A thousand dead in six days? Hundreds dead before then in Thar? At least a couple of thousand dead in simply labelled ‘targeted killings’ over the last few years? Yes, we have a name for this criminal act — targeted killings — that absolves us from any repentance of such inhuman extinction of a soul. Death through inattention has numbed our conscious into dour acceptance of what will outrage other societies. We count the 50,000 or so dead in this war against terrorism as a statement of fact; and then leave it at that. We have dehumanised conscience and internalised failure at its worst levels; nothing seems to stir our sense of repulsion. This is a sign of a decayed and dead society.
Karachi gives us two political parties in the main, and a host of religious outfits, some militant. The MQM is loudly whispered to allegedly keep a militant wing that it uses to scare people into submission; as well as to allegedly extort money and grab land that keeps its machine oiled. That such money also finds its way into the coffers of its leadership abroad, is a matter of judicial inquisition in the UK. As is now being loudly proclaimed as evidence provided by its singing agents, in keeping such function, it allegedly kills and maims; and the gauntlet closes around it. Both in the UK and in Pakistan, the moment of truth for the MQM is at hand. The biggest question that will be asked of the MQM is: what is its essence? Its self-exiled leadership that the entire party structure is meant to sustain through its alleged functions of death and fear; or, its political philosophy of standing for the middle class of Pakistan so truly represented in the multi-ethnic mosaic of the 20 million people of Karachi. Based on what the party decides in the days ahead will determine what will be Karachi’s karma.
The PPP, once a party with national presence, is the second political entity from Sindh that seems to have lost its bearings. It, too, is under the spotlight for the wrong reasons. Where earlier the brilliance of Benazir Bhutto shielded the party from massive allegations of embezzlement, now, without Benazir, it must contend with the continuing saga of misrule and even more allegations of creaming billions off Karachi’s economy. To many, the chickens are coming home to roost. And this is happening without the umbrella of a brilliant leadership, with the party being in the dumps, literally as well as functionally and politically, in an environment that is far different from the decade of the 1990s, under a watchful media, howsoever infantile, whose scrutiny is insistent; and where a military under a rejuvenated leadership is unlikely to barter its commitment to cleanse for the glamour and clamour of power.
One had not heard that billions could be made from a local building control authority office, or that the water board could deliver a 100 million per day to a principal. Only an inquisition empowered by the fight against terror in Karachi could have let the outsiders in on these leaking outfits. If indeed the end-all of a political purpose is to scavenge public funds, it has been all hunky-dory for the parties which have been in power in Karachi. Not anymore, though.
We have said long that terror and crime had both conflated in Karachi. That it had almost become impossible to differentiate between the two. It turns out that politics, too, is a partner in this conflation, in such interlocking relationship that when you touch one, you invariably impact all. That is when political sensitivities are aroused. It is another matter that differentiating the personal from the political, too, is now an impossibility. Saving personal interest through political agency will mean that terror, too, will escape again because of the nexus. When the combined political wisdom decided to ‘check and stop’ funding to the terror outfits, little did it know that the trail will lead to its own doorsteps. There was no way to escape this eventuality when politics, crime and terror had morphed into a singular entity.
To the current state. As the MQM heads into its moment of truth, no amount of platitudinous ‘reconciliation’ must now come in the way of reaching the truth on all allegations. It is important to cleanse the MQM of any alleged criminal elements through a legal process to ensure its survival as a bonafide political platform representing and giving hope to millions in the middle class.
The PPP, too, is faced with a political and moral dilemma of its own. An ill-thought response by the party leadership when its appointees in various offices of benefit were traced to the party’s patronage was in bad taste and unfortunately betrayed a huge sense of insecurity. Some of the PPP’s venerated members attempted to sidetrack the occasion as a manifestation of the lingering civil-military dissonance, playing the ‘victim’. This, too, was unfortunate. Democracy is not a shield against misdemeanour and white-collar crime. The PPP, too, will have to decide whether the party is a political philosophy or a personal fief. Its own moment of truth is round the corner as well.
Ill-advised proclamations by some of the military’s supporters, who jumped the gun in getting even with the PPP and the MQM not only vitiated the operating environment for the military, but have brought it to a point of a legacy civ-mil stand-off; an easy escape for the faulting politicos. Is this where the military would have liked to see itself? Probably not. Public and political support is essential for any involvement of the military in the civilian domain. It will need to be conscious of its importance and not lose it under cavalier idealism.
The PML-N, as the government, also stands a trial; to bring about a consensus among the political players of making morals, ethics and the rule of law count as political imperatives. Fortunately, it cannot be business as usual; and by hiding in the shadows of inaction in the name of being on the same page with the military cannot absolve the PML-N of its critical role. The approach, though, seems like a deliberate strategy. By staying in the shadows, the PML-N retains its option of jumping ship when it needs to revert to the bosom of conventional politics blaming it all on a hardheaded military. The net loser will again be the military. Ensuring political constituency of its actions in Karachi remains critical to the success of the operation by the military and the Rangers. Popular support alone may not be enough.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 27th, 2015.
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