exacerbated by socio-economic disparities. Muhajirs, with their urban focus, benefited from Karachi’s rapid economic growth, while many Sindhis remained concentrated in rural areas with limited development (Human Rights Watch, 1991). This economic disparity fueled the rise of Sindhi nationalism, with groups like the Sindh National Front (SNF) demanding greater political autonomy and a larger share of resources for the province.

Political Competition and Ethno-nationalist Narratives

The political landscape in Sindh became increasingly polarized. The MQM, formed in 1984, emerged as a powerful voice for Muhajirs, advocating for quotas in education and government jobs to address perceived discrimination. However, the MQM’s assertive tactics, including protests and strikes, were seen by some Sindhis as a threat to their political power. Both the MQM and Sindhi nationalist parties resorted to ethno-nationalist narratives, solidifying group identities and further hindering inter-ethnic dialogue (Balouch, 2013).

Mobilizing Muhajirs: The MQM’s Role

The MQM played a significant role in mobilizing Muhajirs and shaping their response to the Pucca Qila Massacre. Its strategy can be understood through the following points:

  • Identity Politics and Victimhood Narrative: The MQM cultivated a sense of victimhood among Muhajirs, highlighting historical and contemporary instances of alleged discrimination (Jalal, 2009). This narrative served to solidify group identity and foster a sense of “us versus them.”
  • Political Activism and Protests: The MQM employed street protests, strikes, and hunger strikes to pressure the government to address Muhajirs’ grievances (Human Rights Watch, 1991). While initially effective, these tactics also contributed to a climate of political instability and violence.
  • Media Control and Information Dissemination: The MQM controlled several newspapers and radio stations, which were used to amplify its message and mobilize support within the Muhajir community. However, critics allege that this control limited the dissemination of alternative perspectives (Human Rights Watch, 1991).

The Pucca Qila Operation and its Aftermath

On May 14, 1990, a seemingly trivial dispute between students of different ethnicities regarding university quotas escalated into violent clashes in Hyderabad, leading to the deaths of three individuals and a subsequent city-wide curfew (Human Rights Watch, 1991). In the following days, tensions continued to rise, with accusations of arms stockpiling in Muhajir-dominated neighborhoods, particularly Pucca Qila.

On May 25th, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government authorized a security operation in Pucca Qila. The rationale behind the operation, as presented by the government, was to establish a police station within the fort’s walls and disarm the residents (Shaikh, 2009). However, the MQM and human rights organizations allege that the operation was a targeted attack on Muhajirs, motivated by revenge for the 1988 killings and a desire to suppress Muhajir political aspirations (Human Rights)

The Pucca Qila Massacre in Context: A Comparison with Other Incidents

The Pucca Qila Massacre was not an isolated event. Ethnic violence has plagued Pakistan throughout its history. Here’s a comparative analysis with other major incidents:

  • Karachi Ethnic Violence (1980s-1990s): Similar to the Pucca Qila Massacre, the Karachi violence involved clashes between Muhajirs and Sindhis, often fueled by political competition and competition for resources. The scale of violence was far greater, resulting in thousands of deaths across several years (Human Rights Watch, 2009).
  • Mohajir-Pashtun Clashes (1990s): In the wake of the Pucca Qila Massacre, tensions flared between Muhajirs and Pashtuns in Karachi. This violence, believed to be fueled by competition for territory and political influence, resulted in additional casualties (Milliyet, 1990).

These incidents highlight the complex web of ethnic tensions in Pakistan, where conflict can erupt between different groups. Underlying historical grievances, socio-economic disparities, and political competition can all contribute to violence.

The Long Road to Reconciliation: Efforts and Challenges

The Pucca Qila Massacre left a deep scar on Pakistani society. Following the incident, several attempts have been made to address the underlying tensions and promote reconciliation, but significant challenges remain.

Government Initiatives

  • Inquiry Commissions: The government established inquiry commissions to investigate the Pucca Qila Massacre. However, these commissions were criticized for lacking transparency and failing to deliver justice (Human Rights Watch, 1991).
  • Quota System: The government implemented a quota system in education and government jobs to ensure representation for various ethnic groups (Jalal, 2009). While this system aimed to address inequalities, it has also been criticized for perpetuating ethnic divisions and hindering meritocracy.

Civil Society Efforts

  • Peace Committees: Civil society organizations have played a role in establishing peace committees in communities with a history of ethnic conflict. These committees promote dialogue and understanding between different groups (Raza, 2012).
  • Truth and Reconciliation Commissions: Calls for establishing Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRCs) have emerged as a potential avenue for acknowledging past injustices and promoting healing (Human Rights Watch, 2009). However, implementing such commissions requires political will and support from all stakeholders.

Challenges to Reconciliation

  • Political Interference: Efforts at reconciliation can be undermined by political parties that exploit ethnic divisions for their own electoral gains (Milliyet, 1990).
  • Lack of Accountability: The absence of accountability for perpetrators of violence fosters a sense of impunity and hinders closure for victims (Human Rights Watch, 1991).
  • Limited Media Space: The dominance of ethno-nationalist narratives in some media outlets restricts exposure to diverse perspectives and hinders efforts to build bridges between communities (Human Rights Watch, 2009).

The Role of Education

Education plays a crucial role in promoting tolerance and understanding. Curriculums that acknowledge Pakistan’s diverse ethnic tapestry and promote respect for all cultures are essential (Jalal, 2009). Educational institutions can also facilitate inter-ethnic dialogue and exchange programs to break down stereotypes and build bridges between communities.

Conclusion: A Legacy of Unhealed Wounds

The Pucca Qila Massacre serves as a stark reminder of the dangers of unaddressed ethnic tensions. While significant challenges remain, ongoing efforts at reconciliation offer a glimmer of hope. Building a more inclusive and just society requires sustained commitment from the government, civil society, and the media. By fostering dialogue, promoting tolerance, and ensuring accountability, Pakistan can move towards a future where ethnic differences are celebrated rather than exploited.

Further Research Avenues:

This essay has provided a broad overview of the Pucca Qila Massacre and its aftermath. For a more in-depth analysis, you can consider exploring the following areas:

  • The impact of the Pucca Qila Massacre on the psychology of Muhajirs and Sindhis.
  • The role of social media in perpetuating or mitigating ethnic tensions.
  • Comparative analysis of successful models of ethnic reconciliation in other countries.
  • The economic costs of ethnic violence in Pakistan.

By delving deeper into these areas, you can gain a richer understanding of the Pucca Qila Massacre and its lasting impact on Pakistani society.


  • Balouch, M. B. (2013). Ethnicity and Politics in Pakistan. Oxford University Press.
  • Human Rights Watch. (1991). Human Rights in Pakistan. Human Rights Watch.
  • Jalal, A. (2009). The Struggle for Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Partition. Westview Press.
  • Milliyet. (1990, May 31). Pakistan’s Bhutto Dismissed After Ethnic Violence. [Milliyet Newspaper Archive] (in Turkish).örevden-alindi/1622424
  • Rahat, N. (2020). Language Politics in Pakistan. Oxford University Press.
  • Raza, H. (2012). The Politics of Ethnicity in Pakistan. Routledge.
  • Shaikh, F. H. (2009). Contemporary Issues in Pakistan. Royal Book Company.
  • Wikipedia. (n.d.). Pucca Qila Massacre. [Wikipedia]

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