Published in Tehelka.
RECENTLY, A joke in Karachi has been mass-floating through text messages ‘Dost, ghar pe hai, ya bori main?’ (Brother, you at home or in a jute bag?) The bori depicts a new extortionists’ trend in Karachi where kidnapped victims are tortured, killed and thrown in different part of the cities in these boris. However, one must not be fooled by their sense of humour; the fear that keeps Karachiites up all night is much deeper. They live a life between gunshots, sirens, bomb blasts, shutdowns, strikes, target murders to mass killings, each followed by absolutely no authoritative control. Had there been control, 1,500 lives could have been saved in the first half of this year.
The once city of lights, the financial and cultural hub, is now the capital of combustions, where a bloodbath is becoming a technique to communicate political sentiments. Karachi is a sanctuary for immigrants. From those who migrated from India after Partition to those who shifted here to seek jobs, business, education, social amenities or simply a larger life. Karachi is a conurbation for people all over the country from diverse cultures, language and religions – Sindhi, Balochi, Afghan, Pathan, Punjabis and Mohajirs (immigrants from India). Ironically, this radiant diversity has also become its darkest curse; when both military dictators and civilian politicians have conveniently and unrelentingly fed their short-sighted personal interests by abusing this miscellany’s social environment. They collectively propagated and exaggerated racial fissures in Karachi’s jumbled polity to meet their own selfish, short-sighted and exploitative aims.
The number of deaths symbolises target killings (not militant attacks) and are far more brutal than those by the Taliban or other extremist outlets. The government’s extraordinary incompetence and its lack of will to deal with the situation speak alarmingly of its possible involvement. Watching the bloodshed of the innocent with such ineptitude portrays exemplary misgovernance, especially by the law enforcement agencies that seem efficiently ineffective. Sadly, the sufferers are innocent citizens who have spent their lives sunk in poverty, fighting lack of education and struggling for opportunities to better lives. Additionally, they leniently faced daily abuse and torture by the police, militant groups and other externalities. But their tolerance seems to have taken them to the wrong side of the fence. Of the 490 abducted in August a survivor Ikram, who closely escaped death, revealed the abductors beat him with sticks and belts and tried to suffocate him to death. Ikram was lucky to escape whereas most victims end up dead in jute bags, with broken limbs, gouged eyes and chopped heads.
Criminal gangs in a turf war can’t pull off this magnitude of violence without allowance from the controlling authorities. The police and soldiers have not been proactive and instead have been reactive. The police and their security outlets seem to be so ungripping of the situation because of their devout political affiliations. There has been prolonged debate on how the police is ignorant and has dealt with severe conditions with a laidback attitude.
Bilal Baloch, who recently conducted field research on Policing in Karachi says, “Ignorance is the wrong word. To say it is ignorance is to take the blame away from those who are pretty much deliberately responsible for letting them loose, instead of controlling the situation. It won’t be harsh — as a matter of fact – and many agree; to denigrate the police especially in this case. Considering the popularity that corruptive cultures like bribery, dis-positioning of civil liberties, and providing protection to politicians – blatantly degrading the rights of people, it is no doubt the police is not performing its duties to protect citizens. Their incompetence or mal-performance rather, is yet an “they are more abusive than the actual criminals,” explains Baloch.
The provincial authorities launched a crackdown in the 9 most stringent areas. However, little is expected of these search operations in terms of yielding positive results. While political parties are giving cover to militants who have managed to get absorbed into the militant wings of the political parties, the identification of the culprits in challenging, let alone their prosecution.
An argument supports the view that this spate of violence has been organized in the run up to population census and the consequent electorate delimitation for elections in the city. Harris Khalique, a columnist and a social policy consultant, explains, “The Muttahida Qaumi Movement in Karachi constitutes 41 per cent of the population. Its stalwarts continue to want a bigger share in everything than what they actually represent. The Awami National Party is a secular Pashtun nationalist group supported by mafias who freely dominate illegal trade, land-grabbing and transport. The leftist-liberal Pakistan People’s Party, currently in-charge of the state, wishes to consolidate its presence and power by using expedient methods.” He emphasises the need of an intensive method to crackdown on militancy, which should work as independent of political bias as possible. No one can be the sole proprietor of Karachi. Khalique believes the census and the delimitation would bring about fundamental changes if they are allowed to happen. agree, to denigrate the police in this case. Considering the popularity that corruptive cultures like bribery, dispositioning of civil liberties, providing protection to politicians and blatantly degrading the rights of people enjoy, there is no doubt the police is not performing its duty of protecting citizens. Their incompetence or malperformance, rather, is more abusive than the criminals,” explains Baloch. After about 1,000 deaths, the provincial authorities launched a crackdown in the nine most stringent areas. However, little is expected of these operations. While political parties are giving cover to militants who have managed to get absorbed into the militant wings of the political parties, the identification of the culprits is challenging, let alone their prosecution.
THESE OPERATIVE failures are paramount examples of Pakistan’s own rotative malfunction as a state. Even though optimism is rare, the best method seems to be public involvement. Victims and spectator citizens should reclaim their city, their security and their right to live. For change to come, Karachi must ‘build a popular movement, a seemingly impossible task given our history of apathy, fear, and lack of political will,’ says Sabeen Mehmood, a social activist. Karachi needs to ‘overcome the dastardly effects of decades of military rule and make the transition from protest to resistance. Activism has to be sold like a product and has to be made alluring to people of privilege. I don’t think we have the luxury of time. Band-aid solutions won’t help either. We need to focus our strategies around deweaponisation and not on bringing in the army,’ she adds.
Zeenia Shaukat, a research analyst and social activist says, “If Karachi is to stop bleeding, the citizens have to reflect on how they want to address the issue. If they continue to seek recourse from vested interest protectionist groups or call the military for help, this is no lasting solution. They did so in the past and it has exaggerated the situation. Karachi’s citizens will have to get united and give out a clear message to the state that this nonsense is intolerable.” This has to be done politically but this is the only solution. The state must withdraw its support to the murderers and extortionists and protect citizens. Sabahat Ashraf, a political analyst recommends, “Direct civil action is needed at the centres of power.” It may be the best method for citizens who are risking business, livelihoods and lives. Karachi can only be saved by its people.