Karachi is on the boil again. It is not ethnic. It is not linguistic. It is a vicious and brutal political war of turfs and patronage. The simmering conflict needs a political solution. But for now, all major power players in the city are keen to use muscle to outmanoeuvre their rivals. Politics is eclipsed by militancy. Brinkmanship trumps dialogue. Negotiations are just a euphemism for capitulation by one side or the other.
On a broader level, Karachi, which is an administrative nightmare anyway, represents everything that goes wrong when the writ of the state withers and gets diluted. As the Taliban insurgency rages on in the northwestern parts of the country, the Pashtun population has, over the years, trickled into Karachi in search of safety and livelihoods. Their numbers have increased and will continue to do so in the near future. With this, it is only but natural that their appetite for political and other benefits would increase multifold.
The MQM has foreseen this shift and is already dreading the consequences. The Muhajir demographics have changed in the last decade, and they are no more in a majority. But the MQM wants to ensure its iron hold over the city and the revenue it generates. It does not want any redistribution or restructuring of municipality demarcations.
The MQM makes the right political noises but the tough tactics and bare-knuckle politics of the party pose a challenge to any government in Islamabad. The ruling PPP government faces the same dilemma.
Furthermore, the MQM has flexed its muscles in the past and continues to do so till now. The ANP, for its part, isn’t afraid of this either, in Karachi. ‘Target killings’ are the ugliest manifestation of the political tussle that is going on between the MQM, the ANP and the PPP. There is no ‘hidden hand’ or ‘third force’ that is trying to destabilise the city. The culprits are amongst those who claim innocence and ignorance.
But there are no easy or quick fixes either.
For now, there is perhaps a need for a new set of power brokers and political firefighters. The interior minister’s patch-ups are temporary and get upended no sooner than they are stitched. Someone else from the PPP needs to be in charge to act as a mediator and negotiator. All political parties will have to sit together and figure out a way to deweaponise the city, devise a system of proportional representation and share the responsibility of maintaining peace. Turmoil in Karachi serves no interest of the country. But threats of sowing instability and perpetuating the spree of coldblooded killings — if demands are not met — is sheer blackmail and nothing else. This has to end.
The MQM has to accept the changing ground realities. Karachi is too big a cake for any political party to eat alone. New migrants will have to be integrated into the city. Forcing them onto the fringes or thwarting their influx won’t work. On the other hand, both the ANP and the PPP need to stop patronising and protecting criminals who are masquerading as political workers and operating in the slums and outskirts of the city. The calls for a military operation, even if limited in scope, are, however, a recipe for further disaster. Bringing in paramilitary and army troops won’t address the root causes of the malaise that is crippling the city.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd, 2011.
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