Official huffing-and-puffing when it comes to the Karachi killings arent taken seriously by anyone. After all, by now, the public knows the sequence of events by heart: target killings, all parties complain, MQM threatens to quit, Rehman Malik is called in for some firefighting, the fire doesnt stop and burns itself out. Till next time. So whats different this time? The O-word. The prospect of that-which-shall-not-be-named has not only riled up the citys major political force (government functionaries would have pored over thesauruses, trying to find a synonym) but also given the public reason to believe that messy or not, the state of affairs is going to change. Since the departure of more-of-the-same does not necessarily mean things will improve, the city is on edge.
In fact, in order to bring the MQM over, a joint meeting was held with the latters top local leadership and the PPP. The terms that have evolved are limited crackdowns and surgical strikes. The ANP might have been conspicuous by its absence but its Sindh chief was seen later in a joint press conference with the provincial home minister, giving his consent. The only question that he raised happened to be the only one that is going to be the deal-breaker in the current operation: whether it was going to be across the board or not. In that, lies all the mess. First, if the operation were actually to be carried out in areas that affect all three parties, it is bound to be labeled as unjust by at least one of the parties. Second, all three parties patronize elements of the underworld. But what matters is the extent of control a particular party has on its party. It varies vastly between the three. A party might not particularly object to, if not necessarily cheer, a crackdown on its section of the underworld while another might scream murder because that section of the underworld is the party.
A can of worms. And the prospect of disaster as well. The state must avoid a sloppy application of force on the one hand and a less than adequate response to the menace on the other.