The latest bout of violence in Karachi would make even the most optimistic amongst us think that the city has been lost amid sea of blood. Murdered men are showing up in gunny bags and life in the city has ground to a complete halt. The numbers don’t lie. In the last three days over 50 people have been killed, while more than 300 people were murdered in the month of July. To blame the violence on gangs, as most politicians have done, would be far too simplistic. Certainly, criminal gangs have been involved but it is a well-established fact that in Karachi every powerful gang has an even more powerful political party providing it muscle, weaponry and protection. Were this simply a case of gang violence, the law-enforcement authorities would not have speedily melted away.
The nature of Karachi’s politics dictates that political violence invariably takes an ethnic tinge. The issue of how Karachi will be governed, whether under the commissionerate system or by a nazim, should be a simple administrative matter. The Pakthun population of Karachi, under the rubric of the ANP, is now aggrieved that the PPP has given in to the MQM’s demands and restored the local government system. The PPP has not helped matters by constantly vacillating, and thus managing to alienate both its allies. The solution to stemming the violence is both simple and yet impossible to achieve. The three main political parties in Karachi — the MQM, the ANP and the PPP — need to put their grievances aside for the sake of the city. This is easier said than done.
The sad truth is that violence is just another bargaining chip in Karachi’s power politics. Other solutions that have been suggested are likely to beget further violence. Bringing in the army or giving shoot-to-kill order to paramilitary forces, as we learned in the 1990s, will only deepen the anger and hate. The answer lies not with the men in khaki but with the civilians who were elected to keep the city safe.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2011.