Jan 13, 2010

The battle for Karachi

Ikram Sehgal

The Ashura procession in Karachi was odds-on favourite to be targeted, yet this was more than just a terrorist attack. The motivated rioting that engulfed Boulton Market is extremely suspicious, the rush to judgment to a "suicide bomber" was unprofessional. The forensic investigation into the arson and looting in the aftermath of the bomb explosion is not yet complete. The reasons need to be uncovered from those arrested, as they may be far more complex. Prima facie this was collateral damage in the battle for turf in Karachi raging between the PPP and the MQM.

The enormity of the security task covering the entire route notwithstanding, the time gap between the explosion and remedial reaction thereof highlights a failure in law enforcement at the highest levels of leadership. Everyone and his uncle was expecting that something would likely happen. The lack of adequate and easily available reserves and the systemic breakdown of command communication are unacceptable. The enthusiastic dumping of blame on each other was pathetic. Everyone responsible in any way for security on that day was culpable for sheer dereliction of duty. There were experienced and able law enforcement officials on or near the spot. Why did they freeze on the job? Hampered by political intercession, in the face of looming disaster they should still have done their bounden duty in enforcing the laws of the land without hesitation, even if it meant going against their political bosses.

The population of Karachi is best estimated at about 15-16 million. Accordint to approximate figures, the largest segment of Mohajirs, or New Sindhis (six million-plus), is followed by Pathans (three million), Punjabis (two million), Sindhis and Baloch about two million together. Immigrants from other areas include those of Bangladeshi origin (1.6 million), Afghans (300,000), Iranians (100,000), Burmese (100,000), and others. In our "winner take all" democracy, the MQM has undeniably the right to rule, but must co-exist with the ANP representing the Pakhtoon community. With a solid constituency in the Sindhi-Baloch population of Lyari and Malir, and a large following among the other communities, the PPP must be part of the city coalition. Spread geographically over the city, Punjabis are divided politically, the PPP garnering most of their support.

Amid ethnic tensions Pakhtoons and Mohajirs in the city, there are Baloch gang wars in Lyari because of drug smuggling and narcotics peddling. "Gutter Baghiha" is now a real focal point of contention. The MQM wants a crackdown on the Pakhtoon population on the one hand and the PPP's power base in Lyari on the other. The federal government is stuck somewhere in between the need for MQM support and satisfying the hardcore ethnic Baloch and Sindhis of the PPP.

Rahman Malik made an absurd statement about "non-state actors" (more recently he referred to them as "gangsters") wanting to create a divide between the PPP and MQM when both are clearly engaged in trying to gain ascendancy in Karachi. The PPP hardcore are up in arms, literally and figuratively. Faced with rebellion from within his own party the federal interior minister as usual went off on a tangent, threatening "immigrants" in Karachi to leave the city within 30 days or face deportation. Seeing that ethnic Pakhtoons from Swat other districts of the NWFP and FATA are all Pakistani citizens, one wonders how anyone can justify deporting them?

A vast majority of the Bangladeshis, Iranian, Burmese and others is legal, and none has ever been involved in a terrorist incident. At the rate of 1,000 per day, deporting 1.6 million Bangladeshis will take some doing, not 30 days but more like 3,000--i.e., about 10 years. Hopefully Rahman Malik will arrange to get back the stranded Pakistanis (about 300,000) back from Bangladesh!

A quick survey showed that 29 buildings of different sizes affected housed 29 different merchant associations of different sizes. Thirteen buildings were declared safe by the Karachi Building Control Authority (KBCA), 16 had to be (or were already) demolished. Work was started immediately on the 13 buildings declared safe. The "Quetta Market," housing 400 shops, was the largest of the 16 to be demolished. The Nazim got the Association of Builders and Developers (ABAD) to commit to its construction. Within one week some renovated shops of the 13 buildings are already functioning, in another week all will be. Without relying on the government or donated money, at least 40-45 per cent of those affected by the manmade calamity will be humming with business in less than 20 days since the disaster. Putting people back on their feet to energise the economic cycle was the first phase. That's a job very well done. Karachi resilience at its very best!

The Rs3 billion that the federal government pledged along with Rs500 million promised by the Sindh government is still somewhere on its way. The bureaucracy willing, it may one day give relief to the affected people. The American Business Council (ABC) has meantime tapped USAID, which has immediately made $12.5 million available (Rs 1 billion) to be disbursed through ABC on an emergency basis after due verification of claimants. All this recalls the spirit of Earthquake 2005. More importantly, the city coming together at the grassroots level to help its own is extremely good for community morale.

Targeted killings are not new to Karachi. That they have again surfaced after a distinct gap is a matter of great concern. Don't we have enough on our hands because of terrorism? Every time one sees reasons for hope in Karachi, we become mired in another bout of violence. On the surface the incidents sometimes seem to have religious overtones, but they are mostly ethnic. Unfortunately, the people of Karachi are dying because of the resulting crossfire. The city confrontation has its basis in mostly greed and acquisition of power, the underlying reality behind both is land. Militants among the MQM, ANP and PPP are all armed to the teeth. They may well prevent this vast metropolis from being economically and socially emancipated, as was the distinct hope because of the relative peace and progress of the past few years.

Setting aside race, religion and/or political considerations the real battle should not be for land but for the hearts and minds of the populace. Instead of being left to pray for their souls, the PPP and MQM have to get their act together and take a step back from the land craze driving their political ambitions in the battle for Karachi.

No comments:

Post a Comment