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Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Karachi Crisis

The Karachi Crisis

By amicus • Sep 29th, 2011 • Category: Politics • No Responses
As a result of the on-going discourse and proceedings in the Supreme Court on the Karachi crisis, there has emerged a general consensus that the various mafias involved in extortion (bhatta-taking), kidnapping for ransom, drug peddling, arms proliferation, land grabbing and target-killings are either part and parcel of different political, ethnic and sectarian parties or enjoy their patronage, protection and blessings.
It has also been further confirmed that the three principal stake-holders – the PPP, the MQM and the ANP – are largely responsible for the ineffective role of law enforcement agencies in stemming the tide of crimes in the metropolis. They are reluctant to look beyond narrow party interests and their leaders have insatiable lust for material gains.
DG Rangers has informed the Supreme Court that the armed groups belonging to different political and religious parties hide their illicit weapons in their respective party offices where law-enforcement personnel are denied access. According to him, the situation in Karachi is worse than Waziristan. The DG Rangers is not exaggerating.
Extremely alarming is the recent phenomenon of abduction of innocent people on the ground of their ethnic or linguistic identity and their execution through beheading or torturing to death in the most heinous manner. The uploading of gory scenes shot in torture cells on You-tube has terrorized the people in Karachi. The involvement of foreign powers with local political forces cannot be ruled out.
The questions are: Where is the city of Karachi heading to? Is there any solution?
It would be of great worth if the Supreme Court is able to dig out the root causes of the lawlessness in Karachi and set some general guidelines to overcome the crisis. However, judicial process has its limitations and judiciary cannot act politically.
It is time the principal stake-holders and political forces, in particular the PPP, the MQM and the ANP, resolved their differences in the light of ground realities and took necessary steps to restore law and order in Karachi.
A sensible and patriotic course for the civilian government and political forces would be to forge understanding broadly on the following lines:
•    Recognition of demographic changes that have taken place in Karachi since 9/11 and power-sharing on its basis.
•    Fresh delimitation of National and Provincial Assembly constituencies to make them reflective of Karachi’s current demography.
•    Restoration of the City District Government of Karachi (with commensurate changes in Hyderabad) and holding of local bodies elections.
•    Making the Election Commission of Pakistan completely independent, preparation of fool proof voters’ lists and taking of appropriate steps to ensure that the general and local bodies’ elections are held freely, fairly and transparently.
•    Cleansing of political parties of criminal elements, disbanding of their armed groups/wings and renunciation of violence as an instrument of policy by all political parties.
•    Stern across the board and indiscriminate action by law enforcement agencies – police and rangers – against criminal groups and mafias, including those affiliated with the political parties, particularly the PPP, the MQM and the ANP.
•    If required, imposition of Governor’s rule or calling of the armed forces to civilian help under Article 245 of the Constitution.
•    Strengthening of prosecution process and improvement in collection of evidence, especially forensic evidence.
•    Offering adequate protection to judicial officials and witnesses.
•    Holding of trials of terrorists without any political interference.
•    Necessary and practical steps to check flow of arms and seizure of unlicensed arms. Cancellation of arms licenses given on political consideration.
•    Across the board accountability in all government departments to check corruption and mismanagement. Improvement in the quality of governance.
Karachi has turned into a jungle and as a part of long-term solution its civic infrastructure would have to be restored, rebuilt and upgraded.
A people psychologically shattered due to electricity outages, disruption in water and gas supply, poor and inadequate transport, health and education systems, housing problems, under-nourishment etc. become prone to committing violence at the slightest instigation and fall an easy prey to anti-social and anti-state propaganda.
If the civilian authorities and political forces fail to forge understanding on taking effective measures, ultimately the Pakistan Armed Forces may have to act to rescue the situation in Karachi on its own.
In other words, the army would have to take-over the whole country.
But the army intervention is likely to have far-reaching positive and negative consequences for the country.
On the positive side, there would be marked improvement in law and order situation in Karachi and elsewhere, due to military action, at least in the short run. The reason: the criminal elements would find themselves without protection of civilian authorities and political parties.
The armed forces would involve technocrats in the administration of the country. This would improve the quality of governance, including decision-making, planning and execution of projects.
