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The Thin Green Line

Gen Babar seems to have a born-again reputation in Karachi, many admire him openly, many more surreptitiously. He was derided and reviled when at a very bloody price he brought peace to Karachi and gave Ms Bhutto a tenuous respite to launch desperately needed economic initiatives. Unfortunately she only initiated cosmetic proposals, high on rhetoric, meagre in substance. The root cause of Karachi’s problems being economic, this fissure is being exploited for narrow selfish ends, mainly on ethnic basis. A major part of the populace being Mohajir face acute economic disparity, maybe in lesser quantum than in other parts of the country but in much more concentrated density. The Central District and other areas like Landhi, Korangi, Orangi etc, are at best ghettos. While other communities share similar backward localities deprived of basic socio-economic facilities throughout the country, the maximum square miles of misery are populated by Mohajirs — thus MQM fulfilled the need for raising a voice in protest, formerly Mohajir Qaumi Movement eventually became the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, change of name but no change of character. In a change of substance and direction inasfar as the leader, Altaf Hussain, seems to have made an individual transition from leader in Pakistan to gradually assuming the role of leader of all displaced Indian (and Pakistani Muslims of Mohajir origin) all over the world, particularly in UK, USA and the Middle East. Looking beyond the Pakistan identity is a most dangerous development — a subtle but deliberate cleavage created in the body politic of the Pakistani nation. Whereas the great silent majority of Mohajirs want to live in peace and harmony despite their misery, privation and travails, a vocal militant minority is hell-bent in holding both their own ethnic minority and the entire country hostage, Karachi being the economic jugular vein of Pakistan.

The MQM continues to command adulation and respect amongst the Mohajir supporters. There are reservations about their militancy. There are also deep schisms with splinter groups like the Haqeeqis and Goga’s crowd (BACK) becoming quite potent, not quite the size to counter the mainline MQM but neither insignificant enough to be shrugged off as of only nuisance value. Of deep concern is the fact that a large number of MQM cadres were trained in India as terrorists, it is now an open question which master’s voice they now listen to. There is open-ended danger to the Federation in allowing them to run scot-free, a fact well-known to the PML(N) leadership. Yet the PML(N) persistently attempts appeasement to keep the political alliance intact, to keep the Sindh Government nominally a PML(N) one. For the sake of the party politics, the fate of the country has been thrown as a dice into the ring.


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?.


Proportional Representation

As a measure of ushering in democracy in its original concept we have already discussed why it is necessary to (1) have a run-off election between the two candidates having the maximum votes in case any one candidate fails to get 50% of the votes cast (2) must return to the joint electorate system in preference to the present system of separate electorates and (3) have direct voting for every electable seat to avoid manipulation by a corrupt of few over the many. However, the major argument against all the three aforementioned measures is the fact that it will deprive smaller communities, religious groups, minorities like Christians, Hindus etc, from representation in the legislative assemblies. This “outcast” status will cause frustration among a fairly large segment of the population who will despair of ever having a voice in the mainstream of the country’s politics and may become extremist in their outlook, even looking to separate themselves (secede) from their present society. The world is witness to terrorism which has its roots in denial of (or the seeming denial of) fundamental rights to individuals and/or groups, which then resort to violent means to restore (and assert) what they feel is their God-given rights. As such while we must strive to remove the anomalies in our present version of democracy, we must also be careful in bringing in such measures that give every segment of our society their just due by giving them a voice roughly commensurate to their percentage of population in our legislative assemblies. A mechanism that is fair to all must be formed to overcome the present shortcomings in our democratic system.


