Karachi - Crime, Crisis, and Anarchy
By Syed Arif Hussaini
Violent crime index has been extraordinarily high in Karachi for several years past. Exact figures of the incidents of crime are difficult to compile. For, a good number of robberies, car jacking and other crimes involving property go unreported to the police as the citizens are convinced of the futility of such reports. Many, indeed, believe that corrupt functionaries of the security agencies themselves provide protection to the criminals.
Terrorists like Ramze Yusuf of New York’s World Trade Center bomb-blast fame, and Aimal Kansi who killed CIA operatives at the very gate of that ‘invisible government’ in Washington, were apprehended and handed over to the US authorities. But, no criminal involved in Karachi massacres has ever been taken in custody. Lawlessness has reached a stage where hardly any family of Karachi has escaped from becoming a victim of some crime or another. Members of Pakistani community here, on return from visits to Karachi, relate horrible incidents of crime, particularly daylight robberies, involving them or their families. A stage, it is reported, has reached where criminals enter any house at will and take away at gun point, in broad daylight, cash, jewelry, TV, VCR and any other items they fancy. Can they do this without the political or administrative patronage?
It would be advantageous to examine briefly the main causes of the serious decline of civility and the insensate savagery in a metropolis which till a couple of decades back was generally acknowledged as ‘Uroosul Bilad’ and the city of lights, peace and prosperity.
The first and foremost factor is the nature of the man inhabiting Karachi. The city has a distinctive personality and leaves its imprints on the inhabitants no matter whether they are immigrants from India, Iran, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or elsewhere. Even the migrants to Karachi from interior Sindh, Punjab, Khyber or Baluchistan come under the sway of those distinctive characteristics, the same way as even the most unruly drivers of Pakistan commence, within weeks, abiding by the traffic rules and etiquette on the streets of America. The personality of a city affects the personality of its inhabitants and vice versa.
In a predominantly feudal society, where the feudal lords treat their serfs as virtual slaves, Karachi has always been a vast island permeated with the spirit of freedom and dignity of man. No wonder then that the waderas and feudal lords never allowed the people in their servitude to even visit Karachi for a length of time. Their children were not allowed the opportunity to go to any school as that would have ignited an awakening in them. A serf who succeeded in disentangling himself from the feudal bondage and in finding a refuge, a haven, in Karachi, soon embraced the general values of the city. He would enjoy the environs of freedom and the opportunity to labor and live reasonably well - much better than a serf in any case.
To clarify the point, it may be relevant to mention briefly the extent of the cruelties of feudal lords reported widely in the national media. Some time back, a Sanghar wadera, Mureed Khan, with the help of about a hundred of his armed men, managed to get 87 peasants - his former slave laborers - kidnapped from their camps in Matli near Hyderabad. Thirty-two of these ‘haris’ were injured in the incident as they resisted the gunmen. Was this wadera authorized to maintain such a militia? Surely, he must be having his surrogates in the corridors of power to be able to do so!
A few years back, illustrated stories appeared in the media about the slave labor camp of a feudal lord, Mohammed Husain Khokar, where some 250 persons were kept in a compound in chains to be taken out each morning to work on his lands. They could not run away as their ankles remained shackled to long chains with heavy iron balls at the loose ends.
Then, there was the famous story of the Zamindar of Ranipur who, having become annoyed with the non-docile, assertive behavior of some of his villagers, had all women of that village stripped naked and march in procession through the lanes of that village. Even the all-powerful President of the time fumed and thundered at the shameful conduct of the landlord. The whole thing, however, died down and there was hardly any follow-up media report on it.
Unfortunately, feudal lords have become role models in Pakistan, even in Karachi. Heavily starched white shalwar-kameez, a distinct swagger and attitude, an expensive, flashy watch on the wrist, a mobile phone in hand, and a few Klashnikov-bearing bodyguards in train, typify their power and pelf. You notice the nouveau riche of cities imitating them.
President Ayub is reported to have said to Mr. Sabur Khan, then Governor of East Pakistan: “I know my people; they are to be kept under the heel”. The man of Karachi is unwilling to be kept under the heel. The rulers, hailing mainly from feudal families or from their city imitators, are unable to understand and to reconcile to this haughty attitude. They have thus been resorting to force to subdue the man and bring him in line with their subservient serfs and sycophants.
Anger among the Pathans over the demolition of their smuggling dens in Sohrab Goth was diverted towards the ‘mohajirs’, despite the fact that the Pathans and the mohajirs had always been getting along fine owing to both nurturing the same free spirit. Then, an axis of Pathans, Punjabis and Baluchis was inspired but that too proved ineffective, as there was no basic cause of conflict with the majority community. This was followed by the direct operation of the state apparatus.
