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India’s Overkill

The thousands of years old “Kautiliya Arthasastra” is a complete code of Hindu statecraft, duplicity being a main plank of its regime for state conduct. Other than poison, use of women, false propaganda, etc, in Chapter 2 of Book 12 it says “secret agents should spread rumours among the citizens and country people and when spread far and wide, assassins should rob citizens at night and slay chiefs, saying” thus are dealt with those who do not obey the Regent”. They should leave blood-stained weapons, articles and binding ropes in the quarter of the Regent and secret agents should proclaim, “the Regent is slaying and robbing the subjects” – they should set fire to royal palaces and city gates, to stores of articles and grains and kill the officers there, saying piteously that it has been done by the Regent. Anything sound familiar here?

While blaming of the Dec 13 attack on the Indian Parliament on Pakistan was dubious at best, accusing Pakistan for the attack on the American Center in Kolkata was outrageous. By now we are familiar with the pattern, and it is not surprising that most of the accusations emanate from L K Advani, India’s Home Minister. His life’s ambition seems to be to have Pakistan declared “a terrorist state”. There are those among the Indian hierarchy who know that the accusations have no basis, it is also not surprising that they are almost apologetic in supporting their Home Minister. They should be paying attention to the allegations under oath made against him by his own daughter-in-law, a person who was his “Special Assistant” for years before getting married to his son. Among other disclosures, she has also accused him of meticulously planning the destruction of the Babri Masjid. With respect to the recent incident, how come some “Farhan” from Dubai rang him up directly claiming responsibility, and can’t this be traced back? Moreover how is it that the attack seems to coincide with whenever any high official from the US or Europe is visiting India. Since the US President’s Special Envoy on Counter-terrorism and the FBI Director General were in India at that time, it was most convenient to have the terrorist attack during this period. It served to underscore India as “a full partner of the US as a major target of terrorism”. Or is it so? Are the US officials naive or gullible to fall for these recurring coincidences? US officials close to “ground zero” in Kolkata (and away in the US), quietly disassociated themselves from the thrust of Indian accusations, saying the attack did not seem to be directed against the US and that there was no real evidence of any involvement of Pakistani-sponsored terrorist groups.

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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?.

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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.

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The Sindh Cauldron-II Untangling a no-win Situation

Given that Gen (Retd) Aslam Beg, formerly COAS and lately PML (J) recruit, has recently said that the Army and the MQM are not in a state of confrontation in Sindh, one may well ask, where is the beef? After two years of “chasing shadows” (a direct phrase from the ex-COAS circa 1990), the Army hierarchy remains seemingly convinced that the MQM leadership prefers its own narrow ambitions in preference to the greater national interest, this suspicion has been further heightened because of the Human Rights initiative taken internationally by MQM. Conversely, why should not the MQM get that feeling that the Army is out to do them in, given that all urban area operations seem to be focussed on them? In 1990, the then COAS Gen Beg declined to take army action to quell criminal elements in Sindh unless he had sanction under Article 245 of the Constitution, with its refusal Ms Benazir regime punched its own time clock to extinction. Two years after stepping into the Sindh cauldron, other than the fact that Gen Beg and PPP are now uncomfortable but nominal allies because of the Wattoo factor, the Army has achieved spectacular results in the interior but in the urban areas their success has been of mixed blessings for a myriad number of reasons. Cleansing the MQM of its militants, the Army’s continued presence has become a media disaster, not unsurprisingly given that most welcomes tend to wear off in due time. Forced into a role that was not in keeping with their prime mission, the Army has performed a thankless task with increasing apprehension that the situation has taken on the life of a hydra-headed monster, you deal with one urban problem, other problems crop up in its place.

