Karachi redux

The unending violence in Karachi is beginning to resemble a descending spiral that has no end in sight, except for the complete annihilation of law and order as we know it. In less than a week, some 87 people have lost their lives in a senseless cycle of target killings. The most blatant and cruel attack was Tuesday’s random shooting of civilians in the Shershah Kabaari Market where some dozen people were killed by a gang of armed gunmen on motorcycles who fired indiscriminately into the crowd. Most of the fatalities were poor labourers who had nothing whatsoever to do with the political, ethnic or sectarian clashes Karachi is gripped by. On Wednesday, a further 11 people were killed in a camp for flood affectees, where the assailants ran off after the killing spree and stealing relief supplies. Add to this potent mix the continuous target killings that are becoming so generalised they hardly seem selective and targeted any more and we have a Karachi that is not just bleeding, it is dying a slow, agonising death.

The attack on the refugee camp is yet another stark indicator of one stakeholder going to desperate and inhumane measures to prevent the demography of Karachi from inching towards an inevitable change. There is only one party that stands accused of this particular ethnic and political philosophy and that is the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). Weary of the fact that the Pashtun population in Karachi has now begun to exceed that in FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the MQM’s paranoia is, seemingly, making it see blood red. Going to any lengths to prevent a demographic shift that may, ultimately, affect its vote bank, the MQM is accused of being the number one instigator in Karachi’s cesspool of violence. In addition, the party stands accused of being a land grabbing mafia and a party of extortionists as well.

The Awami National Party (ANP) is also accused of being an active agent in land grabbing and the current violent cycle in Karachi could very well be yet another ‘turf’ war between the ANP and the MQM.

The one party that stands least accused of the violence is the PPP. Therefore, it is up to the PPP to muster some calm in a situation that threatens to escalate into a mind numbing mini-civil war. It is encouraging to see that, so far, the PPP has disallowed its political supporters from carrying and using weapons as a response to this violence even in self-defence. However, that is the least it can do. As the main coalition partner in Sindh and also the federal government, the PPP must adopt a double pronged policy to ensure that the government’s writ is returned to the city. First the proposed crackdown and curfew in certain ‘sensitive’ areas of the city must be enforced with the full might of the law. Intensive searches and a no tolerance policy towards suspected miscreants must be implemented so that none dare mock the law any more. The PPP must also take on a paternal role now, bringing the ANP and MQM together by convincing them that if Karachi — the country’s economic hub — is made to suffer, the whole country will suffer. Karachi can longer be the preserve of just one group or one dominant ethnicity; it is in its pluralism that it and the rest of Pakistan will develop.

The army should always be the last resort, one that is employed only when all other civilian institutions have proved unable to control the situation. If the 1992 military operation in Karachi is anything to go by, the last thing Karachi needs now is an all out offensive that may involve greater damage, both physical and political. – dailytimes