The Sindh Cauldron-III Last Ditch Remedial Measures

Rather than re-hashing the mistakes made in the past that has made the uniformed Army vulnerable to any number of contrived accusations, it is time to come to grips with the present situation so that the city of Karachi (in particular) and the Province of Sindh (in general) has something of a future. Leaders of all ilk must provide outstanding leadership, rise above themselves for the greater good of the nation, providing a platform of reconciliation that will not waste time in baseless and/or negative vilification but engage in positive initiatives to draw together our deeply polarized society. Above all, we must recognize that the Pakistan Army remains the best guarantor of our freedom from Indian occupation and slavery. Increasingly it is becoming the target of Indian RAW-inspired controversy to besmirch its reputation and shake the faith that bends this country together while making the Army gun-shy of internal security flashpoints in future, thereby compromising its much-needed deterrent status in this respect. People seem to forget that the Army was requested to launch Operation Clean Up to prevent civil strife, are we confident that if the Army moves back to the barracks today civil war conditions will not re-emerge?

The Army and the MQM are now in a state of confrontation and because of that the entire Mohajir community has become bitter and aggrieved, let us first accept this fact. The second fact is that the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is the majority party in the Province of Sindh even though its solid base is in the rural areas as much as the second largest political force is the MQM with its authority largely in the urban areas with swing votes in crucial urban-rural constituencies. The third fact is that the PML (N) under Mian Nawaz Sharif has emerged (like the PPP) with a large vote bank in both the Sindh urban and rural areas though the PML (N) choice of most candidates in Sindh in the last general elections was atrocious. The fourth fact is that since 1977, but more particularly since 1985, the Province has been gradually polarized because intermittently unelectable so-called “people’s representatives” (potential PML (N) defectors) had robbed the Sindh roost over which they ruled and are now scurrying for cover from criminal prosecution, as is their usual practice, to the party that wields power. The fifth fact is that no serious concerted socio-economic initiative has been undertaken in either the urban or rural areas to ameliorate the distress of the common man and this has contributed to creeping anarchy settling into society for which the civil forces of law and order are not equipped morally or materially to deal with. The last and most important fact is that a combination of bad faith and bad judgement has created a situation tailor-made for the enemy to exploit, this is now being undertaken with such ruthless vengeance by RAW that if the volcano that is brewing in Sindh explodes, 1971 in comparison will be a Sunday church picnic.


Free Enterprise System

It is clear from the manifesto of the Pakistan Muslim League that free enterprise has pride of place in future economic planning. The PPP will also almost certainly give support to such a philosophy in its own manifesto (to be announced on Sept 1) though it may be modified somewhat in light of its more socialist penchant for a mixed economy. The thrust of both the major political groupings will be towards a liberalised economy, to continue the move away from the shackles of a public sector dominated version. If past experience is any measure the PML will proceed pell mell with their liberalising drive, the PPP would opt for the same substance but in a more gradualised form. Given that a vast majority of the populace now subscribes to the concept of free economy as is the fashion in the changing Third World, should we completely abandon the checks and balances that protect those of our citizens who are of underdeveloped and backward areas or should our initiatives be more gradual? While maximum weightage has to be given to a liberal economy, given the level of our literacy and the state of our backwardness of the rural areas and inner cities, some element of public sector involvement is necessary.

Merit is at the heart of a free economy system. The meaning of freedom in enterprise is self-explanatory with regard to merit, quality must prevail. The race for ultimate rewards in the field of commerce and industry ensures that there is upward mobility with respect to quality, the better mousetraps will attract the maximum customers. This is the essence of free enterprise, uninhibited competition with success going to whoever can prevail upon his/her competitors on the basis of merit and competitive pricing, whether it be a consumer product, commodity, machinery or even an individual. Centralized economies and public sector control takes the essence of competition out of the system, this cuts into quality. If the State has to produce toothpaste as a monopoly, why should they bother if it should taste like chalk to its citizenry. Without incentive, they have no ambition. In a free enterprise system, toothpaste manufacturers would go bankrupt if the citizens should turn away from their product/s and as such they have to be sensitive to the choice of the masses. Competition is necessary to ensure quality, without competition economies are destined to a socialistic doom. The collapse of COMECON is a living witness to the ineptitude of a system where reward was based on the selective interpretation of loyalty and personal preferences rather than giving preponderance to the qualifications of talent and merit. An interesting analogy in human relationship would be about a family that believes in inter-marriage i.e cousins marry among each other, the end result is degeneration, even the genes need to compete to produce a better product, in this case a human being. How many times have we come across villages full of the retarded because of inter-marriages generation after generation?


