Everyone has known for years about the extortion business in Karachi. Traders, businessmen, shopkeepers and even professionals talk openly about the bhatta they need to pay to remain in business. The consequences for those who decline to pay are well known and quite terrifying.
What is more frightening is the fact that political parties from across the country appear to have become involved in the extortion business — using it almost as a kind of officially-sanctioned sideline. The trend has become stronger and stronger over the past few years. Virtually every political party has become involved in the racket. This criminalisation of politics is obviously highly disturbing. How can we expect political leaders to preserve the rule of law, which is rapidly breaking down anyway if they cannot keep themselves away from activity punishable under the law themselves. In fact, because of the role played by the political parties, the ability to place any kind of check on extortion has vanished completely. All we are left with is dramatic gestures and rhetoric of various kinds, such as the protest staged by traders in Karachi a few days ago, and backed by political forces, who rather than stopping extortion had their own agenda in mind.
The best thing, of course, would be if the political parties themselves purged their ranks of the black sheep involving in the extortion rackets. After all, the future of the country’s financial and commercial capital is at stake. If this does not happen, the violence we see will keep becoming worse and worse, as extortionists grow bolder and demand greater and greater sums. The consequence of this — what most of the city’s residents believe — is a complete abdication of its responsibilities. Besides, what can we expect in terms of services from political parties which have lost all conscience and the ability to work within rules for the benefit of people? This simple sense of what is right has broken down completely in Karachi. To make matters worse, the police force, too, has been heavily politicised making things harder for those who wish to see an end to the extortion that is rapidly tearing our business capital apart.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2012.