Even as violence continues to afflict the people of Karachi, the main powers in the city are busy negotiating the political future of the city. In a span of just two weeks, the PPP first abolished the local bodies system and replaced it with the commissionerate system, then agreed to do away with the commissionerate system and brought the local bodies system back again. The objective of this flurry of activity is not to do what is best for the city, but to try and get a momentary political advantage. When the MQM decided that it would leave the ruling coalition, the PPP proposed bringing in the commissionerate system simply to punish their former ally. Now, after frantic negotiations, the two parties have decided to make amends and thus the MQM’s preferred local government system has been brought into place. How the city will be governed is just a mere bargaining chip for an insecure PPP that wants to ensure it serves out its terms.
On the merits, the local bodies system is far preferable. It has been a qualified success in Karachi and gives more say, at least in theory, to the people. That the PPP has chosen to bring it back is a wise move, even if its motivations for doing so were not entirely altruistic. But the fear is that the next time the MQM decides that it wants no part of the coalition, the PPP could once again decide to change the system. Such uncertainty is not good for Karachi and needs to be avoided. Even as a matter of coalition-building, this move is suspect as it angers the ANP.
Equally important is the question of whether these negotiations will bring an end to the violence in Karachi. There is cause to be pessimistic about that. The MQM and ANP are now further apart than they ever were and the PPP has not helped matters by making arbitrary decisions on the form of governance in Karachi. In fact, reports suggest that it has also ended up alienating the nationalist parties in the province. One can only hope that an effort will be made by the ruling party to take the ANP along as well because for peace to return to Karachi, it is imperative that all three major parties be on board.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2011.