There is a common perception that Karachi is an ungovernable city, a proposition that can be hard to argue against when the entire metropolis grinds to a halt and a sense of anarchy pervades the air. The aftermath of the murder of an MQM worker — with the responsibility placed by the MQM on gangs in Lyari — played out with wearying familiarity. Once again, the country’s nerve centre was forced to shut down as the cycle of retaliatory violence started. At times like this, it is tempting to wash our hands off the city, proclaim it anarchic and fall prey to the feeling that its troubles can never be solved. That, however, ignores the fact that the problems in Karachi are solvable.
The battle that is currently playing out in Karachi is essentially one of demography. The Mohajir majority, who find their most reliable patrons in the MQM, live in fear of the growing number of Pakhtuns in the city, as represented by the ANP. The PPP has its pockets of influence, particularly among the Baloch. All three parties are vying for greater power in the city, but many think that they — or some elements in their ranks — seem to be seeking this more through non-electoral means. As this fight for power continues, these periodic bursts of violence have become more common. That is reason for worry, not despair. All three factions are capable of governance and, in fact, have proven that in the past.
Deweaponisation has been proposed as a solution but it would be quixotic to think that the political parties will just abide by a ban on guns. A more lasting solution will perhaps, take years as the political parties come to the realisation that each other’s spheres of influence have to be respected and eliminating the parties themselves is not a viable option. The interim will be ugly, but the best shot at peace in Karachi lies in the hope that those who wish to rule the city eschew violence for governance. The parties can start by purging their rank and file of the black sheep involved in such acts and by working out their differences through dialogue and a binding code of conduct.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2012.