One of the good things about the paramilitary operation being conducted in Karachi is that it keeps the city in the national limelight. The Sindh Assembly’s attempt to allow only a ‘conditioned military operation’ in Karachi was brushed aside by the federal government and the interior ministry has not only restored the powers of the Rangers as before, it has also extended the duration of the Karachi operation for the next 60 days. The prime minister has decided to follow a legal and constitutional course over the issue “to avoid any sort of confrontation with the provincial government”. It is difficult to understand how the Rangers can be deemed to be wielding what certain sections are calling ‘extra-constitutional’ powers if the prime minister has opted to follow a legal and constitutional course.
There are three parties to what is going on in Karachi — the provincial authority, the military and the federal government. In terming the operation the “invasion of Sindh by the federal government”, the provincial authority is attempting to politicise the operation. This leaves the federal government in a tight spot. It must consider the provincial political interpretations of the Rangers’ actions in the province and do everything possible to prevent anyone from politicising the operation. Ideally, the federal government should have only undertaken the operation in Karachi after anticipating all possible political risks. It is still not too late and provincial political protests must not be arbitrarily ignored. In fact, the military operational strategy of the Karachi operation must be reviewed and adjusted to accommodate provincial political interpretations and concerns about the ongoing operation. Let the mandate of the operation be debated by all stakeholders and let there be a mutual consensus on the end goals that the political and paramilitary authorities want to achieve.
We have seen that in the last three years, the see-saw model of this operation has neither translated into an absolute victory yet, nor a defeat. The Rangers have done a very fine job in restoring security in Karachi, but empirical evidence in the form of results in by-elections and local government elections show that many people in the city continue to hold on to the political narratives of the two major political parties of Karachi and continue to subscribe to the politics of ethnicity. This, despite the Rangers’ actions that brought to limelight many weaknesses in these parties.
Controlling the political space in Karachi is as important as controlling the physical space. If one wants to control the political consequences of the Karachi operation, the politicians of Sindh cannot be ignored. The rooting out of corruption is an important goal of the operation. But this should not remain confined to the province of Sindh. In addition, the autonomy that the Constitution has granted to the provincial assembly demands that the province must have a say in whatever the Rangers may or may not do in Sindh. The questions that have arisen over the operation in Karachi are about its limits and who sets and defines them.
Politicians, like businessmen, believe in making long-term investments and to them military operations are only temporary attempts to fight disorder and enforce balance and order in a given area or society. It is the long drawn-out battle of bringing about the desired overall behavioral change that remains the occupation of the polity and the drivers of this change remain the political leadership. If the political leadership in the province is corrupt or failing, the right way forward is to allow it the time to fail absolutely.
In reality, Karachi today is witnessing a battle for the supremacy of power and authority between various stakeholders. This only slows down the operation and creates an environment of distrust and frustration. If it is to be taken to its logical conclusion, then all stakeholders, including the Sindh government, will have to huddle together to take a 360-degree view of the operation and its achievements. The operation in Karachi must continue to be led by the Sindh chief minister. What it does not need is the substitution of the operation’s leadership with the governor and his rule. Let Karachi — slowly and steadily — win the race.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2016.
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