Senior officials in the Interior Ministry believe that if the government does not move in decisively to take charge in Karachi, the mega city would further slip out of its control and some areas would not remain part of the country.
British newspaper, Financial Times, in a report on Monday said a senior Interior Ministry official, who asked not to be named, warned that the worst hit neighbourhoods were already out of the government’s control.
“If we don’t move in decisively to take charge, parts of Karachi will further slip out of control,” he says. “They won’t feel being part of our country any longer.”
The high-profile security operation has been triggered by frustration within the business community, which is anxious that investors could delay, or pull out of, long-term projects.
The violence, blamed on reasons from the political such as the rise of the Pakistan Taliban to criminality, is happening against a backdrop of economic woes in a city that has seen its population double over the past two decades.
“Islamic militancy is one factor,” says one Islamabad-based western diplomat who travels to Karachi. “But this is also a city where the economy has broken down badly, opportunities for poor people have shrunk and there is no rule of law. The way conditions have evolved in Karachi has been a recipe for disaster.”
Karachi’s main political parties have long used strong arm tactics to reinforce control. Opponents of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) led by Altaf Hussain, who lives in exile in London, say the party deploys armed gangs to fight members of rival groups seeking to make inroads in MQM-dominated areas. MQM politicians in turn blame their opponents for the trouble, accusing Pashto-speakers loyal to the Awami National Party (ANP) of fomenting unrest in Karachi.
Sindh Governor Ishratul Ibad offered to resign on Saturday in protest against the targeting of young MQM activists in the campaign.
The violence has been fuelled by the availability of thousands of young unemployed men ready to be recruited by political or criminal gangs, say observers.
A Karachi government official told the newspaper that ironically the presence of more big businesses in the city generates more revenue for the criminal gangs.
“The sheer size of Karachi generates much more for the gangs in protection money from wealthy businessmen who are happy to pay the criminals as long as their interests are protected,” he says. “The problem increasingly is that there are so many gangs in Karachi that paying off one does not guarantee against pressure from another.”
Few doubt the need to control the violence to boost sagging international confidence in Pakistan’s economy and society.
As recently as the 1990s western businessmen routinely travelled to Karachi and airlines ferried business visitors and tourists to the city, but now western business representatives usually meet their Pakistani counterparts in the safer surroundings of Dubai.
More than 1,700 were killed violently in Karachi during the first half of 2013, from more than 1,200 in the same period last year, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the main independent watchdog.
Even if the crackdown reduces crime and political violence, it will take a long time to restore confidence in Pakistan’s biggest city, according to both Pakistani and foreign observers.
Nasir Ali Shah Bukhari, chairman of the Karachi-based Khadim Ali Shah Bukhari business group with interests in banking and the stock market, says a clean-up operation is essential to improve law and order, and economic prospects. “Businessmen need assurances of conditions improving in Karachi before investor confidence will be restored,” he says.