Cry Karachi!

‘Foreign Policy (FP) Magazine’ has declared Pakistan's largest city of Karachi as the most dangerous mega city in the world with 25 percent higher murder ratio than any other mega city of the world. Karachi's major political stakeholders, Muttahida Qaumi Movement of London-based powerful leader Altaf Hussain who is facing investigation by the British police in murder and money laundering cases, Pakistan People's Party of former president Asif Ali Zardari and Pashtoon nationalist Awami National Party are blamed for much of the violence. Pakistani Taliban's arrival in the city has added to the mess, making it the most violent region in Pakistan. Ikram Sehgal analyzes the strategy of Pakistan's new government to tackle the challenge and what are its chances of success.

Posted on 09/9/13
By Ikram Sehgal | Via The News International
Mausoleum of Pakistan's founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Karachi. The city is home to much of Pakistan's industry and generates 71 percent of Pakistan's tax revenue. (Photo by by Kasuga Sho, Creative Commons License)
Mausoleum of Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Karachi. The city is home to much of Pakistan’s industry and generates 71 percent of Pakistan’s tax revenue. (Photo by by Kasuga Sho, Creative Commons License)

The Federal Cabinet met in the city of Karachi on the subject of “Karachi” to take “extraordinary measures to deal with the extraordinary situation in Karachi”, in the words of Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif. One does not doubt the urgency of the federal government or their sincerity, however one must call a spade a spade and that is missing. By implication MQM (Muttahida Qaumi Movement) is the target, the actual fact is that they were only part of a coalition where instead of good governance criminality was the driving force.  The majority partner PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) still rules the roost today, callously and deliberately they have now left MQM in the lurch to face the music.  For political reasons the rhetoric conveniently does not recognize why we are in this extraordinary mess, it is pure hypocrisy to “support” this provincial government which was very much part of the killing, loot and plunder in the last five years.

To quote my article, “the Sindh syndrome,” as far back as Dec 17, 1991, “There are two aspects of the law and order situation, the urban and the rural problem, manifesting itself in political terrorism and criminal activities in the urban areas, the order of malfeasance being reversed in the rural areas, criminal activity being far ahead of political terrorism. Unfortunately, political terrorism and criminal activities are now submerged with each other as the militants among the political activists decide that there is profit to be generated from outright crime and conversely, the dacoits having decided that their misdemeanors would be seen in a romantic light if they associate political activism with their shenanigans. The net result has disappearance of the fine line between crime and democratic aspirations, leading to anarchy, a state of insurrection exists in the rural areas.”

Averaging 15-20 targeted killing a day besides a myriad number of other un-reported street crimes, Karachi has become a dangerous metropolis.  Why are we in this situation?  Even as the city’s expansion continued unabated due to economic activity with incompatible political space, political parties nurtured proxies and militant wings to strengthen their power base instead of prioritizing governance issues.  All cities in the world have a saturation point, beyond an economic fail-safe limit, anarchy has to result. The port city of Karachi has been particularly hit by the calamity of excess migration, externally and from within the country. Crime thrived in the many slums that proliferated, pockets of unskilled youth formed bastions of crime, some were politically motivated, many went into “business” on their own. Most problems have economic overtones, wherever there are more employment opportunities exist in the world, there are less law and order problems.

There is no use casting blame and aspersion on the excesses of the past or its supposed perpetrators, there was never any concerted mass discrimination against any ethnic group, there was only discrimination by the rich and/or the elite against the poor and impoverished of all nationalities, whether Mohajir, Sindhi, Punjabi, Pathan, Balochi, etc. Ethno-centric feelings were capitalized on by ethnic parties, in the meantime genuine political forces believing in democracy were marginalized.  Mainly for coercing their rivals political forces have been patronizing criminal mafias. Taking advantage of the situation, both hostile and friendly intelligence agencies have used this conducive environment to establish their own proxies in the city.  All this has been compounded by religious radicalism and terrorism.

