What happens in (Pakistan’s largest city) Karachi and what happens to Karachi depends a lot on who governs the city, both officially and unofficially. Those presently running the (southern Sindh) province have very little mandate in the city while those commanding a vast (but somewhat dwindling) swath of voters on ethnic basis take their orders from London. The capital of Sindh province, Karachi is also Pakistan’s primary port city, a lot also depends upon what mandate the federal government exercises, and how it exercises that mandate.
There is no democracy in Karachi, Asif Zardari bamboozled the (Muttahida Qaumi Movement) MQM into dismantling the Local Bodies (LBs) by promising elections within 3-4 months. Six years later Karachi is still awaiting local governance. While they fell for his ploy, MQM protests are at best perfunctory, courtesy of Rahman Malik’s magical powers of “persuasion”. Shedding crocodile tears about the horrible state of affairs in the city, (Prime Minister) Mian Nawaz Sharif’s political compulsions requiring Zardari’s political support makes him sheepishly look the other way. Unhindered and awash with illegally acquired money, it is no secret Zardari is busy changing the real estate demographics of the city through proxies. Whatever remained of the politicization of the police, he has successfully completed in the last two years. Awaiting Uzair Baloch’s deportation from the UAE with apprehension, Zulfikar Mirza is desperately attempting to pre-empt retribution for the killings carried out under his orders by the “Amn Committees” by spilling the beans about the farce being perpetuated in the Province by his “friend” using the name of democracy and the garb of the Constitution, adversely compounding an already complicated internal security situation.
The Baldia Town fire incident graphically illustrates how the façade of the Constitution conveniently camouflages the farce of our so-called democracy and thereby mis-governance. A garment factory located on Hub Road in Karachi caught fire on 11 Sep 2012, killing 257 and seriously injuring about 600 more. Suspected of using child labour, Ali Enterprises employed between 1,200 and 1,500 workers manufacturing denim, knitted garments and hosiery. A 2007 security check reportedly revealed serious deficiencies in the fire protection plan, the locked workplaces amounting to virtual prison cells. Known for avoiding inspections, the owners claimed the factory had recently passed one.
About 400 workers were inside when the blaze erupted, an enquiry confirmed that with exit doors locked and windows covered by iron bars, suffocation accounted for many of the deaths. The Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) denied allegations that it had approved the building plans for the factory. A judicial inquiry by Justice Zahid Qurban Alvi blamed a short circuit for the fire with several other factors contributing to the tragedy, including the late arrival of fire tenders, lack of fire hydrants, etc. Traffic congestion further exacerbated the situation. Indicting the factory owners for pre-meditated murder, the tribunal blamed the government for failing (1) to enforce the law and (2) the police’s forensic department in conducting a scientific investigation.
The inferno case took a dramatic turn on Friday 7 Feb 2015 when a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) Report presented before the Sindh High Court (SHC) alleged that MQM’s Mohammad Rizwan Qureshi, providing more than one hundred workers to the factory on his contract for providing labour, disclosed during his interrogation in another case on June 22, 2013 that a “well-known party high official” had demanded Rs 200 million as Bhatta (extortion money) from the owners in Aug 2012. When the owners refused, on this party official’s orders Rizwan and his aides set fire to the factory. The arrested suspects got bail but a provincial minister got their release orders cancelled, they were later released on bail from the Lahore High Court (LHC) with the help of a former PM.
Contrary to media reports, the JIT Report, sent simultaneously to the CM and the Police in June 2013, was not submitted on the Rangers own initiative, the SHC required access to all reports from all Federal authorities and agencies covering the Baldia factory Fire. After repeated orders passed in Constitutional Petition (CP) No. 3318 of 2012 by the Division Bench comprising Justices Maqbool Baqar and Zafar Rajpoot (first Order passed on 19 Dec 2012 and the last Order on 13 Jan 2015), the JIT Report was made a part of the court record last Friday. The Rangers explicitly denied sending any report in FIR 343/2012 (Police Station Site B) relating to the Baldia Fire, but confirmed submitting the JIT Report pertaining to Muhammad Rizwan Qureshi in case FIR No. 61/2013 (Police Station Artillery Maidan), because he “disclosed some information related to above Petition (CP No. 3318/2012)”. Rangers’ Law Officer maintained before the court that the police had concealed facts in its report.
Among the serious criminal offenses in the Baldia Fire incident the owners must be criminally indicted for not adhering to the fire prevention measures for industrial premises. The owners claim that they had passed an inspection test, whoever did the inspection contrary to the norms for fire precautions necessary must be criminally indicted for the mass murder. For brutally and callously perpetrating the mini-holocaust, Rizwan Qureshi and so must those who ordered him to do so must be prosecuted. And what about the Sindh Police (and who specifically in the police?) who concealed the facts and allowed a self-confessed murder to get bail? Since former PM Raja Pervez Ashraf intervened to get Rizwan Qureshi bail, he should also be criminally indicted for subverting the rule of law. And why not Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah for sitting on the JIT Report for more than a year? Promising a full investigation, why did Asif Zardari, who has diverted 3000 of Sindh’s well-paid (Rs 100,000 per person) Elite Force to protect him and his, not take action when the JIT Report came to his knowledge in black and white in 2013?
While it is a tall order, one believes General Raheel Sharif means what he says that the Army will “go to any extent” to maintain the peace in Karachi. For starters those who are compounding the problems by their scams and corruption must not be allowed to sit shamelessly along with the military officers on the Apex Committee trying to “finding solutions”, one scorns such a process as a sham. Pakistan can do without the pure and simple hypocrisy of “photo-ops” undercutting the Army’s commitment.
Those really committed to Karachi’s salvation must start by three D’s in priority in supercession to any other initiatives, De-Zardarizing Sindh’s civil administration, De-politicizing the police and De-weaponizing the city.
The public perception will otherwise believe that the Army condones the scam and sham.
The writer is a leading defense and political analyst of Pakistan. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org