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Making the Federation Effective

The finest experiment in nationhood in its time came apart 24 years later in 1971, West Pakistan barely surviving as a truncated Pakistan. A myriad number of reasons turned this great adventure into a disaster, the major one was that the people of East Pakistan felt ignored and disparaged. During 1965 this isolation (“the defence of the East is in the West”), along with economic and political disparities and discrimination, perceived as well as real, became the bedrock for separatism. Economic reasons may have contributed heavily to bringing Pakistan down to its knees this time around, the overall political picture of inter-Provincial disharmony has assumed crisis proportions. When partners in any venture feel they are being shortchanged and their counterparts are insensitive to their needs, the process of dissolution of the union starts. In its own defence, the major partner then proceeds to blame the others for a lack of “patriotism”, “the last refuge of a scoundrel” (to quote Samuel Johnson).

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‘Teen Sukhi Roti’?

If anything, the year 1996 will be remembered in Pakistan for the maximum rise in prices of essentials during any one single period in the nation’s history. Never before have the people of this country been subjected to such economic pressure in their daily lives as in the past three years. A galloping inflation seems to be on the verge of running wild, in essence we are only five miles from economic midnight. That the government’s economic handlers have been a disaster is no more a moot point, what is of concern is that they will probably escape accountability for criminal mismanagement of the economy. If we can hold a person who does not know driving to be culpable of murder for causing an accident leading to death, why cannot we charge-sheet those in charge of the economy for bringing it to virtual demise? Punitive action must also be made mandatory for these technocrats who have been active collaborators in helping those in ultimate power in the government loot the nation till at will.

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For Whom the Bell Tolls!

A major part of the city of Karachi has been paralysed over the past three days due to disturbances that started with the police firing last Friday on unarmed demonstrators proceeding to the Sindh Chief Minister’s House to court arrest. Independent observers have confirmed that the police action was rather hasty however they deserve some credit for not going berserk under grave provocation that took place later. Waiting on cue and not to be outdone, MQM militants in strength came out of the woodworks after spending two years in the cold almost to the day and took on the civilian law enforcement agencies (LEAs). Since civil disturbances having political overtones are clearly outside the ambit of the mandate of Operation Clean-Up, the Army very wisely stayed out of the fray leaving peace enforcement to the police and the para-military Rangers.

Karachi has been a city waiting to explode for some time. What we are seeing is only the opening sequence of what seems to be a programmed escalation. Even in the best of times, the socio-economic problems of this urban metropolis are so acute that it needs crisis management. With vast areas of the city in the grip of civil strife, this could easily turn into disaster management. The present fracas is a natural culmination of political neglect whatever the government-controlled media may say and any attempt to paper over a temporary truce will fail unless compromises are made by either side. The MQM must clearly recognize that the PPP is the majority party in the Province of Sindh and while the MQM does represent the urban majority, in the overall context of democracy, it is in minority in the Sindh Province. The PPP has full right to form the Provincial Government and to rule, with or without the MQM, but for the PPP it is important to come to terms with the MQM majority in the urban areas. While it can govern in theory without the MQM, in actual practice it cannot rule the Province without the association and/or cooperation of the urban majority party. As we have seen in the past three days, militancy with all its evils is impatiently waiting to take over in the wings. As yet death may not be stalking the streets in abandon but with loss of civilian control in a state of confrontation and chaos, innocent victims may increase manifold in the resultant crossfire. At the moment, large areas are without electricity and water, food and essential items are in short supply, this is a situation tailor-made for criminals to take over from political militants and exploit the situation into a state of anarchy. As it is by setting up ambushes off the main roads in by-lanes and side roads, a classic trap of urban guerilla warfare had been set. This was avoided by the LEAs simply because they wisely did not venture to enforce their authority off the main streets.

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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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A season of devastation

The recent floods in Pakistan were reported to be the most devastating in the country’s history. It was preceded by a few weeks by unprecedented rains in Sindh, rendering the Province a disaster area even before the later calamity. The brunt of human and material cost for the season’s havoc and mayhem was thus borne both by the Punjab and Sindh, the only silver lining of sorts being that Sindh, to an extent, escaped the full brunt of the later floods and thus from double jeopardy. The overall collateral damage has been a grievous blow to the economy of the country, while the short-term residual effects will retard the progress of the economy.

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