Islamabad’s Political Incorrectness in the Karachi Dilemma!

By Dr. Haider Mehdi 

The Federal Interior Minister is urged to read this article not as a rebuttal to Islamabad’s incumbent government and its recent peace process initiative for Karachi. In fact this article offers an alternate policy option on the issue based on commonly accepted democratic practices and an adequately politically correct approach to conflict resolution. 

Leading social-psychologists all over the world are in complete agreement that political actors, the majority of them, tend to fall victim to “Group-Think” when faced with a conflict situation and led by a strong central leadership. This is exactly what happened at the recent APC held in Islamabad at the invitation of Nawaz Sharif’s government. Nearly all political players were in consensus on nearly all political issues confronting the nation including the Karachi dilemma; a city of lights turned into a nightmare of existence gradually over a period of the last 25 years. The question is: Did the APC participants analyze the root-cause/causes of the ever-expanding problematics of this city that has grown into a metropolis of diverse population and greatest business hub of this country?

I can state this with absolute conviction that significant conflict resolution deliberations and a thoughtful analysis were not conducted with utmost seriousness. Here are my reasons for stating so:

a) Almost all the participants in the APC were the same political identities who have been “part of the political game” ever since Karachi became a problematic issue. They all hold the same old political affiliations, the same mind set, the same political attitudes and the same identical political views that have, in fact, become irrelevant to the present day socio-economic-political problematics of a large metropolis.

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b) The APC was conducted, in large measure and in essence, to gain political legitimacy in the eyes of the masses. It was a political thriller organized with the explicit purpose of public diplomacy and well-intended political declarations for public consumption. The APC was skillfully crafted to convey the message: Look, this government cares.  This government is on the move.  This government is democratic. This government is committed to democratic participation and consensus. And yet, the results and the process set into motion for conflict resolution do not seem to be promising.  They cannot be – because they do not address the root-cause/causes of the prevailing conflict.

c) The political incorrectness of the APC’s conflict resolution process and initiative is obvious: The “Rangers and Police” operation is a cosmetic solution to a complex problem rooted so deeply in socio-economic-political factors that a “Rangers and Police” clean-up cannot effectively deal with it. Indeed, “Rangers and Police” will eliminate some elements, some miscreants will be arrested, some criminal players will disappear, some will hide and take safety measures until opportunities arise for a renewed resurgence of their criminal activities at a later date. After all, “Rangers” cannot be deployed to run and govern a large metropolis forever, specifically when it has the presence of strong and powerful political parties involved in conducting the business and the political processes in the city supported by their massive public mandate respectively.

The point I am trying to make is that the democracy we are practicing and have been practicing is flawed and has become irrelevant to our times. We fail to understand that our ruling class’s excessive political rhetoric conceived in our traditional political culture and its manifestation of giving rhetoric solutions to serious societal problems has, in fact, become outdated. This specific brand of contemporary Pakistani lip-service democracy absolutely devoid of issue resolution is irrelevant now in an age of massively large societies and complex humanitarian problems. The need is to manage these complicated human issues by expert scientific, technological and political management skills.

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Karachi is a case in point. The situation in Karachi is grave; the future of the city is murky and so is the entire country, being connected to the prevailing conditions there. We cannot colonize Karachi by Rangers.

The incumbent government, instead of calling an APC, should have organized a conference of social scientists, social psychologists, political scientists, economic experts, human behaviorists, cultural anthropologists, social behaviorists, town planners, urban psychologists, lawyers and town planning administrative managers to seriously understand and resolve the city’s present day problematic existence.

There, indeed, are democratic alternative solutions to the city’s problems other than deploying “Rangers and Police” to clean-up the city. Take for example a fundamental factor: Karachi now is a city largely controlled by various highly organized vicious and violent “Mafioso” interests patronized by different parties’ political leaderships.   They do business in millions and billions of rupees on a daily basis.  The question is:  Will these “Mafioso” organizations cease to exist when a “Rangers and Police” operation starts? One would be naïve to believe so. They will disappear momentarily and re-surface again – so will the city’s problems.

A “Rangers and Police” action is not the solution; the solution is in the democratic political management of the city. Let us discuss one such possibility here.

Urban psychologists would advise dividing Karachi into several “zones”. Each “zone” would be placed under the direct supervision and management of a political party’s representative with the largest public mandate in that area.  Each respective political party’s “Zone Manager” would be responsible for cleaning-up their area of criminal elements by coordination with law-enforcement agencies including the judicial system, restoring peace in the zone by directly involving the residents of the area, arranging safety and security of the residents and the entire business community in their area and coordinating with other “City Zones” for bringing the city back to its normal civilized existence and usual business activities. Karachi could be turned back into a “City of Lights” once again.

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In practical political management terms, my suggestion to Islamabad is to momentarily declare Karachi a “Democratic Administrative Entity” separate from the rest of Sindh province. This arrangement would have to be temporary until peace and stability is restored in the city.

Obviously, my plan for Karachi as a “Democratic Administrative Entity” would automatically place the city under MQM political management – it being the party with the largest public mandate. However, it should be noted that where other parties have a strong public mandate, it should be their domain of political management.

Let us give a chance to a new “out of the box” democratic experiment. Islamabad must learn to overcome its resistance to change – it must legitimize democracy as it should be legitimized.

Let MQM bear the responsibility of liberating Karachi from its political-economic-social abyss!