The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on July 31 listened to the heart-rending accounts of the suffering of the people of Karachi. The press coverage of the event describes the slow death of Pakistan’s most important city under the scourge of ethnic mayhem. Some victims thought that Israeli atrocities committed against the Palestinians would pale before what was happening to the citizens of Karachi. The truth is that, Israeli atrocities were never comparable to what Karachi has been doing to itself. The international coverage of Palestine and Gaza is given its point by state terrorism. In scale, the killings in Karachi are much larger but ignored because here, two kinds of Pakistanis are killing each other. A more relevant example would be Rwanda, where a hardly recognisable ethnic divide resulted in the killing of nearly a million people within a few months.
The reporting on the HRCP meeting avoided labelling the killers, but it is very clear that it involved people from the city’s Pashtun and Mohajir communities. What was most shocking was the role of the police: They stood aside and watched people being done to death, their houses and belongings set on fire, and their sons taken away to swell the count of ‘found dead’ (in one instance, a victim whose shop had been set on fire, was told by the police to respond in the same manner). The police are acting the same way they act elsewhere where law and order has gone out of control. They refuse to entertain an FIR, instead advising the victims to kill in return as the only deterrent to the violence visiting them. Meanwhile, the city is being steadily denuded of self-sustenance as families lose their breadwinners and see their possessions go up in flames. There is much intra-city movement of population, looking for safer localities, which means that ‘ghettoisation’ is taking place at a rapid pace. And that is a prelude to more savage acts.
We don’t know what the state is going to do in the face of this ‘ghettoisation’ in Karachi and elsewhere in the country. The messages it gives to the people don’t read coherently and the measures it is taking has nothing to do with any known counterterrorism strategy. The police are more focused on catching American diplomats wandering without permission and blaming terrorism on America’s two alleged allies, Israel and India. The police officers have gotten so used to the mantra of ‘foreign hand’ that it seems they don’t bother with any real investigation.
The victims heard by the HRCP come from interpenetrated ethnic communities. Clearly the process of segregation is underway, presaging more bloodshed and an ultimate fragmentation of Karachi (one family lamented that its children were denied admission to a local school because they were from a different ethnic background and spoke a different language). In Quetta, the Shia of Hazara origin were allowed to become prisoners of Marri and Hazara towns, converting them into sitting ducks of the fanatic followers of the Taliban and al Qaeda. While ‘catching Americans’, and TV reporters moaning about why the Americans are not displaying their diplomatic number-plates, the police is quietly watching a big city die in front of them.
Intimidation and politics mix in Karachi. The police repeatedly claim that it will not bend to political pressure but will bring the culprits into the open. Hundreds of terrorists caught by them are distributable among the various ethnic communities, likely operated by the political parties ruling Karachi, religious-sectarian terrorists sent down from the tribal areas, and the criminal gangs that kill citizens with seeming impunity. Yet, the criminals are not put on TV for the nation to watch as they confess their political links nor are the police interested in taking on killers who will later be let off. As this happens, the Sindh government is busy organising cosmetic ‘peace rallies’, the judiciary and the federal government are busy in their tussle, the military is occupying itself with opposing America and India in the many-sided contest of control over Afghanistan, and political parties are reverting to their old reflex of ‘toppling’ as the economy hurtles downward.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2011.