Karachi had to be, it was thought and decided, brought back into the mainstream of the servility of masses. Its self-respect, its haughtiness had to be smashed. A reign of terror was let loose by Gen. Naseerulah Babar, Benazir’s Interior Minister, who had proudly claimed, “I am the biggest terrorist of them all”. To provide justification for the ruthless killings, a disinformation campaign regarding Jinnahpur was launched. Since it was not based on truth, it fizzled out within a short time. There was indeed some letup, during this reign of terror, in random killings, drive-by shootings, and stranger on stranger robberies. Being a military man, Gen Babar sought a military solution to the problem - identify the enemy and kill him. He saw an enemy in every nook and corner of the city. Every youth struck him as an enemy. The vast number of extra-judicial killings, the dozens of bullet-ridden dead bodies of the youth of the city thrown every day in areas to be cowed down, only stoked the flames of hatred against the state apparatus. Violence and terrorism have rarely proved a permanent solution to a problem. It is the mindset which counts.
But, the General thought that he had done a splendid job, a great service to the people of Karachi. His self-delusion led him to stand from Karachi on the PPP ticket for a seat in the National Assembly. No wonder he was badly beaten in the elections.
Benazir, a product of Karachi herself, was sacked by the ex-President on grounds of, inter alia, extra-judicial killings in Karachi. She was essentially a dyed-in-the wool feudalist. The urban Sindhis, who had played a crucial role in bringing her father to power, could not be hoodwinked by her. In an effort to subdue them, she had herself directed on phone from Islamabad, it is reported, the Katcha Qila operation in Hyderabad which was, in effect, a mass massacre. Did she succeed in the battle of mind over mind? Certainly not.
Almost fifty per cent of the population of Karachi is less than twenty years of age. This abundant supply of youth with their idealism, dreams, fantasies and frustrations proved a readily available and most unexpected tool in the hands of Gen. Zia and of his, overt or covert, policy makers to be organized and turned into a counter to the PPP in urban Sindh.
The people of Karachi, particularly the youth, had been disillusioned by the loss of their identity as Pakistanis with the dismemberment of Pakistan and the emergence of ethnic identities in the rump state. To add to the bitterness their cup, M. Z.A. Bhutto had divided their province into urban Sindh and rural Sindh disintegrating further their sense of identity. They were thus ready to embrace any concept which could serve as an anchor of their own identity.
That explains why, under the patronage of the military junta of Gen. Zia, the MQM, an insignificant student body till then, mushroomed into an enormous mafia-type setup with an immature leader commanding more following and respect than warranted by his caliber or stature. A product of the very agencies he is constantly complaining against now, he was ordered to take refuge in London, as soon as he became assertive and demanding for Karachi and had ceased to be pliable. A Haqiqi faction was set up to split the monolithic monster of MQM. That caused a lot of bloodshed but failed to effectively fracture the hold of the London man.
With the easy availability of automatic weapons to all and sundry, even on daily rent basis, the incidence of crimes, particularly of robberies, shot up. The criminals from other parts of the country, particularly members of private militias of waderas joined in the foray. The police, the rangers, the personnel of intelligence agencies have all also jumped into the loot and plunder. The youth of Karachi have picked up arms and bid farewell to books. What a national loss! But, who cares in a society which spends 1.3% of its income on education as against over 8% by neighboring Iran.
Karachi produces 68% of federal revenue. Bulk of it is spent on defense and debt servicing. Almost nothing is allotted even for the repair of roads in Karachi - the economic hub of the country. The former Finance Minister, Sartaj Aziz, claimed in an interview to BBC: “The issue of national security is the top priority which cannot be linked with the economy”. The hard reality of today’s world is that only a strong economy can ensure the security of a nation. Mishandling of the economy has reduced the mighty Russian army to foraging for food, shelter and handouts in its own land. Unless Karachi resumes its former tempo of economic life, the very existence of our armed forces, our security agencies would be in peril. The recent efforts to rule Karachi from Islamabad have miserably failed. It is high time that the ruling elites recognized what makes Karachi tick and tailor their policies accordingly. Let the city be run by local inhabitants instead of the police, rangers and bureaucrats from up north. They make hay (by graft) while the sun of their tenure shines and understandably have, generally speaking, no inherent interest in the welfare of the city and its inhabitants.
There is a pleasant precedent of the shape of things when the city was run by the locals. After a visit to Karachi in May, 1992, I wrote in an article to the daily Nation of Lahore and Islamabad: “The very first and unavoidable impression I gained was that the metropolis had almost rid itself of the aura of the fear of kidnappings for ransom, of day time robberies often in the shadows of police stations, and of the rash of ethnic riots. The iron gates at the entrances to streets in residential areas were no longer closed and watched by ill-armed guards. The self-imposed confinements and the rush of people to their cocoons before dusk sat in, have yielded to a sort of social glasnost - a more natural, open and even ostentatious lifestyle in keeping with the wont of the people of the city.” (The Nation, June 4, ‘92).
It has happened once; it can happen again; and, it has to happen soon if the nation is to survive economically. But, it cannot happen until the myopic, mean feudal approach yields to tolerance and appreciation of the sensitivities and urges for self rule of the people of Karachi.
Use of force, and the state’s armed might have not in the past succeeded nor would in future. They would be as counter productive as the terror let loose by Tikka Khan in East Pakistan, or Nadir Shah in Delhi.
“Violence never solved anything”, even Genghis Khan had to admit.