Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Daily Times Editorial nov 15, 2012

A dangerous emerging sentiment The situation in Karachi has become so bad in recent days and shown no signs of relenting that it is perhaps not surprising that sentiments are being expressed in desperation for something ‘surgical’. Tuesday’s sessions of the Senate and National Assembly produced much noise and fury on the issue, but it is still open to question whether it amounted to anything. The interesting aspect of this conundrum is that it is the PPP-led coalition government’s partners in Sindh who have raised the greatest Cain. Amidst much hand wringing, calls were heard in the Senate for the army to take over Karachi. This was obviously a reflection of the failure of the Sindh government to improve matters. Of the allies of the Sindh government, the ANP unequivocally called for a military operation in the city. MQM, on the other hand, demanded the imposition of an emergency before walkouts from the Senate and the National Assembly in protest, threatening a permanent boycott of parliament if the government (meaning the PPP) did not respond meaningfully immediately. The Senators were insistent that the time for briefings from the interior minister on the issue was over and it was time for action. The opposition PML-N, however, had a different take, despite conceding that a military operation had become inescapable. It argued that in the presence of the present government, even a military operation would not achieve the desired results. It therefore demanded that fresh elections be held throughout the country as a solution to the conundrum in Karachi. Despite all the expression of angst in parliament, there was little or no relief for the citizens of Karachi on the ground. The confusion created by contradictory statements and claims regarding pinning the responsibility for the violence on, by turn, the Taliban, a ‘third force’, invisible forces and extortionists has not helped. The fact is that isolating any one factor can only produce a partial picture. All these elements may well be, and probably are, at work in the metropolis. That naturally complicates the law enforcement forces’ task, apart from the repeated accusations that any manner of gun-toting killers have the political protection of parties sitting in the Sindh government. The building frustration with the inability of the Sindh government and the law enforcement forces under its command to improve the situation in Karachi is beginning to find expression in ‘radical’ ideas such as handing the city over to the army to clean up the Augean stables of a Karachi brought to its knees by elements who are not just rivals, but virtually at war with each other. However, before we embrace what appears to be an attractive if not inescapable resort to induction of the army, it may be salutary to recall the experience of the 1992 military operation in Karachi. That decision was prompted by the MQM’s terrorism, in which torture cells and all manner of inhuman practices were eventually revealed. The thrust of the operation was logically against the MQM. As a consequence of the operation, the MQM bunkered down and took many years to make its peace with the establishment whose creature it once was. This rehabilitation allowed the MQM to reinvent itself as a mainstream party wedded to the norms of a democratic culture. Nevertheless, suspicion has continued to lurk that the MQM's muscle was subsequently used to eliminate police officers who had been in the forefront of the operation, as well as to create a lucrative channel of finance through extortion (bhatta). Since then, other parties representing the changing demographic of the city, as well as criminal elements, began to challenge the ‘monopoly’ of control of Karachi by the MQM. This is where Karachi stands today. The blunt instrument of the military failed to leave a permanent mark on the affairs of the city, which reverted to the situation described above within a relatively short period of time. Can anyone guarantee that the bigger military operation that may be required now will not suffer the same fate eventually? Impatience is neither a virtue nor will it produce the desired results. Even if an election is held tomorrow, the ground situation in Karachi will still require strengthening the civilian law enforcement capacity and freeing it of political influence, undoing the culture of political patronage of violent gunmen, and accountability across the board of all who have been or continue to be patrons of violence for vested interests. A military intervention in Karachi risks a bigger military intervention in the country as a whole, putting paid to the democratic experiment once again, and isolating Pakistan in the world community to an extent that could lead to economic, political and social meltdown. A forbidding prospect indeed.

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