Karachi is Pakistan’s maximum city. It is what Mumbai is to India or New York to America or perhaps even more than these cities for Pakistan does not have too many vibrant metropolises. In the good old days, Karachi was bustling with a night life that was envy to any city in South Asia. Today surviving during day has become difficult. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) recorded 800 fatalities during the year, 300 of these in the month of July indicating that the situation is going from bad to worse. Ironically Pakistan Navy has moved its warships to Makran after the dangerous attack launched in Mehran base by the Al Qaeda.
What is even more dangerous is the policy paralysis in the establishment as nobody seems to know what is to be done because of the political stakes in Karachi. The ultimate solution evolved seems to be to authorize the President Asif Zardari to deal with the problem. Obviously the inference is that the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) wants to ensure that it emerges on top in the sweep stakes in Karachi beating arch rival Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM).
|Karachi and as a result Pakistan is likely to lose the primacy that it had in the economy of Pakistan as repeated rioting is resulting in closure of business establishments and factories.
Given that major markers of any conflict is 1000 fatalities per year, Karachi seems to be getting closer to the figure with five months still to go in 2011. The political order would have to make some reconciliatory measures followed by some stern law and order measures to resolve the crisis in the city. However it is seen that the ruling PPP is engaged in a possible split of the powerful MQM even though there are offers being made to it to rejoin the government at the Centre.
While some relief was expected for the people of Karachi, there appears to be no end to their travails which are continuing unabated given that there are concerns that the political agreement at the highest level between the PPP and the MQM has not been translated into action to contain the violence at the grass roots. More over the government is unable or unwilling to enforce the writ of the state in letter and spirit to restore peace in Karachi.
Thus the rift between the main MQM and a faction the MQM-Haqiqi is being exploited by the PPP by allowing the goons of the latter to take on the Altaf Hussain led main MQM. Till the PPP decides either way it is not likely to allow law enforcing agencies to function effectively and bring the situation under control. Obviously this is the decision that Mr Zardari will make. Sadly the people of Karachi are likely to bleed for a few days if not weeks more.
The authorization to the President of Pakistan to negotiate the situation in Karachi appears exceptional as the Coalition partners have taken the decision almost unanimously with a series of meetings chaired by the President and PM to discuss violence in Karachi. It is apparent that the President will be acting in his role as the Co-Chair of the PPP which has powerful stakes in the situation in Karachi one of its main sources of power and thus would like to go all out to resolve the same. How much leverage the President has in the scene on the ground remains to be seen given the internecine turf wars that have emerged in Karachi over political and economic territory. But since he has now involved himself there would be a need to ensure peace or else the credibility of Mr Zardari personally and the office of the President will be at stake.
Political control over the police is preventing them from effectively acting against the perpetrators of violence. The police have been given additional powers of prosecution as well as the para military such as the Rangers have been given policing powers. Depoliticising police is a key necessity but nothing is likely to be done in this regard. It is now hoped that the civil society which is coming out on the streets should be able to impress on the government to contain the violence and also bring pressure on the political parties to ensure that they reconcile the differences and enforce order on their cadres.
Karachi and as a result Pakistan is likely to lose the primacy that it had in the economy of Pakistan as repeated rioting is resulting in closure of business establishments and factories. Pakistan can ill afford the shutting down of these establishments as its economic growth is down to 2 percent plus. More over the aid flow from the United States is likely to come down, as the US attempts to tighten its budget given the debt crisis. Pakistan’s other long term partner China will also not be too willing to bail out Islamabad given that the Chinese are not known to invest in a failing enterprise.
All these factors will denote the urgency with which the Karachi crisis has to be addressed, Giving a free hand to the police within the parameters of law to tackle violence rather than restraining them on political considerations may be the first option, will President Zardari who has taken upon himself to meet the challenge be able to do so remains to be seen.