The civic agencies would provide relatively better service to the people and respond to their complaints to the possible extent.
There would be reduction in corruption and wastage of resources.
On the negative side, the first casualty would be the country’s Constitution. The nascent democratic process would be wound up and representative institutions, including the National and Provincial Assemblies, would stand dissolved.
The military administration would have to take on board self-serving politicians to serve as a bridge to the people and, as in the past, a King’s Party would have to be formed.
The army that is deeply involved in Baluchistan and FATA would be further over-stretched at the cost of the defence of Pakistan’s western and eastern frontiers.
The centrifugal forces would get strengthened and find an opportunity to intensify its propaganda against the Pakistan Armed Forces. This would become easier for the centrifugal forces, if some mishap happens or extra-judicial killings take place during the military operation.
The professionalism of the armed forces would be compromised and ultimately there would be search for an exit strategy.
At the end of the day the armed forces would decide to hold general elections and transfer power to the same corrupt politicians, whom they are going to remove, to complete another vicious cycle in Pakistan’s chequered political history.
As such, the army intervention would only be justified if the military establishment is prepared to transform the structure of the society by introducing drastic land and taxation reforms and heavily investing in physical infrastructure and social sectors. In other words, the intervention would be beneficial only if the military establishment is prepared to become the torch-bearer of revolutionary change in Pakistan. It should not leave the country in a worse position.
The two stark options have been mentioned above. If neither the civilian government nor the Pakistan Armed Forces address the Karachi situation with sincerity of purpose, the consequences would be disastrous.
Already a considerable part of Karachi has got divided into areas belonging to different ethnic groups. Some localities belonging to Pashtuns or Sindhis and Balochis have become no go areas for Mohajirs. Similarly some Mohajir dominated localities are considered as dangerous by other ethnic groups. In sensitive areas, people belonging to minority communities are feeling unsafe. They are selling their properties at throw-out prices and moving away. There have been reports of ethnic cleansing taking place. The process may be slow but it is there to be observed.
Karachi is on the precipice. Further aggravation in law and order may cause irreparable loss. In the worst case scenario the city may plunge into civil war leading to massive dislocation and indiscriminate killings in hundreds or even thousands.
Demography of Karachi is such that combined population of Pakhtuns, Punjabis, Sindhis and Balochis is almost equal to that of Mohajirs. The symmetry of power may increase the ferocity of the conflict if it becomes free for all.
There are apparently elements within different political parties who do not seem to be sincere with the country. They are likely to work for disintegration of Pakistan. Killings on massive scale would allow them to solicit support of foreign powers, including India and NATO.
Karachi is strategically located. In the context of ‘war on terror’, it has assumed great importance for the United States. The bulk of supplies to NATO/ISAF stationed in Afghanistan first arrive at the port of Karachi. Karachi is the southern gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia, hence very self-serving point of view too, the United States cannot afford Karachi’s destabilization.
As the first option, the United States and Britain are using their clout to resolve the differences between the PPP and the MQM and want the MQM to re-join the federal and provincial governments. If they fail in their task, they may not remain averse to the Pakistan army taking-over the country to ensure that stability is restored in Karachi. However, if Karachi plunges into civil war and situation becomes extremely critical, they may as a last resort ask NATO to intervene in Karachi to protect their vital interests.
Some political analysts have speculated that the United States is interested in acquiring a corridor from Gwadar to Chaman or some other appropriate point in Baluchistan to have access through land route to Afghanistan and beyond for construction of gas and oil pipelines from Central Asia.
In this manner, the United States would also be able to block China from acquiring access to the Gwadar Port which is situated near the mouth of the Gulf in the Arabian Sea and may acquire presence all along the Pakistan-Iran Border, which would entail horrendous consequences for the region.
Even if this, apparently, far-fetched idea gets materialized, the importance of the port city of Karachi would not diminish in foreseeable future and the United States would go to any extent to restore peace and stability in Karachi. It would love to ensure that there is a proper power-sharing and cooperation between stake-holders / political forces through whatever options available, including military intervention by NATO.
It is about time we the people of Pakistan rise to the occasion and bring peace to Karachi by persuasion, prodding and if necessitated, even by force.

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