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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.


The Battle for Karachi

Wherever people of different races, religions, sects and political persuasion, etc make up the population of a major metropolitan city, there is always a struggle for dominance, the pursuit of power and the sharing of the economic pie making for strange bedfellows. Given Karachi’s major port city status and commercial capital importance, the competition is more intense and focussed. To compound the problems, this a city bereft of the healing balm of democracy. Not a single town or city in Pakistan has a local government, for that matter the whole country is without local government since the PML(N) government fell two years ago. The ruling PPP got a drubbing in the last general polls in almost all the urban areas of the country and is now unsure of itself in the rural areas, consequently it does not seem to have any intention of letting the Opposition exercise their democratic right of rule at the local government level. This is in sharp contrast to the eloquent rhetoric about “democracy at the grassroots level” that Ms Benazir is so vociferous about, particularly when she is out of power. The logic being used to deny power to the Mohajir majority in Karachi is that if the majority got power they would deny the various minorities their legitimate socio-economic rights. This convoluted logic chooses to remain silent about the present situation in which power keeps going the rounds within a tight circle of vested interest who deny the majority their democratic due but say that this is on behalf of the minority communities, who in fact are as much deprived as the majority. Given that all this defies rational analysis, how do we as a city and as a nation climb out of this black hole?

On paper at least the struggle has presently turned from the killing streets to the negotiating table. The two main antagonists, the MQM(A) and the PPP, having consented to a ceasefire of sorts, this arrangement seems to have filtered down selectively to the warriors belonging to the law enforcement agencies or to the various militant groups, granted that RAW-inspired violence will continue to sabotage any peace moves. The body count has come down to 10-12 daily and even lower, climbing briefly for a day to 25 plus. That the talks are continuing despite the vitriolic statements from both sides is a hopeful sign that tacitly recognizes pressure to sort out the issues or risk being sorted out themselves. Having drained this city of its material and emotional resources, there is no sign among the militants on either side of any combat fatigue. The great silent majority of Karachi’s population meantime lives on in deep anxiety and apprehension, not free of the considerable doubt about the city’s continued existence as a viable entity. The bottom line is, can our children plan to live in this city in the future? For many Karachi is the end of the line, having burnt all our boats our backs are to the sea facing a nemesis born out of our leaders’ vulnerability to greed and ambition. Unfortunately for this country nobody has really answered the question, who is this enemy?.


Karachi’s Problems Running Out of Time

The prime (and well-publicised) priority of every elected government since 1988 has been to restore peace and normalcy in the troubled city of Karachi. While none can be accused of lack of rhetoric, both the major political parties have followed a policy of a deliberate and benign neglect in the conceiving and implementation of any plan attempting to achieve the stated aims and objectives. A suspicion arises that the powers-that-be have given up thought of governing Karachi under the present political and economic conditions, that they are waiting for a cataclysmic catarrhasis to cleanse Karachi of its aberrations. The assassination of well-reputed Editor of Takbeer Mohammad Salahuddin, has been followed by well-known social worker, Maulana Sattar Edhi, seeking refuge in London. This brings us back to memories of a possible Pucca-Kila type operation attempted in Hyderabad in 1990, a spark that might ignite a chain reaction type explosion. The problem is that this purgatory way well engulf the whole country, thus the game plan of a studied indifference while showing great concern is not only morally bankrupt but may well backfire to the detriment of (1) all such leaders who tend to support this philosophy in general and (2) to the people of Pakistan in particular.

