June issue 2004

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 20 years ago

Five weeks of bloody violence and anarchy, five bomb blasts, 60 plus people killed, hundreds injured, banks and private properties looted, several dozen cars gutted — and investigators are still groping in the dark. There are no clues, no culprits, only conjecture. Al-Qaeda, sectarian outfits, extremist groups, intelligence agencies, American agents — who is behind these dastardly acts?

For a city that contributes 70 per cent to the national exchequer by way of taxes, and is touted as the country’s economic lifeline, Karachi has been treated like an outcast, and allowed to go to seed by those who remote-control it from Islamabad.

After foisting a bunch of incompetent men on Sindh, some of them yesteryears’ murderers and thieves by the government’s own reckoning, the power-brokers now talk of reinstating the party with the majority vote, the PPP, whom they had wilfully kept out, in a ‘consensus’ government.

The MQM is livid and threatens to resist any move to poach on its territory. The last time it felt threatened, there was blood on the streets of Karachi. Twelve people were killed in the recent bye-elections to the Sindh and National Assembly seats, and the Jamaat accuses the MQM of killing nine of its workers; the MQM also lost three party workers in the violence.

The battle shows no signs of abating, and energies that should have been invested in improving the city’s infrastructure and solving its multifarious problems, are being wasted in waging a futile war that has brought this city of 14 million people to the verge of collapse.The centre cannot afford to take sides; it needs both the MQM and the Jamaat-led MMA for the hodge-podge it has carved out in the name of democracy.

Meanwhile, the city of dreams has turned into a war-zone for self-seeking vested interests: from extortionists to land-grabbers to gun-runners to drug-smugglers, everyone wants a slice of the pie.

Adding to Karachi’s grave problems is the network of extremist jihadi and sectarian groups operating out of Karachi that has turned the city into a haven for terrorists who strike and then disappear into the darkness of the night. Musharraf’s half-hearted war against terrorism has failed to rein in the extremists who continue to haunt him with their firepower and their reach.They have even managed to infiltrate the rank and file of the army and the country’s police and intelligence network.

That being the case, Karachi’s law and order situation will continue to pose a major problem. And given that its political dispensation is being remote-controlled by the czars of Islamabad, the city’s return to normalcy seems like a distant dream.

In a recent column for The Washington Post entitled ‘Enlightened Moderation,’ President Musharraf wrote: “The suffering of the innocent multitudes, particularly my brethren in faith — the Muslims — at the hands of militants, extremists and terrorists, has inspired me to contribute towards bringing some order to this disorderly world… Something has to be done quickly to stop this carnage in the world and for Muslims to stem the downward slide…”

Karachi is a good starting point, Mr. President, a disorderly world that could do with some semblance of order. For starters, it needs a representative government, an efficient government and an effective government, not a bunch of ineffective cronies who are simply interested in waging wars to retain their turf. If Karachi is Pakistan’s lifeline, let’s bring it back to life.

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