Pakistan is host to countless conflicts that range from generations-old blood feuds to internecine tribal warfare to the asymmetric conflict with terrorism and the spreading darkness of sectarianism. There is nowhere in the country that is free of the taint of conflict, large or small, and the body count rises by the day. Despite the spread in geographic terms, much of the country remains, at least nominally, under the control of the provincial and federal governments, but some places are not and Karachi is one of them.
The last year has seen a deterioration in the security environment of the City of Lights that marks it out as a battleground of unremitting and merciless ferocity. Such is the level of violence that the term ‘war zone’ is not inappropriately applied, and it is only the absence of mobile armour and artillery that prevents the city being described as engaged in ‘total warfare’. There are pockets of governance to be sure, and a facsimile of normality is maintained daily by a battered and frightened populace, but the underlying reality is that Karachi is a city out of control — or rather out of control of both the forces of law and order and civil governance.
Matters came to a head in September 2013, with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif deciding to launch (yet another) operation in the city using the Rangers as a primary tool, the city police being seen as much a part of the problem as a part of the solution. By the end of the year, according to a report in this newspaper, there were around 2,700 dead and over 40,000 reported incidents of criminality — with untold thousands unreported. Political gangsterism, sectarian infighting, extortion, blackmail and kidnapping for ransom all continued unabated, and although the Rangers made a dent in the upwards curve of crime in general terms, their arrests have yet to translate into successful prosecutions, and there is now a backlog of cases awaiting a judicial hearing.
The city is heavy with guns. The Rangers netted around 8,469 of them but the inflow is ceaseless and there will be just as many coming in as are taken out of circulation. Small improvised explosive devices (IEDs), euphemistically called ‘crackers’ but in reality deadly shrapnel grenades, have made an appearance. Remotely-detonated IEDs have been used to effect against the law enforcers and there are reports of devices attached to vehicles magnetically. ‘Target killers’ are hired guns, mercenaries, kill to order, some of them prolifically so. The Rangers caught 112 of them, the police 69, and hundreds wait in the wings.
Extortion and intimidation are rife; there were 28 bank robberies, 10,501 mobile phones snatched and a not-very-grand total of 321 robbers and street criminals nabbed. There were 26,352 vehicles snatched and 1,441 people arrested for narcotics offences. In this blizzard of figures, there are notable absences, principally the Big Fish, most of whom headed out of town on the announcement of the September operation, and there is no mention of successful prosecutions under anti-terror legislation. What we are presented with is a catalogue of the criminal small fry, the bit players. The police and Rangers have paid dearly — 172 policemen and 19 Rangers died in 2013 — to achieve this score but the underlying reasons for this vast bloodletting remain unaddressed.
Unless the nettle of political violence is grasped and known terrorists and gangsters caught, held and prosecuted, nothing is going to improve. These three toxic ingredients keep the bloody broth a-boil. To successfully battle all of them, there has to be a steely and unwavering political will and a ruthless cull of the heavily politicised police force. Experience tells us that often mere lip service has been paid to such endeavours, but this must change and unless concrete and decisive measures taken, Battlefield Karachi will bleed into its own gutters.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2014.
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