Delusion Versus Reality – Amir Zia

Despite the three-month long continuing operation against criminals and terrorists, Karachi remains as dangerous and lawless as ever. Refuse to accept what many of our top government officials want us to believe – that the operation has brought the crime rate down and managed to rein in killers, extortionists, drug peddlers and robbers.

Our rulers live in a make-believe world. They wear rose-tinted glasses and feel safe in their bubble. The high walls of official residences, siren-hooting motorcades and empty roads – where no trespassing is allowed when the lords and masters of today’s Pakistan move from one place to another – make everything around them appear hunky-dory.

But the rough and tough real world of Karachi’s ordinary citizens is unsafe and treacherous. In this world, killing and being killed by a bullet is far easier than getting an appointment from a doctor at a government health facility or enrolment of your child in school. Whatever the government statistics may claim, here killers strike at will. Assassins come, shoot and simply walk away. The business of killing has become as simple as that.

The first six days of December are enough to put a big hole in the grand delusion that the Karachi operation is heading in the right direction. These six days saw more than three dozen people shot to death in various parts of the city. December 3 proved the worst, a day on which more than a dozen people were killed. The list of victims included Sunni and Shia clerics, seminary students, policemen, political activists and several ordinary citizens.

Let the top police and rangers officials bask in the glory of ‘successful raids’ by their men, which led to the arrests of over 10,000 suspects and seizure of a huge number of weapons. The chest-thumping done by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his talented Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and bigwigs of the provincial government fails to alter the ground reality where the non-state actors have greater control over violence, which should ideally be the prerogative of the state.

Despite the operation, assassins have effectively managed to underline the bitter fact that the police and the Rangers are not the masters of the situation in this teeming port city.

The lull in killings that followed the start of the Karachi operation is part of the old pattern in which after every spike in violence there comes a similar period of relative calm. Haven’t Karachi-ites seen this before?

The players and faces of executioners change and new brutal forces join in the game of death, pushing lawlessness to the next higher level. But what doesn’t changes is the state’s inability and unwillingness to deal with the challenge. As a result Karachi – with its myriad ethnic, sectarian, social, economic and political conflicts and contradictions – now seems to be resting on a gunpowder keg which can ignite and explode anytime.

The state institutions are on the back foot. After every fresh bout of violence, they either get into a fire-fighting mode or prefer to take a backseat and let the conflict temporarily subside on its own. In both these cases, the root causes of the strife remain unaddressed.

Take for example the issue of sectarian killings. The security forces do arrest notorious militants, but they are seldom brought to justice because of weak investigations, poor prosecution and a highly flawed judicial system. These convicted operate terror networks from prisons against the backdrop of an ill-judged moratorium on hanging placed by the previous government in 2008.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government continued with the cessation in hanging in the larger interest of convicts. In today’s Pakistan, convicted murderers have human rights, but those they kill – and their families – have none. They are just forgotten to appease the European Union, the rights groups and the outlawed terror organisations.

This is only one aspect of the problem. The state and its institutions also fail to act against those nurseries which produce the extremist mindset. Pulpits and seminaries continue to operate unregulated. The current government has gone an extra mile to appease extremists by its desperation to hold talks with the Al-Qaeda-inspired local Taliban. No wonder, our security forces do not know whether to treat these forces as friends or foes. The security apparatus stands paralysed thanks to the confusion brought about by the mantra of talks by the right-wing religious opposition and even the government’s stalwarts – foremost among them being our interior minister.

When the man in charge of the country’s internal security fails to recognise threat and give direction, it would be unjust to blame the security agencies at his command to do the needful. The same is the case with militants affiliated with political and mainstream religious parties. They also benefit from the shortcomings of the prosecution and the judicial system.

Political considerations prevent security officials from going for a decisive action. The so-called operations and crackdowns are carried out in fits and starts. Policing gets further compromised when sitting provincial ministers patronise ring leaders of extortionist and criminal mafias.

Let’s not forget the banned Peoples’ Amn Committee of Lyari and its ties with some of the stalwarts of the Pakistan People’s Party. No wonder the committee’s top-gun Uzair Baloch escapes abroad so easily. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, despite its emphatic lip-service on breaking ties with militancy, continues to harbour militants under its wings.

There are a few things that never change. The Awami National Party, the Sunni Tehreek, the Jamaat-e-Islami and several others including Sindhi nationalist parties all have armed gangs at their disposal and many of them directly involved in crime and terrorism.

To add to this problem is the fact that authorities are seen as unfair players in Karachi’s cauldron. The PPP now represents the interests of the rural ruling class. Most of its actions – including continuously framing and changing laws to make the local bodies as ineffective as possible; supporting one gang of outlaws to counter the muscle power of the MQM; and heavily biased structure of provincial taxation – are seen to be against the interest of the urban population.

Unfortunately the PPP leadership is perceived as too self-serving and corrupt to manage the affairs of Karachi fairly. The police and other agencies at the provincial government’s disposal get tainted and their actions become controversial because of the trust gap between the rulers and the ruled. Disconnect between the government and aspirations of the people remains a major stumbling block in dealing with crime and terrorism in the city.

The multitude of social problems and vast economic disparities only makes the Karachi challenge more complex and grave. They provide readymade ingredients, which allow crime mafias and terrorist networks to thrive and expand.

The crisis in Karachi can still be managed, but it requires difficult decisions. The police force needs to be free from political pressures. It should be seen as a neutral player, working for the supremacy and rule of law rather than the whims of ministers and for advancing their political goals.

Along with a crackdown on criminals and terrorists, there is a need to clean the grounds that breed them. This requires investment in education and economic and social uplift. The government needs to do away with the dichotomy in law by lifting the moratorium on the death penalty. This will help in establishing the writ of the state and prevent private vendetta. Judicial reforms for quick dispensation of justice also remain long overdue. They should be high on the priority list.

The most important step is the introduction of an effective and powerful local governance system, which our major political parties love to hate since it erodes their power and clout. But for a pro-people democratic order, powerful local bodies are a must. Are the elected representatives in the mood to do the needful? So far all indications are negative. They appear content to live in their delusionary world as Karachi suffers and remains caught in the vortex of lawlessness and disorder.