Who is responsible for Karachi’s violence?

Editorial May 24, 2010

The interior minister has repeated charges he had voiced before the National Assembly in February this year, stating that terrorist elements from Fata and Swat were responsible for target killings in Karachi. Presiding over a meeting on security, Rehman Malik is also reported to have said the purpose behind the murders is to destabilise Pakistan. Given the credibility of the minister, which has slid sharply downwards with virtually each month he has spent in office, it is not easy to fully believe what he says. Many victims of the most recent spate of killings in Karachi were ethnic Pashtuns and it is hard to understand why Taliban elements — assuming what the minister is saying is in fact correct — would choose to pick them out. Also, shaking the peace in Karachi does not, from what is obvious at least, suit the purposes of the militants. From what one can surmise from recent news reports, many have chosen the sprawling metropolis as a refuge in response to the army’s operations against them in Fata and Swat. Some reportedly even find regular employment in the city only to return to the theatre of conflict when needed. They appear to have discovered through experience that locating specific individuals within the alleyways and apartments of the country’s largest city is in many ways a far harder task for the state than locating them amongst the mountainous hamlets of the North and hence drawing attention to themselves may be the last thing they want.

What the interior minister has said echoes to a great extent what the MQM has been saying — that the city is increasingly becoming Talibanised and something needs to be done about it. As far as this particular claim is concerned, it is most likely true — in fact it would be fair to say that large swathes of the country have become even more conservative and reactionary in recent years — but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the violence the city saw last week was because of these elements. The fact is that most people believe — and with some justification — that the unrest in Karachi is linked to the complicated politics of the city, the quest for control over it by mafias, the nexus these various vested interests have with political parties, and ethnic tensions that have crept up more and more often in recent years. Political parties with influence over the affairs of the metropolis need to be held responsible for much of what happens.

In this regard, a recent statement by the city police chief may be instructive — he said that much of the violence is caused because of criminal elements found practically in all political parties which need to cleanse their own ranks. We will go one step further and say that the city is vulnerable to a matrix of vested interests, mafia and criminal gangs and all these groups have access or at least some influence in the corridors of power. That is the only reason no action was taken in response to the events of May 12, 2007 despite the fact that the shootouts were shown live on television. And that is why there has been only talk and nothing else on the latest round of killings.

It is all well and good for the interior minister to descend on the city and make premature — and perhaps ill-conceived — claims as to the causes of the recent violence but the question is that what were the police and the law-enforcement agencies, and the Sindh government, doing when over two dozen people were killed in drive-by shootings? What became of the much-trumpeted ban on pillion riding, given that most deaths were caused by shooters on motorcycles? Both the MQM and the ANP, who have yet again traded serious allegations following the violence, need to understand that they have much to lose when the city is affected in this manner and that it is in everyone’s interest, particularly their own, for such incidents to not recur.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 25th, 2010.

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