The Intent of Fairplay

The Caretaker Government is committed to holding free and fair elections in Pakistan, to that end there has been a very deliberate choice of neutral personalities in forming the Administration at the Federal and Provincial level. Strict neutrality is a commitment of the Caretaker PM. Less than one month into the Caretaker period and less than two months before the October elections, the carefully nurtured perception of impartiality has taken a very hard knock in Sindh.

Independence Day 1993 was initially touted as the day of launching campaigns by the major political parties, knowledgeable speculation was that the two chosen symbolic points of departure would be the Quaid’s Mazar and the Pakistan Memorial by the PML (N) and PPP respectively. While the PML (N) applied for permission from the local Karachi administration on 5 August, requesting for a procession culminating in a public rally at the Quaid’s Mazar, the PPP immediately made a similar request. Faced with the possibility of clashes, the Civil Administration imposed Sec 144 and refused permission for both the rallies. In an advanced stage of preparation in contrast to the fairly low level of interest shown by the PPP, the PML (N) felt aggrieved that they had been badly treated. Notwithstanding the lack of permission, Nawaz Sharif did come to Karachi, did lead a long slow moving procession from the Airport to the Quaid’s Mazar and did address a 20,000 plus crowd at 3 O’clock in the morning of August 15, 1993, without any interference from the Civil administration, a benign indifference after the flat refusal that showed good sense in hindsight and stopped further erosion of the Caretaker’s moral authority about neutrality.


The Campaign Commences

Over the past few months the Quaid’s Mazar has been the subject of more attention than usual what with governments falling and forming. The Mazar makes for a good photo-opportunity, transient dignitaries find it necessary to do homage on Prime Time TV. To launch their election campaign, PML Nawaz Sharif Group chose the Mazar as their point of departure to coincide with Independence Day celebrations. While it was widely believed that PPP would launch their campaign from the Pakistan Memorial at Lahore, as soon as they heard about the PML (N) decision, they also decided that the Mazar would be their choice also. Frankly, it is unfair that they are being equated even for consideration but one supposes the Administration can read the PPP writing on Sindh’s walls.

While it is too early to really see anything emerging from the political kaleidoscope before the full list of candidates comes before us and electoral alliances/adjustments are complete, the PPP has got off to a fast start as they have been working towards a mid-term election for some time and have the necessary grassroots organisation. With their own shakedown now complete after taking stock of the breakaway factions, the PML(N) is putting together an extremely comprehensive and potent campaign mechanism. Spearheading the effort is the indefatigable Senator Sartaj Aziz as Acting Secretary General and Mushahid Hussain as Information Secretary. With these capable and hand-picked Nawaz loyalists as the nucleus, the PML campaign is now taking form and shape. One is struck by the sophistication of the effort being organised, in contrast to the disinformation and negative exercise that was conducted the last two times around, the present set-up gives an assured and mature complexion to the hurly-burly of the projected campaign ahead. Nawaz Sharif has shown an unerring instinct for choosing the right persons for critical posts (barring one or two glaring exceptions) and the Sartaj Aziz/Mushahid combine is in stark contrast to the better organised but frenetic appearance of the Bhutto campaign.


Clear and Present Danger

To deal with the situation in Karachi, the PML(N) threw out its own Chief Minister to impose Governor’s Rule. With disorder rapidly descending into anarchy, the Army was brought in “aid of civil power” under Article 245 of the Constitution, Military Trial Courts (MTCs) being set up to deal with cases that qualified as falling under the head of “terrorism”. Military Appellate Courts were set up as a last resort of appeal, two persons whose appeals had been rejected have been hanged. In the meantime the Supreme Court, having been approached to define the legality of a “parallel” judicial system in the country, has suspended the further carrying out of the extreme punishment of death imposed by the MTCs till the case is pending in court is decided one way or the other. With the MTCs “teeth” clamped for the moment, their deterrent effect has been put in suspended animation.