The Army’s move to roll-back Karachi’s penchant for weapons proliferation evoked a predictable response. Gen Babar, the Interior Minister, is right when he talks about making Karachi a weapons-free city. First of all, let us acknowledge that there is no other alternative to searching for illegal weapons, very few people will hand these in voluntarily. Though inconvenienced, the general public has for the most part accepted the need for the search operations in the larger interests of their own safety and welfare as well as the integrity of the nation. On the other hand no liberal-minded minority has ever accepted any amount of restraint whatever may be the circumstances or the consequences thereof. There is an unholy alliance among all those who have a vested interest in keeping Karachi aflame, albeit for a variety of reasons alien to each other. For example, it is in the interest of criminals to foment anarchy in this crucial port city so that they can, under the garb of ethnic and sectarian violence, indulge in dacoity, car snatching and kidnapping, drug smuggling, etc. It is understandable (though not acceptable) that ethnic and sectarian leaders want to keep the pot boiling because that is the one sure way of keeping their followers within the flock, it is the perception of a lack of serious intent of the Federal and Provincial Government that is of major concern. Allowing a policy of controlled anarchy where the Government is morally duty bound to perform its prime role of protecting the lives and property of common citizen leads to the feeling of social, political and economic bankruptcy as long as it helps the incumbents to stay in power, it does not matter whether it be the PML (N) or PPP.


The MQM Boycott

The announcement by the MQM(A) that they will boycott the forthcoming elections has come as a great shock to the people of urban Sindh in particular and to the masses of Pakistan in general. The party is representative of Karachi and Hyderabad in the real sense and their absence from the electoral hustings would deprive these cities of a genuine voice in the National and Provincial Assemblies.

On the evening of September 28, it seemed that matters had been settled amicably at the highest level between the Army and the MQM hierarchy. Barely 48 hours later, the whole agreement was in shambles, what had gone wrong during this short interim period? From all accounts it seems that a small incident has been blown out of proportion subordinating the public interest to personal egos. Stating of the incident that seems to have triggered off the fresh squabble is not important, but it has brought back into focus all the suspicions in a rush and fostered misunderstanding between a primary national institution and a small but potent political force with a legitimate role to play on the national scene.


The Sindh Cauldron

The Federal Government ordered the Pakistan Army in May 1992, at the “request” of the Sindh Government, to restore the rule of law in the Province. Rather than giving them powers under Article 245 of the Constitution as demanded by the Army during the Beg era, Article 147 was mandated as being enough to accomplish the mission. The complexities of the situation demanded that the first phase was to physically eliminate the various marauding gangs in the urban and rural areas. Their potential to foster anarchy having been destroyed, the second phase was to eliminate those who were actually responsible for controlling, aiding and abetting crime. While the first phase was a success, the ground rules laid down by Article 147 (notwithstanding the amendments made later) and divergence from the substance of the original mission frustrated the efforts of the Army in eradicating the root cause of the trouble in the Province.

Formerly Commander 5 Corps before he became Chief of General Staff and then COAS, late Gen Asif Nawaz was best equipped to disseminate his inherent Sindh knowledge in the successful tactical execution of Operation Clean-up but why are we still at square one (except in interior Sindh) as far as the strategic results are concerned? Gen Beg had been far-sighted in refusing to “chase shadows” with powers less than comprehensive to deal with criminals through the whole strata of society. The compelling circumstances being absolute anarchy around the corner in a crucial Province, late Gen Asif Nawaz had hardly any choice but to bite the bullet. The Army hierarchy was extremely naive in assuming that having had their chestnuts pulled out of the fire, the Establishment politicians in the Provincial Government had any sincere intention of allowing justice to take its natural course and allowing their supporters in the Army’s famous list of 72 “Untouchables” to be picked up. In American parlance, the Army was used, the military hierarchy was had, taken for a ride.


Death of a Moderate

Azeem Tariq, Chairman MQM and lately leader of his own MQM faction, was brutally murdered in his own house by unknown assailants in the early hours of May Day in a Gang land-type assassination reminiscent of the worst days of Chicago mob warfare. Remaining underground after the army action to restore law and order in the urban areas of Sindh in June 1992, he had emerged from hiding a few months ago and gradually distanced himself from his former colleague and charismatic leader of the MQM, Altaf Hussain, now in self-imposed exile in London. In the past few days before his death, Azeem Tariq had been vocally critical of Altaf Hussain, laying out facts hitherto suspected but not otherwise widely evidenced, that the MQM had been essentially a creation of our intelligence agencies and that he, along with Altaf Hussain, had been regularly receiving money from them particularly during the MQM’s formative years. In countries where democratic institutions are seldom allowed to flourish, intelligence agency sponsored political parties are not a strange phenomenon.