Karachi has seen unrelenting violence, whether it has endured terrorist attacks, battled petty crime, recuperated from sectarian violence or witnessed rival political groups fighting turf wars. The escalating violence in a sprawling metropolis of approximately 20 million continues to intensify with a bomb blast that killed 11 children after a football match in Lyari and four other bomb blasts in a span of an hour, targeting liquor stores in various parts of the city. In the most recent case, gunmen brazenly opened indiscriminate fire at the Express Media offices bringing to light two disturbing facts: one, that Pakistan continues to be one of the most dangerous places for journalists and second, the unacceptable breakdown in the security apparatus that remains indolent and ineffective to maintain any law and order. While the future of a great nation is repeatedly targeted and the dreams of a ‘secular’ Pakistan are rapidly eliminated, the city and its people refuse to cower. If anything, they have emerged stronger and more adamant to fight back.
However, this resilience, though admirable, only illustrates a spiral of uncontrollable violence and the inevitable deterioration of a collective mindset, for sooner than later, the cracks will begin to show, the courage will diminish and hopelessness will prevail. Governed by a flawed system that fails to acknowledge accountability and in most cases, remains detached from its people, the citizens of Karachi will have to take ownership of their future; and they will have to do this fast because with the test of time, resilience wears out and apathy settles in.
Innumerable bomb blasts on military bases and commercial property, the irreparable loss of innocent lives, the increase in targeted killings, the heightened security of the elite, the rise in kidnappings and the general paranoia and fear that grips even the more affluent parts of the city, is palpable and worrying. Particularly troublesome is the acknowledgment that reliance on the government is futile, which begs the obvious question: what are the citizens of Karachi to do when they cannot even seek security or assistance from those whom they have elected to uphold the rule of law and safeguard the basic rights of the people. Utopia is certainly a funny thing but working within a system, regardless of how dysfunctional it may be, is the only option. To gradually introduce a more transparent and reliable system of governance, it is imperative to understand and address the flaws that already exist. And for that, patience and perseverance is critical.
‘Karachiites’ are quick to protest on the streets at even the slightest hint of an infringement upon their political rights as was evident from the protests at Teen Talwar following the May 11 elections. The denial of security is a much greater threat to survival. Urgent and collective measures, exercised by concerned citizens and the private sector, are required to sustain pressure on the new government to save the deteriorating heart of an already crumbling economy. The current state of the economy is certainly complicated but now is the time to ascertain what can be salvaged and in doing so, promptly introduce new measures to yield workable, if not positive, results. While the prime minster has ‘taken note’ of the escalating violence in Karachi and recognises the correlation between ending terrorism and boosting the economy, words are of little consequence if not followed up by actions. According to the All-Pakistan Business Forum, Karachi, the country’s financial and industrial capital, can potentially attract close to $15-20 billion if the law and order situation were improved.
In many ways, Karachi will continue to burn if its economy is shunned and its citizenry is unable to inflict sustained pressure on the government to introduce stringent security measures. Every violent incident that takes place in Pakistan’s beating heart of 20 million people, who strive to recover every day, is not just an illustration of Karachi’s resilience but also a painful reminder of just how much it has deteriorated.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd, 2013.