Not simply a matter of ethnicity
The revelations made in a report of the Joint Investigating Team (JIT) into the Baldia Town factory fire in which 289 people were killed, is yet another incriminating evidence of the involvement of MQM in backing and supporting the extortionists and its unrestrained propensity to sanction and approve such inhumane acts. Though the evidence in this particular case may not be conclusive in establishing the truth and might require a thorough probe into the whole episode by a high-powered team of intelligence outfits, the fact remained that what was happening in Karachi was undoubtedly attributable to the criminal indiscretions of the MQM. The Rangers also arrested a target killer on Saturday belonging to MQM who has also confessed his involvement in the May 12, 2007, massacre.
Before the emergence of MQM during Zia regime, Karachi was a model of peace, tranquility, ethnic and sectarian harmony and a thriving economic entity where people from all over the country earned their living in a fearless atmosphere. But unfortunately, MQM which was raised by the establishment to counter Sindhi nationalists exploited its ethnic credentials and soon turned into an IRA of Pakistan. Karachi became familiar with the culture of extortion, mutilated bodies in the gunny bags and gang warfare. MQM also emerged as a potent political force, the position which the party has used deftly to further its designs. The MQM almost remained unchallenged for a decade and as a reaction to the atrocities of its militants, other political parties also jumped into the fray to counter them and challenge their unassailable position in the trade of land grabbing and extortion.
The militancy and acts of terrorism by the militant wing of the MQM are not only known to the people of Pakistan but have also been corroborated by representatives of foreign countries based in Pakistan and international organisations. The Amnesty International, US State Department and others accused MQM and MQM Haqiqi of summary killings, torture and abuse of human rights in the mid-1990s. The Federal Court of Canada, in 2001, declared MQM as a terrorist entity and barred the party members to visit or stay in the country, considering it a serious security threat to Canada. It also accused MQM of harassing opponents and using crime as a means to raise money for the party. In 2009 the US Consul General in Karachi Stephen Fakan, in a cable sent to his government, pointed out that MQM had a militant wing named Good Friends having a strength of thirty five thousand, out of which ten thousand were active.
It is now a proven fact that MQM, PPP and ANP have their militant wings involved in a turf war in a bid to establish their ascendency over each other, through target killing of each other’s workers and operatives Added to this are the sectarian killings and the acts of terrorism by TTP. The situation in Karachi is indeed very convoluted. It has criminal as well as political dimensions. The patronage of the criminal gangs by the political parties amply explains why no decisive action could be initiated against them in the past. The PPP and MQM were coalition partners in Sindh and the Centre and the former could not act against the militants of the latter out of political expediencies though some sporadic and cosmetic measures were taken under pressure from the Supreme Court. Another very pertinent factor which prevented the swoop on criminals was that the militant wings of PPP and ANP which was a coalition partner in the Centre were also involved and PPP simply could not afford to annoy its coalition partners who were so crucial to the survival of the PPP regime in the Centre.
It goes to the credit of the PML-N government that it built a national consensus on launching a targeted operation in Karachi in September 2013 with the involvement of Rangers, giving them freehand and providing legislative backing to accomplish the task of hunting down the terrorists, target killers and extortionists and bringing them to justice. Keeping the provincial government in the loop regarding the execution of the operation was also a shrewd move from the political perspective. The task is being pursued with all the required seriousness by the Rangers and the law enforcement agencies with the blessing of the federal government. The attempts to bring the Don of the Layari gang war from Dubai through Interpol amply testify to the fact that the government meant business.
But unfortunately Karachi has yet to see normalcy returning to the city. Why it is taking so long to get the job done is because of the fact that although the political parties and religious outfits publicly keep supporting the crackdown, yet some of them behind the scene and some like MQM publicly are trying fiercely to sabotage the process to protect the criminals belonging to them. MQM though seems to have receded from its unenviable past of violence to a considerable extent, but it still has an abiding interest in protecting its workers. The frequent shutdowns in Karachi on the appeal of MQM whenever a militant, target killer and extortionist belonging to MQM is arrested or killed in encounters with the law enforcing agencies, is a ranting testimony to this painful reality. It has also reacted to the JIT report in an outrageous manner. The MQM Chief Altaf Hussain in a counter offensive has also alleged that the conspiracy of May 12 tragedy was hatched in the ISI office. The MQM is also organising a rally in Karachi against the remarks of Imran Khan regarding the involvement of MQM in the Baldia Town tragedy and calling Altaf Hussain as an insane person.
Karachi is virtually a hostage to the antics of the MQM and it has demonstrated ability to shut down the city and paralysing the life, causing a loss of billions of rupees besides keeping the cauldron boiling. It would keep doing this with relish every time new evidence comes to light regarding its involvement in the criminal activities. MQM is obviously in a tight corner and probably needs to be bailed out of this situation to bring peace in Karachi. Perhaps the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the pattern of South Africa may help in burying the unenviable past and making new beginnings in regards to restoring normalcy to Karachi by quelling animosities among the political outfits in Karachi, allowing the government to focus more on dealing with crimes related to sectarianism and terrorism.