Without exception all the major political parties in the city have indulged in all types of criminal activities to advance their own selfish objectives by being involved in taking scores of life, destroying valuable property, disrupt normal economic activity and collect extortion money at will.  In many cases instructions emanated from abroad and logistics support from South Africa and India in terms of money, weapons and training. By design sectarian violence has been ignited by killing Shia leaders and blaming it on the Sunnis and killing Sunni leaders and blaming it on the Shias.  Effective and brutal militant wings terrorize rival group with target killer squads. The governing political parties ruthlessly kill their own workers if they step out.

Instead of delivering good governance, the provincial government, which still rules today minus the MQM, deliberately introduced a culture of massive corruption, nepotism and incompetence, the coalition partners conniving to destroy the social fabric of Karachi for their own greed and lust for power. Police and bureaucracy were politicized (and even criminalized), thus corroding these vital state organs meant to maintain law and order.

Awami National Party is suspected to have links with notorious extremists hailing from KPK and FATA Areas, areas under this party’s influence are refuge to ruthless terrorists of the Jehadi-kind. Having little political representation compared to MQM or PPP, ANP still enjoys substantial street support.  ANP also maintains a vibrant militant arm involved in Bhatta collection, transport strikes, target killings and a with notorious militant extremists.

Sunni Tehrik has added to Karachi’s violence problem by their involvement in tit for tat target killings and sectarian violence. ST activists collect Bhatta with impunity, substantiating her coercive power through their militant wing.  Once a major force in Karachi. JI’s involvement in Bhatta collection and other criminal activities is minimal, if any, but the party is strongly anti-American and has a very soft corner for jehadi outfits, and vice versa.

Banned organizations change names at will in the absence of any effective control by the state and get massive funding from abroad on the name of charity.  They enjoy support among the masses because of outstanding social work during natural calamities. Many other criminal entities are operating in the city indulging in terrorist acts as well as gun running and drug peddling.  The religious terrorist outfits operating under TTP’s umbrella are a formidable challenge for the LEAs in the city.  Having support also from Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), TTP raises funds to recruit activists and run safe havens in Karachi, with ability to strike the civilian and military targets.  It enjoys a substantial support from similar ethnicities living in the city, thus they can easily evade the LEAs.

In “War & Peace, Catch-22 in Sindh” on June 30, 1999, I had written, “Having caught some of the criminal elements, what then? Are they to be left to our civilian courts, badly compromised by cumbersome laws, not able to render swift, effective justice? If one were a miscreant, given the judicial circumstances availing at present, it would be safer to surrender then face the uniformed juggernaut in open conflict, the better to laugh oneself out of jail whenever one pleases. Apprehension must be followed by swift trial, murderers must be given a short shrift, no pun intended.”

Politicization has made the administrative machinery of the city ineffective, this has been further aggravated by corruption, and incompetency.  Presiding over a meeting, when Zardari asked a responsible law enforcement official where the problem was, he said they are sitting on either side of you, meaning the Governor and the CM. The responsible official was being diplomatic or simply playing safe, the real reason was sitting between these two.

There is no real strategy or resolve to rid city of criminals web, political meddling by the ruling elite prevents LEAs, particularly the Rangers from initiating any meaningful action. Judicial activism of the superior courts is not visible in the lower courts, these are relatively soft towards criminals due to an inherently weak prosecution system. Media excels itself in bashing the LEAs, Intelligence agencies and other vital state institutions. Allegations of foreign funding of the media and key anchors as well as from some power brokers were very disappointing to the sanctity of the fourth estate. These facts must be investigated thoroughly and if untrue, laid to rest.  It has become a fashion for the media to disregard national interest in reporting sensitive matters.  People are afraid of openly condemning the acts of terror due to religious retribution, the religious right is in the hands of extremists.

