For the past few years, the good people of Karachi have been hunted down by the dozens and that too on a regular basis. The lines are mostly drawn on the basis of ethnicity; till July during this year the break up of the victims of these killings show that, 48% of them were Pashtuns, while 33% were Urdu-speakers. A joint investigative report of Sindh Police, Special Branch, IB, ISI, Rangers and the Interior Ministry, that came out in May this year, blames political parties for this situation but names only the MQM, a blame that MQM has denied categorically. But while the blame game goes on, what is more worrisome is the overall cost of this unrest.
The economic costs are obvious; the city of Karachi accounts for around 20% of Pakistans GDP. A recent study released by PricewaterhouseCoopers (2008) declared Karachi to be the biggest urban economy within Pakistan with an estimated GDP of $78 Billion for 2008, which was almost twice that of Lahore. Besides being the central hub of trade and finance, Karachi also accounts for a majority of our rural to urban migrations, bestowing it with a highly motivated labor force. Given these facts, it wont be wrong to infer that in terms of the costs to the National Economy, the paralysis of Karachi means much more than the paralysis of any other part of Pakistan.
There are political costs as well; a recent report by PEW Research shows that in Pakistan the approval ratings for the Taliban have gone up from 10% in 2009 to 15% this year. It is no secret that on the political front the threat of Talibanisation has been confronted solely by Pakistans liberal parties. The impact of this confrontation is reflected in their electoral strongholds where; Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh show a taliban approval of 7% and 5% respectively, compared to the 22% approval for the Taliban in Punjab. Continued infighting between the liberal half of Pakistans political spectrum is likely to have a direct bearing upon their efforts in countering the ideological onslaught of the Taliban.
Given the convergence in the political viewpoints of PPP, MQM and ANP, this conflict in Karachi can hardly be termed an ideological one. It is basically a turf war that is being perpetuated by a lack of policing and an excess of weaponry, all of which is being facilitated by political patronage. The immediate response should be to de-weaponise Karachi and apprehend the culprits behind the killings. As the Police seemingly does not have the capacity, the Army needs to be utilized.
But given the situation, the response of the Government is simply bewildering; apparently more can be done by using the existing civilian apparatus. If this is the case, then what exactly was the Sindh Government waiting for till now? The Shershah massacre is much smaller in scale compared to the killing sprees before it, if the Government is implying that it could do more after those incidents and didnt, then this negligence is criminal and demands resignations rather than smug appearances on press conferences. But if the Government has actually exhausted its civilian security resources, as indicated by the MQM as well as ANP and confirmed by Federal Minister Nabeel Gabol, then it is high time to call in the Army, because the cost of waiting is in terms of human lives.
Utilizing the Army is not only a valid option for our elected Government, it is also the most effective one. Amazingly, to many, such an intervention seems the same as a military takeover and provides a we told you so moment for many supporters of military dictatorship. But the subtle difference is that the Army in this case would not be called to run the day to day affairs of Karachi, it would be called upon for its soldiering ability, an ability in which we have invested more than our capacity, and an ability which the Government has every right to rely upon. This was done in Swat, and the same is now required in Karachi and for that matter urgently.
There are also objections to the proposal of de-weaponising Karachi. This resistance is coming from the MQM; the party that has repeatedly pointed out the gun culture of the Pashtuns as a source of friction, surprisingly also believes that the right to bear arms is essential for deterrence. In any case, the fact of the matter is that the death of police officials and that of political leaders accompanied by armed guards, shows that even carrying weapons doesnt necessarily make a difference. Furthermore, most of the victims usually belong to the lower income groups, and for people who barely survive on a daily wage, affording guns and bullets is a difficult if not impossible task.
According to Police sources, 90% of these killings were carried out using handguns, furthermore the illegal practice of stamping the same license number on multiple weapons is also said to be widespread in Karachi. Given these facts, it is obvious that the weapon most commonly used for deterrence is also the one causing most of the damage and that licensing is no guarantee of lawful use. Therefore, given the intensity of the situation, de-weaponisation of Karachi should be the immediate goal of any efforts undertaken to address this problem.
With this years deaths by target killings surpassing those by suicide bombings, and the post-Shershah round of violence already claiming 4 lives, the PPP Government needs to start worrying about numbers other than just those surrounding no confidence motions.
The writer is an Islamabad-based development economist. He can be contacted at [email protected]