After a week-long operation in Lyari, Interior Minister Rehman Malik has called for its suspension over the weekend. Given the complete failure of the police operation to achieve anything other than, unfortunately, dozens of needless deaths, hopefully the interior minister will make the suspension permanent. What we have in Lyari is essentially a case of estranged allies — the PPP and the Peoples Amn Committee (PAC) — having a very public and violent falling out. As much as the government may claim that the situation in Lyari is about drug trafficking or violence, and as much as the PAC may complain about being targeted because of its Baloch ethnicity, the operation in Lyari boils down to a turf war. Caught in the middle are the long-suffering residents of Lyari.
In some respects, this is a comeuppance that the PPP deserved. The PAC was always linked to the PPP. The party refused to accept any connection between the two, since the PAC was founded by the notorious gangster Rehman Baloch, but it is hard to deny that the two were, at worst, tenuous allies. Even Zulfiqar Mirza admitted as much when he resigned from his party positions. A falling out between the two, however, led the PAC to be banned. Now the group is fighting back.
The PPP is accused of arming the PAC to serve as its private militia and as an anti-MQM force. However, once the party realised it did not need the group for electoral success in Lyari, it quickly abandoned it. This does not mean that the PAC is not involved in drug smuggling, the illegal arms trade and extortion. But it does mean that the PPP has to own up to some responsibility for indulging these criminals when it suited them. When both sides are tainted, the use of police and paramilitary forces will achieve little. Rather, it is now time for arrests, negotiations and a vow to practise politics without enlisting the aid of hardened criminals. Given the situation in Lyari, for now this applies to the PPP, but this is advice that other political parties in Karachi should also heed. The intersection of politics with guns and gangsters has brought nothing but grief to the city. It is time to end that once and for all.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2012.