Like rewinding a movie, time appears to have leaped backwards in Karachi. The target shooting of MQM MPA Raza Haider has brought back to the city the worst scenes of horror, almost identical to those seen in the 1990s when politically-motivated killings turned the city into one with blood stained walls and pavements. The sectarian and the political have come together. No one knows why Raza Haider was murdered but it can safely be said that those behind the killing wished to bring mayhem to Karachi. They succeeded. At least 45 have been killed as riots broke out across the city and the low-scale violence that has plagued it for months flared into a frenzied orgy of attacks, based on ethnicity, sect and political affiliation. The mix is a lethal one in a metropolis made up of so many different groups.
It appears almost as if those behind the wave of violence that has stalked Karachi for over six months lost patience with the failure to unleash more intense clashes and staged an assassination that they knew would result in this. The attack on Raza Haider, by up to six gunmen, was intricately planned. The killers carried out the murder in a manner designed to ensure he would not escape, pumping over a dozen bullets into his body. Through the years we have become specialists in the game of death and the use of bullets or bombs to ensure it. Too many victims have fallen at the hands of those who specialise in such killings. Predictably enough, the MQM has blamed the ANP for the murder. Senior ANP leaders have made an attempt to calm the situation — but this comes a little late given that leaders of the party in the city had been issuing some highly provocative statements for weeks. We wonder at the lack of wisdom and ask why political parties lack the vision to look beyond their own interests and at the plight of the people they represent. The killings unleashed by the death of the MPA have introduced havoc into the lives of people. Fear walks through the streets of Karachi and enters neighbourhoods where people from various ethnic and sectarian groups live close together. The sense of insecurity cripples almost as badly as the bullets and blow-torches wielded by rioters who rampage along roads.
Several weeks ago, on an emergency visit to Karachi, the interior minister had pledged to do everything possible to bring calm to Karachi. He has failed to keep his word and is now blaming extremists for the attack saying that Mr Haider was on their hit-list. If that is the case why didn’t law-enforcement agencies act on this intelligence and arrest those whose hit-list the MPA was on? The same can be said of the Sindh government whose home minister doesn’t tire of making many a promise and tall claim, all of which have now come to naught. Things have indeed worsened with the MQM openly blaming the ANP for the death of its MPA. In the current atmosphere laden with deep mistrust between these two parties, any promise or claim is not going to be believed by the other side. The result is that a city of over 17 million people is completely shut down and its residents have to cower and hide behind their walls and gates because they don’t know that if they leave their homes, it might be for the time ever.
The question of which forces are behind the murderous spree in Karachi is vital to ending the violence as is tackling these forces head on and dismantling their terror-spreading target-killing networks. The government needs to arrest those behind the violence and make an example of them. In this, all the city’s political parties as well as religious forces will have to play a part. Karachi has been like a stack of dynamite, which can be set alight with one strike of the match for far too long. We desperately need to restore stability and calm within it — for the sake of the economy, for the sake of people who live in Karachi and for the sake of our democracy.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2010.
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