The tragedy that is Karachi

The cuts in development funds played havoc with the already poor state of jobs and infrastructure as the pressure of a forever rising population increased the misery of the people
One of the three truly metropolitan cities of the subcontinent, along with Mumbai and Kolkata, Karachi has the honour of being Jinnah's choice of Pakistan's Capital and his final resting place. Referred to as 'the city of lights' in the not too distant past and the commercial nerve centre of the nation, Karachi's dynamism provided hope to the country's aspirations. From Mai Kolachi's sleeping village on the sea to witness of the birth and engine of the early development of a new nation to now a bleeding and bruised metropolis of 20 million oppressed souls, is certainly a tragedy of great proportions for the city as well as the country.
Peaceful and progressive, Karachi was the gift of the generous Sindhis to the Quaid and it welcomed all with open arms; the refugees flocked from India and then the Pathans from the frontier and also the Punjabis and Baloch came, all to try their luck in the capital. The city grew from less than 500,000 people to over two million in no time! Due to the Korean boom speedy industrialisation was taking place in the city; jobs were being created so was an entrepreneur class coming into being. The nation was beginning to forget its painful birth and Karachi was leading it all.
The failure of civilian governments led to martial law and the arrival of General Ayub Khan in 1958. In 1961, Ayub decided to shift the capital from Karachi to Rawalpindi and then to a new city Islamabad. Like every military decision this one too was arbitrary, no discussions or consultations were held. Some of the profound reasons given were that Karachi's weather was not suitable and that the commercial hub was a corrupting influence. The real reasons were that the general wanted the capital next to GHQ, perhaps signalling the country's wedlock with the military. Also Punjab was not happy with the capital in Karachi, but then it is never happy when it does not possess what others have. The crippling cost of building a brand new capital by a poor nation would not deter the decision-makers. This decision traumatised the people of Karachi as they felt robbed and rejected. The first visible signs of an ethnic divide were becoming apparent, the muhajirs (refugees)who had it so good since 1947 — majority of senior civil service positions, industrialisation, banking and finance and the capital too — needed to be cut to size. Unfortunately, in Pakistan people do not believe in creating what they do not have, they believe in snatching from others to meet their need!
Ayub's basic democracy election in 1964 pitted him against Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah; Karachi was Miss Jinnah's staunchest supporter and the only major city in West Pakistan to defeat him. Punitive measures were ordered by government to drastically cut its development funds. A provocative victory rally of Gohar Ayub created havoc killing 14 muhajirs. The lines were being drawn politically, economically and socially as well.
With the breakup of the country came a new wave of refugees to the Quaid's capital and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto came to power in 1971. Soon Urdu-Sindhi language riots erupted throughout Sindh; ethnic violence gripped the city too. By now unemployment amongst educated youth was rising and poverty was increasing while migrants kept arriving from the north, competing for a shrinking job market. The cut in development funds played havoc with the already poor state of jobs and infrastructure as the pressure of a forever rising population increased the misery of the people. The sense of deprivation and persecution was becoming strong.
Ziaul Haq exploited the ethnic divide in Sindh in order to split and weaken the PPP in its home base. It is alleged that the ISI helped create the MQM during the early 1980s; they were given an ethnic-cum-political agenda, and just like other dubious creations, they were also armed. The 1985-86 battles with the Pakhtun community of Karachi set the MQM up as defenders of the 'Muhajir'.
Around this time began the organised extortion racket, the gang wars, tie-ups with the drugs and arms mafia and, most importantly, the corruption of and control over the police and other local security agencies. The circle of multifarious types of crime was complete by 1990. Well-financed, armed to the hilt and well-represented in parliament and government, the MQM was in complete control of Pakistan's largest city.
