Bidding the Elephant farewell

Spearhead Analysis – 13.09.2013

By Zoon Ahmad Khan
Research Analysts, Spearhead Research – Pakistan

karachi OperationFor Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif this term is swamped with challenges. The economy has reached a verge of a breakdown, energy shortages have given birth to an uncomfortable lag between the masses, business class, and the government. Retardation of the industry during the past five years was only one of the reasons for a sweeping victory for the PML-N, a predominantly industrialist party. But given Pakistan’s volatile state, it is not the economic but the social setbacks that have pushed the current government onto thin ice and only four months into the term the time has come to face our biggest challenge: Homeland Security. Polarization of society, high economic stake in the region and a war across the border have deteriorated the state to a point of dysfunctionality. At the brunt of Pakistan’s internal conflict lies Karachi: the metropolis, hub of trade and key to industrial prosperity: our passage to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea and the Strait of Hormuz.

Ethnic conflict driven by economic gain has existed in the city for decades. A JIT report revealed that all dominant political parties based in Sind have well equipped and influential militant wings. These militant wings have been deemed responsible for violence in the city; however the political parties, especially the MQM, have used the Taliban threat to garner support and assumed the privilege of creating their own forces for self defense. While such an arrangement finds no premise on legal grounds, the Taliban threat, and an already powerful grip on Karachi did lead to silent acceptance and a conscious blind eye towards the events that were to follow. In 2012 more than 2,000 people were killed and 1,790 were kidnapped for ransom in the city. These troubling figures are not instances of blind violence and hate crime, but deliberate sharking, abductions and targeted killings of ethnic and political rivals. Enjoying immense powers over an empire that stretches from South America to North Africa is Altaf Hussein: Chief of MQM and the strongest man of Karachi, with remote control access to his kingdom from a mansion in London.

On 30 August 2013 DG Rangers Sindh’s report about 19,000 containers of weapons having been smuggled into the city caught the Supreme Court’s attention. The red-line for Karachi had been crossed and shortly after an All Parties Conference was held on Monday (9 September 2013), chaired by the Prime Minister, to give Sindh Rangers the green signal. 10 September 2013 made headlines as the day no target killings took place in the Sindh’s capital, a milestone really given the current state of affairs. So far 38 suspects till yesterday and another five today have been arrested. On September 11, 2013 however MQM workers stormed the streets of Karachi and Hyderabad, shutting down shops and schools to protest their ex-MPA’s arrest in the state led operation. The MQM’s initial support for the operation did raise some eyebrows as the Interior Minister repeatedly asserted that no political affiliations will be considered as the operation proceeds. However 1992 echoed in the MQM ranks: remembered as a bloodbath by the MQM, and an attempt at ethnic cleansing of the Muhajir Community of Pakistan.

1992’s operation clean up will remain a telling cul-de-sac in Pakistan’s conflict ridden history. It throws light on a nationalistic narrative co-existing, and contradicting the larger interest of the state, and thriving while it does so. Shortly after torture chambers and illegal guns were unearthed in the city, the bloodiest year in the history followed, again reinforcing the status quo. The Muhajir Qaumi Movement renamed itself to avoid the label of a regional and myopic party, but its support base largely comes from the Muhajir community, and its presence threatened by other ethnic groups. The ANP, a predominantly Pashtun party is the primary rival: both buffed with militias protecting their respective jurisdictions from each other. PPP part of the trio, but relatively disconnected from the metropolis, still remains an active stake holder with unquestionable presence in Interior Sindh. Therefore ethnic rivalry and politics of ethnic conflict remains dominant.

13 September, 2013: four days into the operation and massive protests later, DG Rangers Sindh’s have been given a free hand to investigate and reach the bottom of the crime scene. This new found autonomy has placed the burden of responsibility on a body under the Sindh government’s jurisdiction, as opposed to the Army that will stay uninvolved unless summoned by the government. Another essential development was the reshuffling of 18 police officers. AIG Ghulam Qadir Thebo has been replaced by Shahid Hayat Khan. This appointment has been termed as a political one by many as Khan has previously been nominated in the Murtaza Bhutto murder case, worked as DIG South and East and played an active role in the 1990s operations in Karachi.

It isn’t the legitimacy of the MQM that the operation aims or claims to challenge. The party has been part of elected governments in the past, and remains the opposition in the country’s second largest provincial assembly. As the secular face of a largely secular friendly city, the MQM remains a vital force against the growing power of extremist forces, postured to take over the heart of Pakistan’s Industrial aspirations and passage to trade. However simultaneously the MQM’s chief has been the target of international criticism as well, and continues to control an empire ready to escape from the culture of gangs. As an operation proceeds in full valor, and the fear of failure drives the central government to step up actions, MQM’s protests and claims of ethnic cleansing might seem less daunting consequences.

On the ebb of violence, Kalashnikov culture’s departure seems ripe in a city that has been exposed to more options. While the ANP remains notorious for resorting to similar aggressive tactics, the PTI could fill the divide that ethnic politics is causing. Academics still beg to differ.

“The fear of Karachi going up in flames is so great that no government can take that risk, as long as Altaf Hussain is alive.” says Ms Shaikh a leading academic.

But Karachi has gone up in flames this week, and perhaps Ms. Sheikh is underestimating the motivation of the current government to eliminate security hazards, jump-start the economy and reinforce its clout. While much of the violence has been rendered by opportunistic criminal gangs devoid of political affiliation, it is worth noting that these entities alone are not responsible for the aggression and bloodshed in the metropolis. The elephant in the room has been addressed, now it is time for us to bid it farewell.