The battle of Karachi

Karachi has a big chink in its armour: it can be paralysed by a single call; by the MQM.

Lt-gen R Asad Durrani September 02, 2011

The unipolar world was out of plumb. Mercifully, it is regaining balance. Now, when America sneezes the rest of the world was is not likely to catch a cold. Barely averting default, the only consolation that the US can hope for is that it takes the euro down with it. Too bad, the Brits, the chronic balancers of power, will once again be gleefully watching from the bank. Too bad, that the metaphor remains relevant to Pakistan: “when Karachi convulses, the upcountry gasps for breath”.

The megacity has many attributes: a microcosm of Pakistan; foreigner-friendly, the largest Pashtun city in the meantime; once the most favourite staging post for all airlines; and much else. But it has a big chink in its armour: it can be paralysed by a single call; by the MQM. Even Edhi, the ultimate humanitarian, with that clout would cause discomfort to his detractors. A political party can use this ability to dictate terms, also to its allies.

No wonder there were so many attempts to dilute MQM’s predominance in Karachi. Two of them were serious. In 1992, when the party was part of the ruling alliance both at the centre and in the province, an army-backed drive was mounted against its command and control echelons. It was aborted on the orders of the president (and the Commander-in-Chief), Ghulam Ishaq Khan. A great balancer of power in his own right, he didn’t like the scales tilting too heavily in the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) favour. In 1996, the latter now in power, launched an ‘intelligence’ operation to cut its nemesis to size. This also fizzled out when the government was dismissed by its own president (and the C-in-C) later in the year.

This time around it is more complex. For one thing, the large influxes of Pashtuns in the city have helped the Awami National Party (ANP) — tottering on its home ground — field itself as the third political pole. With assorted groups of various sectarian and ideological hues who have emerged all over the country and criminal gangs always game to fish in troubled waters, the battlefield of Karachi is pretty overcrowded. Consequently, and possibly because the PPP now has some street-smart leaders, the MQM seems under sufficient pressure to plead for military intervention. The ANP, too, is desperately seeking the army’s help; for reasons more obvious. In pursuit of livelihood the Pashtuns spread out in the city which makes them vulnerable and, indeed, most of them being daily wage-earners are hit harder by the turmoil.

The PPP’s reluctance to call in the army, too, is understandable. For one thing, it believes that the developments on ground were weakening the MQM and there may just be a chance to break the latter’s monopoly on power; a twice eluded prize. More importantly, it fears that a military operation — even handed as it must be — would also target the ruling party’s goons and restore the status quo ante. The MQM thus salvaging it’s stranglehold over the country’s lifeline. The stakes in the battle for Karachi are high. In 1990, the PPP’s insistence on a selective crackdown cost the party its power in Islamabad.

But the present party leadership with all its ailments is anything but suicidal. The instinct to survive and brinkmanship are probably its only assets. Before going over the brink, it may recall its dogs of war or call in the ‘marines’ (our own, of course; the others have had enough elsewhere). Neither can do more than end the violence. Finding a balanced dispensation, without which this mother-in-law of all cities will remain on the edge, must remain a political call. What model would suit its genius? An agreed power sharing formula like in Lebanon! Governor rule for a few years! A page from the frontier treaties to ensure security of passage and routes! There may be other and better choices.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2011.


Just a word | 10 years ago | Reply

Very informative article. Nevertheless, it's a fact . . . . how Karachiites built this city with their tremendous hardwork and turned it into a beautiful booming metropolitan city and like a mother of all cities welcomed and benefitted all those looking for better opportunities but sadly this city was used and abused and not given its due share of mega-enhanced budget for development focussing on Karachi especially, but rather totally ignoring the mega-rapid growth in population and its economic significance for the entire nation!! Job discriminations and melting pot of political power play was the start of Karachi's pitfall. Sadly now bad elements have come to rob this mother of all cities that has showed kindness to all. Karachi does not need to be expolited under an inefficient, dangerous and ineffective so called democracy. Karachi does not need retarded, drug infested, riff-raff killers and bandits running around invading and ruining its peace and progress and also it does not need to support the payroll of incapable, unethical corrupt police, rangers and administration that has allowed so much destruction and bloodshed for so long (throwing it atleast 30 years backwards in just a few months) watching most of the killers, kill and escape into their hideouts . . . .

Karachiwala | 10 years ago | Reply Karachi is very important and every laloo punjoo is showing there concern but never did 1% of the work for it. If Karachi is so important then treat it like one. It was dumped and no one ever took any care other than last local government and all these Punjab led analyst telling the world how to conquer Karachi now. Dear Mr. Retired general we came out on our own free will when MQM won and we voted on our own free will for them. You want to dilute the power then work so intensly in Karachi that people can feel the difference. You are ready to build metmro in Lahore but for last 25 years held back planning permission for metro in Karachi and then you talk of equality.. There are more than one points I can also bring to highlight injustice so give sane advice
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