‘Crackdown’ No Solution
By Muhammad Ali Siddiqi
Karachi, Pakistan

GA_googleFillSlot("Dawn_Columnists_inside_468x90"); With the Supreme Court interested in hearing all points of view on the Karachi situation, it is worthwhile to know certain incontrovertible facts about the city and why it has been virtually impossible to make it a normal human habitat.

Ethnic violence has been continuing in Karachi since the mid-1980s. The period between April 1985 — when the first of the major ethnic riots occurred following Bushra Zaidi’s death — and 2011 has seen the following governments come and go: Zia’s weakened, post-martial law power structure under the Junejo government, two PPP governments, two Nawaz stints in power, Musharraf’s ‘neither dictatorship nor democracy’ regime, and the PPP-led government now ruling in Islamabad and Karachi.

This means, ignoring the so many caretaker regimes, eight elected and non-elected governments have failed to give peace to Karachi over a period of more than a quarter century. (This is 10 years more than the Lebanese civil war, 1975-1990.)

On each occasion, the government of the day got the flak because it supposedly consisted of rulers for whom no conceivable adjective was enough — incompetent, corrupt, lacking sincerity and worse. Two of these governments — the first PML-N and the second PPP one — launched military crackdowns, but, barring some transient relief, the use of force failed to root out organized violence.

The torrent of criticism and suggestions that has followed the recent bout of bloodletting doesn’t help because it stems from pent-up ethnic and political anger and misses the obvious — crackdowns and ‘operations’ cannot give peace to Karachi, because the problem is political and societal, the latter far more complex and perhaps intractable.

The political part of the problem is amenable to a solution at least theoretically: if the MQM and the ANP, besides the PPP-backed Lyari Amn Committee — hijacked by Zulfiqar Mirza — decide to shun armed rivalry and give up disputes over lucrative fiefdoms, the level of ethnically motivated killings could come down appreciably. They have a stake in peace, and if they make up their mind not to act as savages they could deliver. Non-ethnic, non-political violence will still continue, but the15-million strong citizenry will be spared the nerve-racking horror of living in perpetual fear and insecurity if the MQM and the ANP decide to end armed hostilities.

However, a rapprochement between these two parties will take care only of political violence; non-political violence and ‘pure’ crime will still flourish, till the crime mafias discover to their sorrow that it is difficult to operate with impunity in an ambience free of political killings. To put it another way, an end to political killings will have a salutary effect on the overall law and order situation, because this will give a message to the crime syndicates and free the law-enforcement agencies from preoccupation with political violence.

Calls for de-weaponization by administrative means are ludicrous. There are hundreds of thousands of unlicensed handguns in Karachi, and there is just no way in which the police and Rangers will go from home to home to search for arms. This colossal and even spread of small arms has made the city criminal-friendly, and given the mafias an ideal milieu in which to operate.

The only force which can go after Karachi’s Al Capones and the underworld of crime is the political equivalent of the crime mafia. The gauleiters are ruthlessly efficient. Their storm troopers know the city’s Bonnie and Clydes inside out, exploit them when necessary, share the booty, ditch them when expedient, and know their hideouts and their sources of arms and money.

It is they — to be specific, the MQM and ANP— who can deliver peace to Karachi in two ways: first by agreeing to a permanent ceasefire among themselves and, second, by cooperating with the police and Rangers in unearthing and destroying the crime underworld.

Unfortunately, political thugs are aware of their power. They can paralyze the city and use their firepower to blackmail the government, no matter what the cost in terms of lives lost. Frankly, one can only appeal to them to tone down their cultural and racial chauvinism, for there is no way in which either party can be ‘fixed’ by ‘operations’. They have a large following, and their cadres and sympathizers are armed to the teeth.

The moral question mentioned above defies a quick solution, for the parents and teachers are not doing their job. Our level of civic sense is stuck at the 19th century railway station phenomenon bequeathed by the British, for we have no concept at all of life in mega cities. Parents and teachers, no doubt, teach children cardinal values, but they do not tell their wards to form a queue, not to violate traffic rules or not to wake up the neighborhood at 2am by honking ceaselessly, because the elders themselves lack modern urban values.

Most regretfully, violence has in a sense been sanctified, because the clerics practice secularism the wrong way and do not think violating a Pakistani law is to be condemned. That is why the ulama either tacitly approve of the Taliban’s cannibalism or keep quiet out of cowardice.

Brave souls like Maulana Naeemi of Lahore pay with their lives when they speak the truth. In the ultimate analysis, the trauma of a multi-ethnic megalopolis like Karachi is linked to the nation’s low level of morality. Unfortunately, Pakistan has no moral leadership, and those who are called ulama are, with rare exceptions, religion peddlers seeking power and pelf and abject self-projection. Courtesy Dawn



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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