Islamabad diaries : Get over your amnesia, remember the 90’s
I have no clue about what is happening in Karachi, and neither does anyone in Islamabad who wields any power.
As a recent transplant from Karachi I invariably have to try and answer what is becoming everyone’s favourite question: just what is happening in Karachi.
I furrow my brow, put on my best serious expression and, with lots of emphasis, say, “Things are really bad down there.”
The problem is that I have no clue about what is happening in Karachi and neither, it seems, does anyone in Islamabad who wields any kind of power.
Talk in recent days has centred on deploying the army to Karachi, a strategy that is only seriously being considered by those who have amnesia and no longer remember the 1990s. Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is not one of those people. He has reportedly said that the army will be happy to restore peace in Karachi, but only if the duly elected calls upon it to do so.
Kayani’s statement, one government source who was present when he made the statement said, is meant to be a resounding no. The army chief is not willing to risk the army’s reputation in a conflict where it will invariably have to choose sides between political parties and, by extension, be seen as targeting one ethnic community or the other.
President Asif Ali Zardari, meanwhile, held a series of meetings at the President House in Islamabad this week. Ostensibly meant to find a solution to the Karachi violence, one participant said they were more of an attempt to shore up the coalition. The president could take solace in the words of ANP chief Asfandyar Wali who, in a meeting with the president on August 19, actually welcomed the return of MQM to the coalition, saying it boded well for the situation in Karachi. However, he then followed that by repeating his demand that the PPP not go back on its promise to return the commissionerate system in Karachi.
The very next night the president held another meeting at President House, this time with ministers from the Sindh government. According to the official press release, it was decided at the meeting that peace would be restored in Karachi at any cost. But, according to a government source, the participants at the meeting were more interested in political parleying as discussions raged on whether the MQM should be given back the ministries it previously held. The absence of chief minister Qaim Ali Shah, who was in a parallel meeting with the Sindh Governor at the time, prevented any major decisions from being taken.
Politicians with less stake in Karachi also took positions that reflected their personal ideology and grievances. Talk has been building up in recent weeks that the Shahbaz Sharif camp in the PML-N is not getting along with the Nawaz Sharif camp. It was interesting then that Shahbaz called on the army to be sent to Karachi, in stark contrast to his brother’s recent virulently anti-army rhetoric. The PTI chief Imran Khan, who would stand to gain the most if anyone from PML-N leaves the party, blamed the violence in Karachi on his favourite bugbear: corruption.