After letting Karachi bleed for the past many months, the government finally launched a surgical operation in the nine violence-hit zones with the Rangers getting a free hand to take action against those involved in extortions, kidnappings, killings and other criminal activities. The operation came on the heels of the bloodiest week which saw more than 100 people killed in different parts of the city.
President Zardari, who was given a detailed briefing by Sindh Home Minister Manzoor Wasan on the issue, directed the provincial government to bring criminals to justice regardless of their political affiliations. PPP’s detractors can disagree with its other policies but it was right in that the deployment of army in Karachi at this stage would weaken the democratic dispensation in the country.
It would be wrong to suggest that the federal government was reluctant to call in the army because of its lack of confidence. If past experience is any guide, military operations have never helped restore peace anywhere in the country. Balochistan is a case in point where prolonged army action during the Musharraf era further deepened the sense of insecurity among the local population which continues to be haunted by the worst kind of repression to which they were subjected.
And Karachi is no stranger to such experiences. The military operation launched there during Mian Nawaz Sharif’s second term as PM could not deliver the desired results as the ethnic group brought into existence and patronised by Zia emerged much stronger after the army had returned to the barracks. The action ostensibly aimed at nabbing the criminals and disarming them failed because they had been given enough time to find safe places for them to hide.
Later, during the second Benazir government the famous crackdown by Naseerullah Baber neutralised the MQM and the armed gangs associated with it but it did not last long. The party continued to maintain a low profile for some time until it was revived by General Musharraf who did everything he could possibly do to strengthen it in a bid to create for him a safe constituency in Karachi. This helped the MQM consolidate its position and rule the Urban Sindh the way it wanted.
After the last general elections when it joined the ruling coalition at the federal and provincial level, it reverted to its old tactics of dictating its terms and exacting concessions by subjecting its senior partners to blackmail. But the MQM has failed to recognise the changed realities which saw the PPP and the ANP reorganise their cadres to effectively deal with the threats posed by a particular ethnic group to other communities. The MQM was thus left with no choice but to raise a hue and cry over the demographic changes threatening the party’s dominance in the megapolis.
Altaf bhai’s recent demand for Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s resignation because of his inability to get his orders implemented for the restoration of peace in Karachi seems to be part of the MQM’s move to keep the PPP leadership under pressure. But he can’t simply lay the blame on the PM and issue a call for ‘peaceful’ protests across the country merely because the government had refused to release the three MQM workers who were arrested for their alleged involvement in the killing of five police commandos in Korangi’s Chakra Goth area last Saturday.
The MQM is well within its right to object to the intemperate language used by Dr Zulfikar Mirza against its leadership but it would be unfair on its part to expect the President and the PM to disregard the intelligence reports presented to them by the Sindh’s Senior Minister which contained “evidence” of the MQM’s alleged involvement in the recent spate of target killings in the city. Mirza is no Nabeel Gabol to revolt against his own leadership over personal issues; he keeps convincing it to take a firm action against the so-called allies who are bent upon marginalising role of the PPP in its erstwhile stronghold besides playing havoc with Karachi’s peace.
No doubt the federal government has so far remained insensitive to the deteriorating law and order situation of Karachi and has risen from a deep slumber only after witnessing the country’s commercial hub descend into anarchy. The PPP leadership will have to keep in mind that it cannot continue to pursue the so-called policy of political reconciliation at the expense of the innocent citizens who are being killed with impunity by the armed-to-the-teeth gangs associated with an ethnic group. It needs to draw a line between appeasing the MQM and improving governance.
Those in authority must take the surgical operation launched against criminals to its logical end rather than indulging in political expediency if they are serious about restoring peace to the restive city.
The writer is Executive Editor, Pakistan Today