Of warnings and promises

The situation in Karachi is not getting any better. At the time of writing these lines, 11 people had so far been killed in a fresh bout of violence on Tuesday. This happened a day after federal interior minister Rehman Malik met with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leadership in Karachi to end the current imbroglio. The meeting was successful despite the MQM showing its reservations about Mr Malik’s ‘assurances’. Even though there had been reports that the MQM was contemplating leaving the coalition government, after the PPP assured the party that those spreading violence would be found and brought to book, the MQM has decided to remain in the government. MQM chief Altaf Hussain warned that if the PPP does not deliver on its promises this time round, his party will take a stern decision. Altaf bhai said that the PPP should not “take the democratic attitude of the MQM as its weakness” because “the MQM is not hungry for power, it wants to bring about a revolution”. The MQM has been in power one way or another almost since its inception. It has been an ally of all governments, be they civilian or military dictatorship.

Rehman Malik has come up with a new method of finding the culprits in Karachi. He has asked all political parties to provide information to the government if “any worker or activist involved has been expelled from the party”. Those arrested over charges of target killings claim affiliations with one political party or the other but the interior minister said that regardless of which party they belong to – be it the PPP, ANP or the MQM – they would be punished. Some of those arrested are not actually affiliated with any party but use the party umbrella as a cover. Prima facie, Mr Malik’s suggestion that a database of expelled workers be developed would not serve much purpose if these elements are in any case lying about their party affiliations. Target killings in Karachi are mostly along party and ethnic lines, with the Pashtuns rallying behind the ANP, the Mohajirs the MQM, and the Sindhis and Baloch the PPP. Not only are ordinary citizens suffering in the metropolis, Karachi being a port city and the industrial and commercial hub of the country, the recurring violence causes losses of millions of rupees per day. Extreme measures are needed to bring normalcy back to Karachi. A strong arm policy of ‘shoot on sight’ may help prevent some incidents of target killing, but without tackling the situation politically, things may not calm down. The PPP has to play a central role in this situation as it has so far not been as tainted in this target killings spree while both the ANP and the MQM blame each other for this ballooning crisis.

The MQM has used the threat to leave the coalition partly as a pressure tactic. Trouble has not left Karachi ever since the MQM came to power. Despite vociferous denials of the MQM leadership that its party is involved in target killings, there are reports that due to the land and bhatta mafia, a turf war between the ANP and the MQM has led to this sorry end. The only way to end this political turf war is to take a two pronged approach: tough measures on the ground and political mediation by the senior coalition partner, the PPP, to resolve the crisis.

(my editorial in Daily Times)


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