Ethnic strife in Karachi

More than two dozen people have died in another spate of target killings in the country’s economic hub Karachi. A partial curfew was imposed in selected areas of the metropolis after Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik met top provincial officers there. It was decided to increase the presence of police and rangers in Karachi’s “sensitive and grey areas”. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) will also be involved apart from commandos who will be dropped from helicopters to conduct raids in the troubled areas during daytime surveillance. The law and order situation in Karachi has been deteriorating for many months now despite the efforts of security agencies to normalise it.

Whenever ethnic strife in Karachi increases, Mr Malik makes it a point to visit the city and try to calm the situation. Even though law and order is a provincial subject, Karachi’s importance to the country may be the reason why the federal interior minister is also seen coordinating with the provincial law and order authorities. While the decision to involve FIA in the operation and increase the deployment of police and rangers’ personnel is a step in the right direction, para-dropping commandos will have to prove its efficacy. Aerial surveillance itself is a good idea but to conduct raids in this manner in a large city like Karachi may not be viable. This is not FATA, Swat or South Waziristan. Not only is the city densely populated, it is a warren. Collateral damage in urban areas is a real concern. Those asking for a military operation right now must keep in mind that previous such operations in Karachi have only led to increased bitterness and opened the doors for more bloodshed. There will be greater political fallout as well if a military operation is carried out since the army’s use of force is like a blunt instrument. Ethnic strife can be better curbed through good police and intelligence work. But this can only succeed when the law enforcement agencies are empowered to act against the violence perpetrators without fear or favour.

What is critically needed is a political consensus. The PPP’s coalition partners – the MQM and the ANP – in the Sindh Assembly must be brought on board and a long-term solution sought. The PPP is in a position to play a mediatory role because the other two parties are always at each other’s throats due to the Mohajir and Pashtun factor. The PPP is the leading partner in the coalition and must demonstrate its neutrality. The ethnic problem in Karachi is related to a turf war. Both the Mohajirs and the Pashtuns have acquired political and armed muscle by now. The heavy presence of Pashtuns has changed the ethnic demography of the metropolis. Unless both the warring factions are brought to the negotiating table, things will not settle down.

Some arrests have been made and more will follow. No one should be spared for political or expedient reasons. Mr Rehman Malik has once again pointed fingers at an invisible hand, i.e. ‘the third force’. It must be asked who these invisible ghosts are who come down, do their job and leave without any trace whatsoever. The interior minister must not take away our focus from the real task. Whoever is involved in fanning the fire must be caught and punished. Lack of political will to counter the situation is quite visible. It is time to hammer out a political consensus and crack down hard on the killers instead of papering over the issues at hand.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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