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When Tigers Become Maneaters

Karachi became a battleground on Saturday May 12, 2007, for a few frightening hours the citizens got a bloody taste of Baghdad and Beirut becomes when perpetrators of senseless violence take over the streets of the city.  Everyone is casting blame on each other, and they are not wrong, all of us are culpable in our own ways.  The tragedy that ensued is a severe indictment of the government for abdicating its responsibilities in not deploying the forces of law and order, the political parties used the occasion callously to further their own political objectives even when anarchy was looming in their faces and finally the lawyers persisted with the CJ’s Karachi procession despite ominous signs that it would cost lives, and that too mostly of innocents. There was a moral obligation for all to heed independent warnings of imminent violence. The government lost considerable moral authority in not enforcing their writ for hours, the hands-off policy seemed deliberately designed to aggravate the situation for a single purpose, prevent the CJ’s cavalcade from riding into town.

As one of those who strongly believe that it is the democratic right of MQM to exercise their right of democratic rule in Karachi, and being extremely impressed by the tremendous socio-economic uplift of the city’s infra-structure, MQM’s handling of their responsibilities to Karachi’s citizens on May 12, 2007 has been disappointing, a setback of sorts. A prosperous future for any city is directly proportional to sustained peace, why should the MQM, whose interest lies in maintaining peace, let loose forces that would violently disturb tranquility? It is like shooting yourself in the foot! MQM is very much the senior partner of the Coalition in Sindh, because Karachi will always remain Pakistan’s economic lifetime, its urban strength force-multiplies their political potential.  The  peaceful congregation at the Tibet Center on MA Jinnah Road barely a mile or so from the fringes of hell, showed MQM’s impressive political strength. Regretfully it’s junior cohorts ran wild at many other places, some albeit on provocation and the lack of mature street leadership.  All this stained MQM’s image in contrast to its increasingly sophisticated political performance since coming to power in late 2002.

As if the CJ was leading an invading army into the city the route from the Airport into the city was blocked at many places, Rommel’s beach obstacles in Normandy in June 1944 would have paled in comparison. Trouble was only one violent incident away. Falak Naz Apartments is situated of the T-Junction where the road from Quaid-e-Azam International Airport joins Shahrah-e-Faisal. From that point to the overhead bridge connecting Rashid Minhas Road is about 4 kms or so plus. MQM activists from Shah Faisal Colony started to close down shops from Friday afternoon, a security guard at a shop in the area was shot dead at point blank range on resisting. Just before midday on 12 May armed PPI activists bent on revenge came from Sohrab Goth, one column along Rashed Minhas Road and the other through Gulistan-e-Jauhar and the ASF Camp, and fired on the MQM activists in this area, a regular gun battle ensued. PPI and Pakhtoon Action Committee (PAC) militants inflicted quite a few   casualties before the deployed Rangers and police joined the MQM’s gunmen, the PPI militants than had to pull back. Among the dozen or so innocent dead were 4 residents of Falak Naz Appartments caught in the crossfire. The firing was not one-sided, MQM’s activists were on the one hand and PPP, and JI and PPI militants on the other, the worst being near Guru Mandir where a major media office is located. Some politicians were caught in the crossfire on the way to the Airport, they are lucky to be alive. The most macabre part of this tragedy is that the gunfight took place between  nominal  allies. Once you put guns into untrained hands and they kill defenceless innocents, murder comes easy. When tigers taste human blood, they become maneaters.  The much delayed “shoot on sight” order recognizes that maneaters do not differentiate between friend and foe.

While this tragedy was unfolding, the CJ and accompanying lawyers stranded at a lounge at the Karachi Airport stubbornly refused the administration’s offer to heli-lift the CJ to the vicinity of the Sindh High Court. What was more important to the lawyers, the CJ’s speech at the Sindh High Court or the “triumphant” procession into town? Finally on being served orders for deportation, lawyers left by PK 308 at 7pm for Islamabad. The CJ vacillated till the aircraft became airborne, it had to return to Karachi to pick him up. With the city in flames in a number of places, the majority of the city’s 15 or so million citizens went into a state of increasing panic. Thousands of airline passengers, many among them old men, women and children, had to walk miles with their baggage through gunfire to reach safety. Many missed their flights, most reached the airports to find flights cancelled. Sick people could not reach hospitals, urgent surgeries had to be postponed. Babies went without milk, entire areas’ without fresh food, some were without water. A majority of day labourers and street vendors had no daily wages for 2-3 days, their dependant families went hungry. Karachi’s plight got the attention of world media, international media showed militants roaming around brandishing and firing weapons, vehicles being torched, media offices being caught in crossfire, panic calls from abroad jam-packed communications. Wild rumours fueled more panic all over the city.   The stance of the forces of law and order that they were not activated to restore peace is bankrupt.  When a mob goes berserk, the officer commanding the police/para-military and/or military detachment gets a “shoot to kill” written orders  from  a  magistrate.  When  the  mob  has weapons and is using them, one does not wait around for legal niceties from magistrates, one takes unilateral action. Anarchy must be ruthlessly put down, without fear or favour. The hierarchy down the line need to be taken to task for “criminal neglect”.

The MQM should have avoided being politically provoked, this played into the hands of the Opposition. While the anti-government political parties will shed crocodile tears, they have also raised the ethnic card, a matter of not only shame but one of national apprehension of initiating a fresh blood cycle. One must vehemently protest this.  The Opposition may be aggrieved at what they took as excesses by the MQM, those shooting back were not angels. There is moral bankruptcy in trying to trumpeting this as ethnically motivated.  For short-term advantage you cannot risk the stability of the country by raising ethnic and/or racial motivation. This is a deliberate escalation by our politicians bereft of other ideas. The CJ was meant to be used by the politicians and he has been. To a “great silent majority” he has shown a callous disregard for human life, shocking for those of us who admire him and are sympathetic to his cause. While the advantage have shifted to elements opposed to Musharraf for the time being, once you sow the wind, you will reap the whirlwind!

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