Karachi at the mercy of another experiment

The previous two attempts made to tackle Karachi’s violence and law and order situation ended in complete failure 

We are informed by Chaudhry Nisar that momentous decisions are on the anvil for ending Karachi’s misery and restoring law and order to what has been the totally neglected single most important issue in the country for the last 30 years. Over the years, the problems have been deliberately complicated, the players have kept on increasing, the firepower has become sophisticated, syndicates between gangsters and terrorists have emerged, turf wars have intensified, and what was initially a bad situation has been allowed to deteriorate into an enormously complex national problem.

It was surprisingly naive to discuss plans for an operation in such details or even at all. Why are we warning those whom we want to target? The vultures you want to net will fly off! May I remind the minister of previous occasions when people have disappeared with even lesser or no publicity?

The previous two attempts made to tackle Karachi’s violence and law and order situation ended in complete failure. Before embarking on another attempt, the interior minister must study in depth the reasons for their failure. Politicians, when they are in the opposition, criticise and suspect the bureaucracy’s findings. Once on the ministerial chair they tend to believe and defend their bureaucracies. Therefore, if the basis of Chaudhry Nisar’s knowledge on the two failed attempts of the 1990s is going to come from the civil and law enforcing bureaucracy and their official reports, then he will definitely be misinformed. The views of the intelligence agencies were and are still skewed on the subject. Therefore, he should look for other sources of information.

In 1991-92 the Nawaz Sharif government initiated ‘Operation Cleanup’ by the army, primarily against the MQM. The MQM-H was formed by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) when a few rebels broke away from Altaf Hussain and were handed over to the ISI to use against the main MQM. Now this rebel group were said to consist of the worst elements of of an already ill-reputed party. The military promoted this lot as Karachi’s saviours! In fact, the MQM-H took control of the underground scene in partnership with the police and Rangers who provided protection and shared the enormous profits. Karachites had a new boss whose outfits terrorised them worse than ever before. How could you expect the people of Karachi to support the military knowing that they had been handed over to a worse regime? It was largely due to lack of people’s support that the operation failed. The other important reason was that armies are neither trained nor equipped to take on such operations in congested cities.

The MQM-H’s hold on Karachi lasted until 2000 or thereabouts. During this period, in 1995, the PPP government of late Benazir Bhutto also went on the rampage against the MQM and again made the doomed choice of the Haqiqui as their partners! However, there was a difference; now the senior members of the PPP Sindh government were also beneficiaries of the loot. The criminalisation of the State was now becoming apparent. The Rangers and the then Director General, the IB, the police, and I suppose also the ISI were involved in protecting, promoting and defending the Haqiqui at all stages. It is certain that the proceeds were shared with many, including senior officers. Therefore, in such a situation when your so-called saviours from one evil become your even wore oppressors, how can a people be expected to support them? And let it be clear that in a city of almost 20 million no operation can succeed without the support of the people.

After the demise of the Haqiqui, old and new players emerged on the scene and took control of the crime and blood enterprises. Political parties, politician extortionists, target killers, kidnappers, bank robbers, TTP, sectarian killing Jhangvies from their safe havens in south Punjab, gangsters and would-be gangsters, all find satisfaction in making fortunes accumulating power and derive vicarious pleasure in keeping the city soaked red.

The interior minister in his address to the media on August 28 was all praises for his law enforcing agencies and their heads. The minister is informed that this is far from the truth. Many or should I say most in the federal and provincial law enforcing agencies are partners in crime, play a major role in oppression of the people and are politicised in the Karachi area. The Rangers have been stationed in Karachi at least since the 1990s; can such crime exist if they were honest about their job? When the minister says the DG Rangers is helpless when courts and politicians let go of criminals, let me inform him of a fact: I know of a DG Rangers who specially flew from Karachi to Islamabad to meet the then prime minister to plead for a very high level criminal whose arrest orders had been issued by the then interior minister and he was successful in getting those orders rescinded! Therefore, we should think hard before we place our trust in these agencies. Consider replacing from other regions so that at least old links are broken.

Of course, a targeted operation is necessary, but this really is a money and power game. If the minister can follow the money trail and recognize that those in power over a period of time and those wielding power on parts of the city along with the law enforcers account for the majority of the action, his job will become easier.

Chaudhry Nisar’s idea of a monitoring committee consisting of political parties is worrisome. If they have powers to interfere in the operations then it would be chaotic and the operation is doomed. If not, what will they be doing? The only logical monitors can be the chief minister and the federal interior minister. On the one hand, the interior minister informs us repeatedly that various political parties are involved, and on the other, he says that certain political parties who are stakeholders will be invited to a cabinet meeting. What if those parties or some of their people are also involved? It makes a mockery of a cabinet meeting being held on such a sensitive issue where major decisions are to be made. All that is needed is the presence of the chief minister and his being on board.

Normally we have the tendency of not going beyond the surface of things, there is only little thought given to pre-operational details and none to post-operational needs. Are we thinking at all of the thousands of youth involved in the crime industry, those at the lowest levels who would be unemployed if the operation is successful? These misled youth pose a great danger to society if they are not rehabilitated and gainfully employed. Then there is the question of the law enforcing agencies that would also be deprived of a substantial part of their income; they too will create serious problems for the government and the people at large. How will the government deal with them? What is the policy on de-weaponisation going to be?

It is imperative that whatever has to be done is well planned and its planning is not in the hands of the usual bureaucracy; take some time and monitor it closely. The nation and Karachi cannot survive a botched operation. There is no time for experiments; your failure will mean disaster in all spheres for the country and all efforts of the government to lift the sinking economy will also come to naught.

by: Farooq Sumar
The writer is a businessman and a former chairman of the National Textile Foundation.