Days after exhortations by political parties for an intervention, top military commanders on Monday voiced concern over the worsening security situation in Karachi – the army’s first statement on the ethnic and political violence in the country’s financial capital.
The military brass had remained silent – at least in the public realm – despite requests by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Awami National Party (ANP) for the army to be deployed in the city to quell the uncontrolled violence, which has claimed over 800 lives this year.
The government has been widely criticised for not being able to handle the situation.
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But army’s silence was broken, in a terse, but significant statement on Monday, following a corps commanders meeting chaired by Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
The meeting discussed the security situation in the country, particularly in Karachi, at the army headquarters in Rawalpindi. According to the Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR), the army brass expressed concern “over the law and order situation in Karachi and its ramifications or implications on the national economy.”
The army hoped that the measures recently taken by the government would help end the violence in the city which accounts for around a fifth of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The unusual statement issued after a corps commanders’ meeting appears to suggest the army is running out of patience with the civilian authorities to control the deteriorating law and order situation.
Though the military has a history of acting beyond its mandate in the past, under Gen Kayani public statements on matters considered to be the domain of the civilian government have been rare. However, they have been far from completely absent.
The army’s public disquiet on the Karachi situation came just a week after the MQM and ANP called for the deployment of army troops to end the bloodshed. However, the ISPR statement did not say if the military was going to be deployed in Karachi.
A tentative calm has held since the government last week deployed hundreds of extra security forces in the troubled neighbourhoods of the city. The military said the government measures should “help redress the situation”.
Karachi has been in the grip of political and ethnic violence for months with the law-enforcement agencies struggling to restore normalcy in the city.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says 800 people, most of them poor, have died since January, including 300 last month alone.
“People have been killed because of their political affiliations, but it seems most are killed because of their ethnic background,” Zohra Yusuf, chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told AFP. “The majority of them are poor and destitute.”
Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters in Karachi that the government had taken steps to clear out stockpiles of illegal weapons by cancelling all firearm licences at the end of the month, forcing owners to reapply.
“At present some licence holders have illegally acquired hundreds of weapons on a single licence, which will end next month,” said Malik.
“From September anyone caught with a weapon with the old licences will be dealt with seriously. Such people could be tried in anti-terrorism courts and get sentences of seven to 14 years,” he added. However, previous government promises to confiscate stockpiles of unlicenced weapons in Karachi have come to nothing.
The human rights organisations say the violence in Karachi is the deadliest since 1995, when more than 900 killings were reported in the first half of the year.
(With additional input from AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2011.