Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani sat with the Sindh cabinet on August 22 and decided to launch ‘surgical operations’ against the target-killers of Karachi. The term ‘surgical operations’ has over time become such a platitude that no one cared about the wording and two gentlemen present — Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik and senior Sindh Minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza — reportedly exchanged insults to show they didn’t really believe the said ‘surgical operations’ would lead to anything.
The MQM, far from joining the cabinet, which some reports would have us believe as recently as over the weekend, is on the warpath again, half-complaining, half-threatening while plainly accusing the PPP and “some of its ministers” of patronising the killers behind the deaths of recent days and taking bhatta. When it called for a ‘day of mourning’, in effect a strike, the city obeyed, something which should open President Zardari’s eyes to the situation on the ground. Perhaps his first reaction should be to ensure that Dr Mirza takes a back seat since every time he speaks his mind, the situation gets from bad to worse.
Our leaders should also avoid saying things like: “We need to take action now; otherwise it will be too late and someone else would come to do the job.” Such statements anger an already angry and frustrated citizenry further and do nothing other than lowering the government’s already-low credibility with the public. The fact is that it is already very late and action should have come much sooner. This was made clear by the MQM who reportedly refused to see the prime minister during his visit to Karachi. In turn, when he failed to see a delegation of industrialists and businessmen who thought they could suggest alternatives to his many failures in Karachi, he failed to realise the fact that the businessmen are the real party in Karachi; the others are simply exploiters and hangers-on.
The ANP, too, is angry with the PPP and did not attend the meeting. It was enraged by the unholy despatch with which the commissionerate system it favoured was scrapped. It wants the army to be called in to restore peace to Karachi. If one was to judge the prime minister’s visit, it would be fair to say that almost no one was pleased with his presence. Should this mean that the prime minister should stop his meaningless routine and let President Zardari handle the situation directly? Perhaps, MQM chief Altaf Hussain’s statement on August 22 demanding that he step down should be seen in this context.
Anybody looking in from the outside would favour the restoration of the local bodies in Karachi because it was during the phase when they were in place that Karachi became known to the outside world for its urban governance, not only under the MQM but also under the Jamaat-e-Islami. But President Zardari was made to taste the bitter medicine of partisan politics when his own party sulked after his go-ahead to the local bodies elections; and the Sindhi nationalists thought it was time to attack him from the rear. The PPP-voter thinks like the nationalists but votes for the PPP.
Now the businessmen have despaired of the stakeholders, seeing them as target-killers and ‘bhatta’-takers, and want the Sindh government to call in the army. They have no way to defend themselves and their assets against the savages who kill one another, financed by extortions that are rapidly emptying Karachi of its investments, which is losing billions every day, because of strikes and shutdowns caused by the seemingly never-ending violence. Alas, the army simply cannot handle today’s Karachi with all the stakeholders armed with lethal weapons and given that the political parties need to step up and take charge of the situation and own up to the responsibility that the solution to the problem must come from them.
One clear option, and which should have been tried many weeks ago when the death toll was decidedly lower, would be to give a free hand to the police and the paramilitary forces to strike at the culprits without discrimination. This should be supplemented by a comprehensive in-house weeding process by all political parties so that their ranks and cadres are purged of all elements involved in acts of violence and/or target killings.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 24th, 2011.
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