Karachi: the knives are out

Karachi: the knives are out

The situation in Karachi has taken a turn for the worse. There is a head-on collision between the PPP and the MQM. In less than a week, more than 100 people have lost their lives in the metropolis. Sindh’s acting governor, Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, promulgated three ordinances on Saturday, with immediate effect. An official statement said, “Accordingly, the commissionerate system, Sindh Local Government Ordinance 1979 and Police Act 1861 have been restored.

Sindh government has suspended Sindh Local Government Ordinance 2000 and Police Order 2002 with immediate effect.” The colonial commissionerate system has been reinstated in Sindh while the Sindh Revenue Department has divided the province into five divisions. These moves have clearly annoyed the MQM, which has decided to challenge the commissionerate system in court. The MQM is a strong supporter of the local bodies system introduced by General Musharraf as it re-demarcated districts and constituencies to its advantage.

The MQM’s interest was greatest in Karachi and Hyderabad, its traditional constituencies. A local bodies system in principle is a good plank for devolution but has unfortunately been sullied in our history by military dictators desirous of bypassing the normal political process and creating a loyal constituency at the grassroots. Now that the commissionerate system is back in place, Sindh, like the rest of the provinces, has returned to the bureaucratic ways of doing things rather than representation at the local level. Bureaucratic systems are unresponsive because they are rooted in colonial structures and attitudes; they are thus not the best means of delivering to the people. The PPP might be pretending that this is a temporary arrangement but the impact it has had on the MQM is obvious. The MQM’s potential ally, the PML-N, will not side with it on the commissionerate system issue as the Sharif brothers support it in Punjab. This can further be a cause of disunity between the newly wedded allies.

Tensions between the MQM and the PPP have escalated. There were reports that senior minister Sindh, Dr Zulfiqar Mirza, met the MQM’s sworn enemy Afaq Ahmed of the MQM-Haqiqi in jail. MQM’s Anis Ahmed Kaimkhani alleged that Mirza and Afaq “hatched a plan to cut off the telephones lines of Nine Zero and then attack the MQM headquarters with terrorists and members of the People’s Amn Committee”. Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik tried to pour oil on troubled waters and made his usual placatory noises but the situation in Karachi remains grim. When the MQM left the coalition government this time, we had cautioned in this space that there would be more violence in Karachi. Now with the PPP denying the MQM its power base by restructuring the system, things have become more complicated than ever. The implications of the trajectory of the events in Karachi are grave.

Things being as tense as they are, there are advocates of calling in the military. This should be avoided at all costs. Inviting the military to control Karachi may open the doors to another military intervention. Also, as the 1992 experience proved, military might is a blunt weapon that should not be used for urban troubles. If the military is unleashed, the fallout would be dangerous; the damage may be permanent, but the ‘good’ effect (peace and quiet) will not last. Experience shows that when the MQM was rehabilitated by the very same establishment that tried to quell it by military force in 1992, Karachi was laid open to the very risks the military operation was intended to do away with. The central role in any kind of urban troubles has to be that of the police and intelligence. There is a need to strengthen the police by depoliticising it, allowing it to carry out its duties without fear of political ramifications and supporting it against all inimical forces. This is the only solution to control the spiral of violence that has taken over the city of lights. – Dailytimes