Mohajirs comprise a sizeable segment of the population in Pakistan. Though the MQM is representative of the main population blocs in Karachi and Hyderabad, a greater majority lives in various numbers in all the towns and cities of Pakistan (even upto 20-22% of the populace in some cases) while a sizeable percentage is settled in the rural areas of the Seraiki belt, a geographical reality that cannot be denied. In the 1993 elections Mian Nawaz Sharif would have swept into power with an overwhelming majority except for several political missteps, the most crucial being vacillation in the getting of active support from the MQM. That would have certainly given him a sizeable swing vote in every urban constituency in Pakistan (not that critical since he was fairly well placed in urban areas) but more importantly in the Seraiki belt that went almost solid in default to the PPP and its PML (J) allies, in many cases by narrow margin. The lack of MQM’s NA seats because of the MQM boycott also meant that the decisive bloc of a potential ally was lost to the PML (N) in the National Assembly. Lesson learnt from this exercise is that the MQM represent a segment of the populace that cannot be denied its place in the sun to whoever wants to retain Federal power. Down the line another fact to emerge is that isolating a vocal minority cannot be ever possible in a major urban city.

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Back to Sindh’s Future

The PPP’s decisive majority in Sindh is rural-based except for the National Assembly where because of the MQM boycott it shared the MQM’s urban seats with the PML (N). Bouncing back strongly from their strategic blunder which took away their king-maker status at the national level, the MQM took the second largest majority of 27 PA seats, a true reflection of its vote bank among the Mohajir community in the major urban areas.

Compartmentalised into Provincial role, a culmination of the process that started less than two years ago with Operation Clean-up, a sense of deprivation and persecution is endemic among the Mohajir community. Though Operation Clean-up was primarily directed at restoring the rule of law in Sindh in both the urban and major rural areas, their overwhelming urban presence meant that the MQM became the only political party so targeted. In the period pre-Operation Clean-up some of MQM’s militant elements had far exceeded the parameters of civilized behaviour and were openly baiting the army. Having cogent reasons for not being enamoured with the MQM, the Army called their bluff but in their success they need to be magnanimous in the greater interest of national integrity. As seen in their tolerance of the present “democracy”, they can be patient if they have to be. The sins of a handful cannot be visited upon the millions of their innocent kith and kin, Mohajir public opinion is already estranged and getting more bitter by the day.

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D Minus 8 and Counting

Going into the final stretch, one is struck by the fact that while positive factors of the two major political groupings may be important for their success, the negative factors would be much more lethal for their failure. This is politics upside down instead of right side up but this is Pakistan 1993, that’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s going to be.

Ms Benazir remains a great crowd-puller and if the election gauges were to be calibrated on the volume of the crowds and the number of party flags, the PPP would be a sure thing at Ladbroke’s. However, the only thing that keeps betting shops like Ladbroke’s profitable is that people lose more often than winning. On the other hand, Nawaz Sharif’s performance has been extraordinary for a person whose previous record was largely believed to be propped up by Establishment support. Not only is he matching Ms Benazir crowd for crowd but he is the first non-Sindhi leader who has drawn a segment of support within Sindh during his repeated forays into the interior to deny PPP a complete sweep in the Province.

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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.

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Sindh Situation

To revive the Sindh economy, pragmatic and bold initiatives must commence with Karachi which is not only the prime city of Sindh but that of Pakistan, being its only port. Karachi remained economically buoyant during the 70s because of a construction boom fuelled primarily by expatriate funds from the Middle East. While the money for housing is still there, the lack of water and power have rendered housing starts to virtually nothing. Consequently, a large percentage of the traditional labour force is unemployed, the residual effects spiralling upwards and cutting into white collar jobs. The net result has been an economic downturn of enormous proportion that has degenerated into (1) ethnic strife as the population has increased but the economic cake has become smaller (2) deterioration of law and order as the jobless have turned to crime and (3) consequently residual political factors breeding a general state of anarchy. This has been further accentuated by the machinations of RAW, (the terror arm of India), drugs and arms proliferation, activities of armed militants of various political parties, dacoits from the interior seeking kidnap victims from richer urban areas rather than their traditional rural hunting grounds, etc. To complicate the economic scene, entire industries have shifted northwards to safer havens, deepening the unemployment crisis.

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