Both major parties, the PPP and PML-N, were fully aware of what MQM stood for and what its activities were but the greed for power led both of them to partner with the MQM in 1988 and 1990 respectively and various times thereafter. General Musharraf, a self-proclaimed Mr Clean, was very comfortable with them, regardless of the crime and the killing in Karachi. Neither did Benazir Bhutto nor Nawaz Sharif nor Musharraf think of what the people of Karachi were going through and what kind of fear and oppression they had to endure. God forbid, if this were happening in Lahore would they behave with the same criminal callousness? None of these leaders worried about the ramifications of the state being made a party to crime. We had already seen Zia's monstrous criminal and extremist creations in the 1980s and their close links with security agencies, and now these political alliances with the MQM completed the alliance of the state and organised crime. Therefore, Karachi was sacrificed to senseless expediency and greed for power combined with a complete lack of vision led to discarding cardinal principles of statecraft.
Numerous FIRs have been registered against Altaf Hussain and many of his party's senior leaders during the 1980s and 1990s for various crimes, particularly murders. None have been pursued as they are continuously in power! Media's silence has been obtained by actual attacks on the offices of the press, threats and various unsolved murder cases of journalists where it is alleged that MQM is involved. Is this the profile of a democratic political party? Are there any other major parties in the country matching MQM's halo of horror? Where there is so much smoke there has to be a blazing fire!
After a fallout with Sharif a military operation was carried out in 1992 by General Asif Nawaz against the MQM, and another one under Ms Bhutto in 1995-6. The amount of resistance and firepower the MQM was able to muster shows that it was not just a political party but also a heavily armed force. Why does it need such arms?
While these operations were going on against the MQM, the agencies propped up a breakaway group of gangsters with an even worse reputation than the parent organisation to take their place! So the luckless city saw the eight-year reign from 1992 to 2000 of the MQM-H. More of the same, fully supported by all security and intelligence agencies, so much so that police provided full security to their leaders on Karachi's roads! Partners in crime, the MQM-H were the darlings of the police and Rangers.
In 1995, the annual value of Karachi's total crime collection was estimated as Rs 800 crores, and 60 to 70 percent was retained by those who committed the crime while 30 to 40 percent was given to the city's 'don' who would have to take care of the police, politicians, etc. One can imagine how much this cake must have grown in the last 18 years; my guesstimate would be no less than Rs 4,000 to 5,000 crores. Certainly worth killing for!
Given a free hand after 1996 to continue in their ways, the MQM's assembly seats kept rising, regardless of what happened to other parties. Whether 50 people were killed in a day or unemployment increased or power and water shortages rose, the MQM's seat bank never saw a dip! This is a miracle performed by the barrel of the gun. Nowhere can any party sweep the polls for five elections in a row without either stealing the election or providing such peace, tranquillity and prosperity to its people that they vote for them repeatedly. Since living conditions have fallen and violence has increased, the only way such results can be maintained is through rigging.
Thousands of people have been killed in Karachi, body pieces found in gunny bags, but hardly any killers found. Political leaders of the MQM and others eliminated, no killers found; Zahra Hussain of the PTI shot dead a few weeks ago outside her house; the real killers will never be found. The reason is that the assassins are well connected to the police and Rangers.
The language of the MQM leaders, including Altaf Hussain, has always been aggressive and, sometimes, threatening. Since the elections Mr Hussain has often been threatening and inciting his followers to act violently against the PTI. This is not the discourse and culture of a political party or its leader. Such whimsical outbursts make a mockery of democratic parlance. The PTI is disputing about 25 seats in the Punjab against the PML-N, but the two parties have not come to threats or blows! Unfortunately, the MQM's outlook, its culture, its very raison d'être is based on violence and force to achieve its aims, therefore it is not surprising that every now and then the public sees the stark reality of naked threats and incitement to violence out in the open. Presently, there is panic as the PTI has challenged them, the silence is broken and chinks are appearing in their armour.
It was heartening to hear PM Sharif tell the MQM and PPP that violence in Karachi must end. It seems and it is certainly hoped that Sharif will not tolerate Karachi's subjugation any longer. The ECP should also heed the PTI's demand for re-counts or re-polling in selected Karachi constituencies so that the sanctity of Karachi's votes is restored. Pakistan's economy cannot be lifted out of the hole without restoring peace and tranquillity to the metropolis.
The writer is a freelance columnist