January issue 2010

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 9 years ago

It was a grisly finale to what must rank as one of Pakistan’s deadliest years.

A suicide bomber (or was it a planted bomb) struck an Ashura procession on Karachi’s M.A. Jinnah Road, killing 43 and injuring over a hundred, some critically.

But that’s not where the tragic story ends. Three thousand shops were burnt to cinders by masked men armed with chemicals.

The question that is being raised repeatedly is not how the suicide bomber managed to break through the security cordon, but why the posse of 10,000-strong rangers, policemen and security personnel lining the procession route did not intervene to stop the marauders from setting shops, banks, cars, ambulances and police mobiles on fire.

Desperate shopkeepers pleaded for help but they were turned away by the security personnel: “We have orders not to intervene.”

So why were they there — just to stand and stare? Who was calling the shots that day?

One is not surprised at the conspiracy theories floating around, one of them being that the land mafia is behind the arson; they are determined to get this prime property, located near the Karachi Port, evacuated.

Questions are also being raised about why the fire tenders arrived so late — six hours after the event. And only 18 out of the 32 were operational; the rest were out of order, as was one of the four snorkels pulled in to put out the raging fires. The city fathers, who generally give the impression of “all is well and under control,” have a lot to answer for.

Instead of crying “Taliban” and “conspiracy” at every awkward query, they need to put their own house in order.

Karachi is sitting on a tinderbox is a recurring refrain.

A city bursting at the seams and stretched for resources; a city beset with political and ethnic tensions; a city overrun by drug-runners, gun-runners and land-grabbers — and now, Taliban sleeper cells. What does 2010 hold for the country’s economic lifeline?

If Karachi is, indeed, the country’s economic lifeline, it needs to be kept safe. As does the rest of the country. That is the biggest challenge the new year brings. The resilient masses of the country are up to the challenge — as they have proven, time and again. Is the leadership up to it is the moot point.

Newsline‘s annual for 2010 is now available on newsstands.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.