By Saeed Qureshi
The law and order situation and social peace, which was already precarious in Karachi, now with the target killing of GEO reporter Wali Khan Babar, has reached a saturation point. In addition to this deliberate brutal murder, several other citizens were also murdered today. The lives of these slain citizens are as precious as those of the prime minister and president of Pakistan
The GEO’s Ace and promising youthful reporter was known for his valor, deep dedication and passion for journalistic profession and hard work. He was merely 28 and was yet to see many springs in his life. His life was cut short by death squads rampaging and targeting the opponents and all and sundry at their own bidding without check.
A volatile province whose interior minister has the audacity to publically claim that “we are creating all this mayhem” and still remains in the high office because he is a close friend of the head of the state of Pakistan. It is a brazen slap on the face of the civil society. How can he be serious about maintaining peace and curb proliferating lawlessness when he claims to be one of those shooting at random?
The government in power, like other burning issues, has kept this most pressing and endemic issue of restoring order and peace in Karachi on the back burner. It has been stalling to seize this overly critical problem because its own stalwarts are part of the gang wars now spreading like a prairie fire. It is easy to issue condolence messages on the spur of the moment and forget the follow up actions when the heat and inflamed passions settle down.
The restoration of societal peace in Karachi is of paramount importance for its being the largest city and also the lifeline and jugular vein for the economy of the entire country. If its economy is choked and business activities, industries and port are either closed or run by fits and starts, then Pakistan is heading towards a total economic collapse.
The government is reluctant to hand over the task of restoring peace in Karachi to the army under the fear that it would pave way for the army’s take over. It would also be perceived as the government’s failure to provide safety and security to the life and property and other activities to the people of Pakistan. This is pure treachery and reprehensible self interest and a sordid bid for survival in power at an unforgivable cost of the unremitting orgy of blood of the citizens of Pakistan.
Even a child knows that Karachi has become a battlefield of the ethnic war being fought between three distinct communities, Muhajirs, the Pathans and the other fringe segments such as Punjabis, Baluchis and radical religious militants. The immigrants whose majority is illegal play their part by stoking the violence as paid agents. However, the main confrontation is between the Muhajirs and Pathans.
Muhajirs who came to Pakistan after partition of India in 1947and mostly settled in Karachi. The Pathans mostly economic workers came to Karachi for jobs and to earn a living. Initially they were peaceful. But later as a result of the Afghan civil war, the suburban localities where these Pushto speaking normally lived turned into flourishing markets for drug and weapons trade both for domestic consumption and illicit export.
The influential drug dealers started settling down in down town Karachi by buying businesses and property. They were joined by a huge influx of the Afghan refugees who also engaged in lucrative legal and illegal pursuits for making money. For drug dealers and weapon sellers, human life has no significance. The tragedy is that these monstrous elemens are backed and protected by politicians, bureaucrats and highly influential persons from other walks of life as they also get hefty shares from these unlawful and contraband businesses.
The Muhajirs initially swallowed this bizarre situation but when it started threatening and undermining their survival and ethnic solidarity they came out to stand up and face them in a tit for tat violent style. In due course they also organised and mobilized their own cadres to fight back and settle the scores for blood with blood. Both the communities have been engaged in attacks and counterattacks since 1984 when Altaf Hussain established the Muhajir Qaumi Movement later renamed as Muttahida Qaumi Movement.
The MQM has been accused of kidnapping and killing for ransom, target shooting and ambushing and torturing the dissidents from their own party. But usually the MQM’s such activities can be treated as retaliation or reprisals to the atrocities its cadres are subjected to. There are common yet unsubstantiated accusations against the MQM for taking Bhatta (extortion money) from the shopkeepers.
Before an open civil war breaks out, the government should move fast to hand over the task of restoring peace in Karachi to the army. The rangers and the police have failed in rooting out the crime and violence from Karachi. Invariably the action by the law enforcement agencies is to cordon the areas after the incidence of crime and then leave after some time. If the criminals, terrorists and sharp shooters are being aided by the politicians then it would be ridiculous and futile to expect of them to sincerely put out the flames of ethnic wars and stamp out deadly feuding.
The army has been neutral, has the light and heavy weapons, the training and organizational structure to effectively launch anti-crime blitz. It has the capability to clear the Karachi metropolis from the thugs, killers, mercenaries, the illegal immigrants, the warring gangs, the drug and weapon mafia, the sectarian terrorists and similar enemies of peace and for that matter of Pakistan.
The army knows how to deal with such a volatile situation. However, just by way of a feeler, it should impose a curfew with breaks, for a limited period of time (say two months) and set up military courts for speedy trials. The citizens should be encouraged to send their anonymous reports about the whereabouts and names of the criminals in their areas. This strategy would equip the army with most of the data about saboteurs, outlaws, bandits and rogue elements making easy their job of purging Karachi of these anti social elements and enemies of public peace.
While the known criminals with incontrovertible evidence can be dealt with by summary trials and face firing squads, those caught as suspects can be kept in custody, interrogated and if proven guilty should be given heavy jail terms or shot depending upon the nature and severity of the crimes. In this military action, no politicians and powerful individuals who incite and abet these criminals should be spared. They should also be given death sentences or incarcerated for their complicity
In the meantime, the government should convene all parties conference to hammer out a permanent solution to establish durable peace and order in Karachi particularly and elsewhere generally where, violence and terrorism is rampant and mushrooming by leaps and bounds without any let up.
If the government remained wedded to the merely churning out formal statements to crack down on the outlaws but does nothing on the ground, then barring recipients of perks and privileges, high profile jobs and wanton opportunities to enrich themselves, it would lose whatever trust or confidence the people repose in it.
The writer is a Dallas-based freelance journalist and a former diplomat writing mostly on International Affairs with specific focus on Pakistan and the United State. In Pakistan, he had worked for several years as a senior correspondent for daily “The Muslim” and “Pakistan Observer.” In 1992 he founded his own English opinion weekly Diplomatic Times and was its Editor and Publisher until 2001 when he moved to the United States.