ISLAMABAD /LAHORE: A day after army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said that if requested, the military was ready to assist the civilian authorities to control the violence in Karachi, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani firmly quashed the idea that the army would be called out in the country’s financial capital.
The prime minister’s remarks came during a brief interaction with reporters in Lahore, where he was holding a meeting with senior provincial leaders of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) at the Governor House.
The nation’s largest city – which is home to approximately one in every ten Pakistanis – has been wracked by violence over the last week that has left scores of people dead. On Sunday, another 11 people were killed in different parts of the metropolis.
There has been a call for military intervention from several quarters, including some business groups within Karachi itself. On Saturday, even Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said that army action in Karachi might be appropriate, though his stance was repudiated on Sunday by a spokesperson of his own Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N).
Gilani said that while it was the Sindh government’s prerogative to call the army, he believed that the violence in Karachi could be dealt with by the law-enforcement agencies in the province.
At an iftar on Sunday, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, however, suggested that the provincial government had absolutely no intention of inviting the army to clean up its mess. “The army is a respected institution which has many responsibilities,” said the chief minister. “But in a democratic government, it must be the civilians who take control of law and order.”
The growing chorus for military intervention from some elements of the Karachi business community and a few prominent politicians seems to have alarmed the ruling PPP and the opposition PML-N alike. In a rare move, the PML-N openly repudiated a statement by the Punjab chief minister – one of the party’s senior-most leaders – and said that they ‘strongly’ opposed military intervention.
“The army should not be called out in Karachi,” Senator Mushahidullah Khan, the party spokesperson, told The Express Tribune. “Engaging the army in Karachi could be part of great game against the country.” The senator implied that Shahbaz Sharif’s words had been taken out of context. “Deploying the army in Karachi would be bad for the country and the army itself,” he added.
The unequivocal repudiation of the younger Sharif’s remarks seems to highlight a growing rift that the Punjab chief minister reportedly has with his elder brother and eponymous party chief Nawaz Sharif.
On Saturday, the army chief reportedly said that “Karachi is the jugular vein of the country’s economy and it will be great injustice if the deteriorating law and order situation is allowed to continue for a longer period.”
Gen Kayani’s comments came after the recent spike in violence that has seen about 900 people killed since the beginning of the year, nearly 300 of whom have died since the beginning of July.
Meanwhile, the Sindh governor, chief minister, home minister, police chief and other senior officials met at the Governor House in Karachi on Sunday to discuss the situation and chalk out a strategy to deal with the killings. It is unclear whether the meeting was able to come up with an actual plan to do anything, though most senior officials expressed in trite platitudes how horrible the situation is.
Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Inam Memon said the government would offer compensation to those who had lost their loved ones during Ramazan, though he did not specify an amount or a date as to when the money would be disbursed.
A spokesperson for the Awami National Party (ANP), meanwhile, said that his party was not involved in the recent spike in bloodshed.
(With additional reporting from our correspondents in Karachi)
Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd, 2011.