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Governor’s Rule

As Pakistan’s only functioning commercial port and as the hub of a major percentage of the nation’s commercial and industrial activity, Karachi commands an inordinate influence in domestic politics. The dominant ethnic community are primarily Urdu-speaking Muslim migrants (about 4.5 million) from India, followed by the Pathans (about 2.0 million). Punjabis and Bangladeshis are in fair number (1.5 million plus minus each) but they are not organised at all. These are followed by Afghans, Iranians, Burmese Muslims, etc. Other than the vastly Muslim majority violently divided in certain areas (other than racial) into Shia and Sunni communities, Christians are in significant numbers followed by Parsis, who though not large in number wield considerable commercial influence. History is witness to the fact that with such an ethnic, religious and sectarian mix, anything can ignite trouble on a fairly large scale. As the population has grown larger, conversely the economic pie has become smaller, leading to friction as the communities have got increasingly involved in battling for survival.

The recently re-named Muttahida (for Mohajir) Qaumi Movement (MQM) gained ascendancy in 1985 after the Bushra Zaidi incident when the Mohajirs united under one political vehicle. MQM legislators have been elected to Parliament, both for the Centre and the Provinces since 1988, but without the transfer of power at the grassroots level their hopes have been frustrated. As often happens, in the process of transformation from street power into governance, their militants came into cross purposes with each other and civil strife has gone on since. Trying to assert their supremacy through the gun, collecting “Bhatta” or protection money in the process, the MQM fell afoul of the population of Karachi in general. In addition, the deteriorating law and order situation (kidnappings, car snatchings, dacoity, etc) was tailor-made for the launching of “Operation Clean Up” in 1992. However, the then military hierarchy made a major mistake in (1) creating the Haqeeqi faction MQM(H) (2) targeting only the mainline Mohajir party, known as MQM Alpha in military circles after Altaf Hussain, the leader i.e. MQM (A) and (3) not dissolving it after its use as a Trojan Horse at the start of the campaign. No doubt MQM (A) had a very large number of militants, but militancy was fairly well sprinkled through the broad spectrum of all the political parties, this singling out was most unfortunate because it smacked of victimization, which it was. The other parties and groupings who had militants in their midst should have also been targeted. Public perception is a very fickle opinion medium. It will rail against a man who commits murder but will be mildly sympathetic to the murderer when he is brought out to the gallows for hanging. On the other hand, if the murderer is beaten or otherwise brutalised on the way to his hanging, public perception will radically go over to his side. While people in Karachi were genuinely afraid of the excesses of the MQM(A), they wanted others to meet their come-uppance as much as their more visible tormentors.

Extremely well executed in the beginning, “Operation Clean Up” opened up MQM(A)’s no-go areas, “winning a war without swords”, to quote Sun Tzu. However, whatever was won on the ground by uniformed troops was lost by the high-handedness of the intelligence-operated Field Security Teams (FSTs) and the rejuvenated police on the streets. The men in mufti were acting on a hidden agenda based on the ambitions of the hierarchy, the police used the opportunity to fill their pockets. For every innocent man hauled up, some more potential terrorists came into being. By 1993, the Army hierarchy had changed and so did the thinking. By 1994 the new Corps Commander Lt Gen Lehrasab Khan, who had done such a tremendous job as GOC Hyderabad in ridding rural Sindh of dacoits, insisted that his troops be pulled out from urban area operations and this was managed by mid-1995. This opened the door for Maj Gen (Retd) Nasirullah Khan Babar, the PPP’s Federal Minister for Interior, who used the reorganised para-military Rangers and Police in a devastating counter-urban guerrilla campaign that decimated MQM(A)’s militants, no quarter asked no quarter given. There is enough evidence to suggest that many militants were trained in camps in India. Within 6 months i.e. the end of 1995, the back of the militancy was broken and they were on the run, with their departure urban peace returned to Karachi. A window of opportunity was made available by Gen Babar to the then Federal Government for concrete socio-economic measures to alleviate the sufferings of the people of Karachi but a combination of greed and sheer arrogance on the part of the Zardaris saw this opportunity being lost. Furthermore, one of the side-effects of the “Babar Blitz” was the restoration of the high-handedness that the Police had surrendered at the feet of the MQM in the late 80s. Within a year police brutality had reached evil proportions, a backlash is always imminent, when the guardians of the law hold themselves above the law they are pledged to uphold. The end-result was gory, the then PM’s brother Murtaza Bhutto being gunned down by the Police in cold blood in what is now increasingly clear was a very cleverly staged encounter.

Asif Zardari may or may not have been responsible for his brother-in-law’s murder, he made fashionable the banana-republic meaning of governance in Pakistan, use the time available to fill one’s own pockets by whatever fastest means possible. Zardari simply finessed the art through a network of friends and cronies with a combination of fear that is awe-inspiring. Everyone in position to do so now wants to emulate this role model. Even elements of the local MQM hierarchy that one would never believe would ever go near corruption are believed to have gone into business for themselves. Since Altaf Hussain is in London far removed from the scene, his local chieftains possibly decided that they needed some solid financial recompense for the risks they were taking by remaining in the cauldron. This racketeering is confined to only a small coterie divorced from the MQM masses, the aegis of the so-called PML Government in Sindh being used in cahoots with the two bureaucrat Nazir brothers, sandwiching the willing CM Liaquat Jatoi within their corrupt embrace.

While the rest of Sindh has some semblance of management, Karachi has no central authority, a metropolitan government of over 10 million souls without a focussed command and control is mind-boggling. The grassroots leadership in Local Bodies so vital to the running of any entity is missing. So at both ends of the governance spectrum we have major shortcomings. For a country’s commercial capital to be run in the manner of Mogadishu is a non-starter. While the momentum keeps things happening, when things fall apart they do so fairly rapidly. At this time we are barely surviving on antiquated civic and socio-economic facilities, God forbid that a major breakdown takes place. By confining their role to Karachi, Hyderabad and a couple of other urban cities, the MQM may have inadvertently contributed to a growing fear in rural Sindh that in the eyes of the Federal Government they are being ignored because they do not matter, a ready-made playing field for secessionists of the ilk of Jeay Sindh, Mumtaz Bhutto, etc.

What Karachi and Sindh need is a period of Governor’s Rule, not less than 2 years. Since the Census is now being carried out, Local Bodies elections must be held on that basic data within 3-6 months. Metropolitan Governments need to be set up in Karachi and Hyderabad. In the meantime the LEAs i.e. Rangers and Police, must carry out a detailed search for arms, sparing no one. The Army cannot wash its hands off the affair, it was the faulty and biased decision making of the intelligence outfits in the early 90s that is responsible for the focussed militancy, some of those people are still in the senior military hierarchy. In order to sanitize the movement of arms, the Army can help by setting up roadblocks in and out of Karachi and Hyderabad as a form of “Operation Close Door”, very much like was successfully done to stop smuggling of jute and rice from the then East Pakistan in 1958. This would ensure that the Army’s role is confined to a specific one and the LEAs are free to enforce the laws within the jurisdiction of the two major urban cities.

Karachi and Sindh both need complete revamping of all their institutions whether administrative, law-enforcing, economic or social. The so-called democracy that is being applied to the problem has become the problem itself, the only solution lies in instituting reforms, since this takes time Governor’s Rule gives us that time.

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