That MQM feels that it will get the brunt of the de-weaponization campaign, that is Asif Zardari’s doing and their fault.  They have themselves to blame for becoming the FALL-GUYS!  Zardari used them to stay in power, he needed both MQM’s electoral support and Karachi. So he played a double game successfully, wooing MQM through the despicable Rahman Malik while targeting them through best friend Zulfikar Mirza’s hired “Peoples Amn Committee” (PAC) killers.  Why did MQM fall for Zardari’s play about dissolving Local Bodies? They should have known he had no intention to have the elections in 900 days, let alone 90 days?  How else could he let (Owais Ahmad) Tappi (Zardari’s foster brother and close aide) loose to acquire land illegally?  That is what the end game is all about, land-grabbing!
Zardari sinister commercial purpose, his foster brother Tappi is perhaps easily the biggest land-grabber in Pakistan’s history.  Now it suits Zardari to have MQM targeted, with Tappi now openly running Sindh government he does not need them anymore.  One can be sure he will soon shed crocodile tears at MQM’s predicament.  That the federal government are honor Zardari’s exit as President by giving him a reception and a guard of honor is sheer hypocrisy. Can anyone with any conscience condone what he has done to Pakistan and Karachi in the last 5 years? And the consequences of what is likely to happen in Karachi (and Pakistan), given that the present federal government is left with no choice?
There are 9000 policemen, 3000 Rangers and about 500 vehicles guarding so-called VIPs.   This is critical to success of maintaining law and order of the community. Having escort vehicle has because a statement of fashion, in accordance with the Federal Interior Minister’s promise, they must be recalled.  A small list of real VIPs who do need protection must be compiled and 90% of those escorting  undeserving individuals (including girl friends) must be called back to do the duty they are paid for, such individuals need to fend for themselves as in any country in the world.
De-weaponization is the answer, simultaneously hold Local Bodies elections, and that also in a workable and democratic local self-governance system, not the sham being promoted by the Sindh PPP government. Only when the citizen stakeholder has a say in his (or her) own community, they will ensure that the inhabitants of the community do not take part or are involved in any criminal activity. In “De-Beirutizing Karachi”, I had written as March 6, 1990 “Karachi must be made a Weapons and Drugs FREE ZONE. To start with, Law Enforcement Agencies must fan out throughout Karachi holding all nodal points so positioned to isolate any community at short notice. 24 hours curfew must be imposed on situated area during this period, by the use of radio and television, air-dropping of leaflets and repeated messages over loudspeakers. All licensed/unlicensed arms and drugs must be surrendered, no questions asked about the unlicensed arms or drugs. Thereafter Block raids must be conducted after imposing curfew again in selected areas. These Block raids must be conducted in the identified areas of Karachi simultaneously and repeated in the first few days so that the whole population is aware of an even-handed policy. The video-recorded results of the Block raids must be televised, radio and media publicity must be given. In a democracy such actions can be made acceptable if the stakeholders are made aware and become part of the process. Needless to say, any law enforcers found conniving with lawless elements must be treated as a severe Federal offense and given force-multiplied punishment.”
The federal government must not use the Army, it has correctly given this task to the Rangers they are much better equipped to deal with law enforcement in urban areas.  The federal government must be commended for initiating the process needed to give the Rangers the legal support they require, they must also beef them up with reinforcements and materialThe Rangers must themselves form an elite force on the pattern of SWAT teams.  The rule of law must be restored to the Province of Sindh, we cannot sit back and allow the rape of morality to overtake the mass conscience of the people of Pakistan. Those who perpetrate heinous crimes have no place in our society claiming to be Islamic. The feeling persists that crimes against humanity which we are increasingly being made aware of are being ignored by the law enforcing agencies or even being perpetuated by them.
Let us accept we are a nation of hypocrites, this is magnified manifold in the character of our leadership.  Let us not call it a “targeted” operation but a de-weaponization campaign targeting anybody with a gun who is not authorized to do so.  Political will must not be held ransom by political expediency in the name of sustaining democracy.  Democracy does not permit crime to be become part of governance, unfortunately in Karachi, democracy has become just that!

The writer is a Pakistan-based defense analyst.

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