The Karachi caul­dron

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - Zahid Hus­sain

KARACHI may have wit­nessed worse spates of vi­o­lence in the past, but the present crum­bling of state author­ity is un­prece­dented. The may­hem in the coun­try’s fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal and eco­nomic jugu­lar in many re­spects has come to re­sem­ble the law­less­ness of the tribal ar­eas. Armed gangs reign with im­punity, hold­ing hostage the city of 18 mil­lion peo­ple. More than 7,000 peo­ple are es­ti­mated to have been killed in vi­o­lence since 2008 as po­lit­i­cal par­ties, sec­tar­ian out­fits and crime mafias bat­tle for dom­i­na­tion.

But even this high ca­su­alty fig­ure does not fully re­flect the mag­ni­tude of the dis­or­der grip­ping the me­trop­o­lis. The near col­lapse of law-en­force­ment and gov­er­nance has turned Karachi into a vir­tu­ally law­less ter­ri­tory with the pop­u­la­tion liv­ing in a per­pet­ual state of fear.

Pa­tro­n­ised by rul­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties and sec­tar­ian groups, scores of crim­i­nal gangs vie for con­trol over land and the city’s other re­sources. Mafias have moved in, fill­ing the vac­uum left by a fail­ing state. Ex­tor­tion and kid­nap­ping for ran­som have be­come a highly lu­cra­tive busi­ness.

Busi­ness­men are forced to pay pro­tec­tion money for their sur­vival. Fac­to­ries are clos­ing down as in­vestors move to other ar­eas. Awash with so­phis­ti­cated firearms the city is sit­ting on a pow­der keg ready to ex­plode with dras­tic con­se­quences for the coun­try’s eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity.

What is most fright­en­ing is the prospect of the city be­com­ing the new bat­tle­ground for the Tal­iban and other mil­i­tant groups. The break­down of law and or­der and the bloody strife among the al­leged armed wings of the rul­ing coali­tion part­ners have given huge space to mil­i­tants flee­ing low-in­ten­sity mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in Swat and South Waziris­tan.

With the pres­ence of thou­sands of fugi­tives, the city has be­come, per­haps, the big­gest sanc­tu­ary for mil­i­tants. They find lit­tle dif­fi­culty in blend­ing into large im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tions from the north­west. Hun­dreds of rad­i­cal madres­sahs across the city not only pro­vide them with shel­ter and lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port but also a con­stant sup­ply of re­cruits for mil­i­tant ac­tiv­i­ties.

The mil­i­tants have hugely ben­e­fited from the crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of pol­i­tics and eth­nic ten­sion. High-pro­file ter­ror­ist at­tacks on mil­i­tary and other se­cu­rity in­stal­la­tions, in­clud­ing the Mehran naval air­base raid and the car bomb­ing of a CID de­ten­tion cen­tre in re­cent years, have demon­strated the grow­ing strength of mil­i­tants in the city. Some re­cent state­ments by the TTP threat­en­ing to tar­get po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and en­force Sharia in the city are in­dica­tive of grow­ing Tal­iban stri­dency. Tal­iban­i­sa­tion has been no­ticed in cer­tain Karachi sub­urbs.

Not sur­pris­ingly, some se­cu­rity of­fi­cials com­pare the Karachi sit­u­a­tion with North Waziris­tan, the tribal agency which is de­scribed as the cen­tre of grav­ity for mil­i­tants and ter­ror­ism. To­day, the sit­u­a­tion in Karachi is far more com­plex and volatile than what ex­isted in the 1980s and 1990s when thou­sands per­ished in eth­nic and po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence.

Never be­fore has the city wit­nessed such break­down of gov­ern­ment and law en­force­ment. Given the wide­spread and mul­ti­fac­eted vi­o­lence, the fear of Karachi be­com­ing an­other Beirut is not al­to­gether far-fetched.

For sure some of the prob­lems of Karachi are rooted in its fast-chang­ing de­mo­graphic pro­file. Ac­cord­ing to some es­ti­mates, close to a mil­lion peo­ple are added to its pop­u­la­tion each year, mak­ing Karachi the fastest-grow­ing city in the world. The mas­sive in­flux of im­mi­grants from the north­west in re­cent years has sig­nif­i­cantly changed the eth­nic bal­ance in the city re­in­forc­ing parochial pol­i­tics.

The tug of war be­tween the ANP and MQM is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of the city’s new de­mo­graphic re­al­ity and en­su­ing po­lit­i­cal dy­nam­ics. It is a bat­tle for con­trol of Pak­istan’s big­gest city. The power strug­gle has taken a vi­o­lent turn ow­ing to their al­leged pa­tron­age of crim­i­nal el­e­ments in­volved in land grab­bing, arms smug­gling and ex­tor­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to some stud­ies, more than 200 well-armed crim­i­nal gangs with po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age are oper­at­ing in Karachi earn­ing it the du­bi­ous rep­u­ta­tion as one of the most vi­o­lent cities in the world.

What has made the sit­u­a­tion more dan­ger­ous is the in­abil­ity of the gov­ern­ment to crack down on the per­pe­tra­tors, many of whom are said to come from within the ranks of the coali­tion part­ners. The PPP, which heads the coali­tion gov­ern­ment in the prov­ince, is also al­legedly pa­tro­n­is­ing some of the crim­i­nal gangs to ex­pand its po­lit­i­cal base in the city, caus­ing the vi­o­lence to es­ca­late. It is an un­prece­dented sit­u­a­tion where the rul­ing par­ties them­selves are seen as the per­pe­tra­tors of the blood­bath. The turf bat­tle has left thou­sands of peo­ple dead over the past four years. The on­go­ing proxy bat­tles among coali­tion part­ners have paral­ysed the lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion and law-en­force­ment agen­cies.

Even if ar­rested, most of the per­pe­tra­tors of tar­geted killings and ex­tor­tion go free due to the pres­sure ex­erted by their pa­trons in the coali­tion gov­ern­ment.

The politi­ci­sa­tion of law-en­force­ment agen­cies has com­pro­mised their pro­fes­sion­al­ism, ren­der­ing them pli­ant and in­ef­fec­tive. At least 40 per cent of the Karachi po­lice force has re­port­edly been re­cruited on po­lit­i­cal grounds rather than on merit. Many mem­bers are said to have a crim­i­nal record. The politi­ci­sa­tion of po­lice has be­come more pro­nounced af­ter the Sindh gov­ern­ment re­pealed the Po­lice Or­der of 2002, giv­ing pow­ers of trans­fer and ap­point­ment of se­nior of­fi­cers to the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment.

Now it has be­come much eas­ier for the rul­ing par­ties to get po­lice of­fi­cers of their choice posted in their con­stituen­cies to pro­tect their il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties. Fear of reper­cus­sions is a strong fac­tor con­tribut­ing to pro­fes­sional po­lice of­fi­cers not be­ing proac­tive in crack­ing down on po­lit­i­cally con­nected crim­i­nals. They can­not be blamed for main­tain­ing a low pro­file af­ter what hap­pened to the of­fi­cers who were in­volved in the 1995 op­er­a­tions. Al­most all of them were bru­tally mur­dered.

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