Nobody in their right senses would even argue with the assertion that something needs to be done to restore order in Karachi and end the violence which has, according to human rights monitors, claimed at least 800 lives in the city since the year began. Political parties with influence in the city need to adopt suitable measures to deal with the crisis, preferably after building a consensus. But in the kind of volatile situation which exists, remarks by the military leadership could complicate matters for the civilian-led government.
While some parties in Karachi have been openly calling for army deployment in the city, this is a dangerous precedent given our past history where, once in charge, the men in khaki have not relinquished power for years. Consider the statement issued by the ISPR after a meeting of corps commanders presided over by COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in Rawalpindi on August 8. The short but significant statement expresses concern over the law and order situation in Karachi and its impact on the national economy. It also hopes measures recently taken by the government can help bring things under control. We all share this concern for peace in Karachi. No doubt the statement must have been made with good intentions but the issue is of propriety and of the institution abiding by the mandate given to it by the Constitution. Indeed, the statement can add to complications and keeps alive the spectre of the shadow of men in uniform hovering over the country and its affairs. This shadow has to be removed if there is to be progress towards real democracy. Of course, this also means that the politicians and elected civilians need to get their collective act together and provide the governance for which citizens elected them to public office.
To his credit, General Kayani does appear to have worked towards ensuring that the military stays out of politics. It is important that this continues and political parties be allowed to work in their realm. There is evidence that the government is working towards solutions. It must be permitted to do so without the threat of external intervention. The bugles need to be put away.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2011.