Editorial: After Mumbai, Karachi
Ethnic rioting in Karachi saw nine people killed and 150 injured on Saturday. On Sunday, 20 more were killed and 50 injured. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has called for a report on what is happening, but at least one TV channel reported that an intelligence report sent to the prime minister has held India responsible for the mayhem. Comment that followed gilded the lily and connected all sorts of dots from Balochistan to the Tribal Areas where India was supposed to be making Pakistan suffer.
The truth, however, is that Karachi was experiencing trouble before the Mumbai attack. Politicians belonging to the MQM and the ANP had appeared on TV flinging outrageous accusations at each other, with the MQM repeating its charge that Talibanisation was taking place and it had begun with Sohrab Goth, the no-go area where the Pakhtuns live. The ANP said that the Pakhtuns could not be linked to Talibanisation as they were part of Karachi’s economic and social culture and had lived in the city for decades. There was also reference to specific places where new kiosks were coming up in preparation for the attacks that the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had warned about.
The worst affected areas were Banaras, Orangi Town, Qasba Colony, Baldia, Ittehad Town, Sohrab Goth, Pak Colony, Gurumandir, Patel Para, Nagan Chowrangi, Gulistan-e-Johar, Malir, Quaidabad Banaras, Qasba Colony and the surrounding areas, where heavy contingents of police and Rangers were deployed to restore the law and order situation. One can identify localities where the MQM and the Pakhtuns dominate. This means that an ethnic war is on. Riders on motorbikes and killers ensconced in cars pass through localities firing at all and sundry. Clearly, the target is the community, and not any specific group.
On Sunday, as expected, the citizens of Karachi got tired of what was going on and protested. They believed that the law enforcement agencies had failed to control the city’s law and order situation and had arrested only a few of the miscreants from different parts of the city. So lethal is the ethnic divide that officers were not ready to name the parties involved. One hundred killers were caught but it was not possible for the police to convey to the people what they had confessed. Let us hope that the prime minister will receive the facts as they are and that the shooting spree between the two ethnic groups is not dismissed out of hand through the device of accusing India.
In some ways the Karachi violence is worse than what happened in Mumbai. Only Orangi has two million people living in it in close to slum conditions. The rioters have struck indiscriminately, killing people, raping women, and burning houses, thus forcing the inhabitants to shift elsewhere. Similar conditions prevail in Sohrab Goth where the Pakhtuns live. If this continues, Karachi might soon have internal refugees who can’t go home either because their homes have been burnt down or because they fear the killers will get them. All signs here are of ethnic conflict. This level of bitter rivalry is seen only in communal conflicts, not in foreign-instigated violence.
Those who are encouraging a “united stand against India” campaign in the media should look carefully into the nature of trouble inside Pakistan. It is not wise to trust a statement — concocted or real — from Waziristan that the loyal tribesmen will stand side by side with the Pakistan army if India brings its troops to the border as it did in 2001. One ex-ISI chief actually expressed joy during a TV interview at the prospect of a war with India because Baitullah Mehsud would in that case be fighting for Pakistan. One should remind the war enthusiasts that every time the tribesmen have been used in war against India it hasn’t really redounded to Pakistan’s advantage.
The Sindh government has ignored early warnings of the conflict. The reason is embedded in the three-way ethnic divide in Karachi: the Sindhi, Pakhtun and Muhajir divide. The fourth segment is that of the religious elements who are not without muscle because of the strong madrassa presence in the city and the tendency among the Pakhtun to link up with them. The PPP-MQM coalition in Sindh goes against the grain of the Sindhi leaders of the ruling party and the tensions between the two are showing despite a degree of restraint on the part of their central leaders.
Let us be frank about facts. The ethnic trouble in Karachi is of long gestation and will go only if the rulers come to some kind of truce at the political level; otherwise ethnic antagonism is said to be more long lasting than any inter-state hatred. Whipping up hatred against India is not as important as suppressing the ethnic rage in Karachi. *
Second Editorial: Bloodiest month in NWFP
As if to rebuke those in India who accuse Pakistan of having plotted the Mumbai attacks, the news is that November was the bloodiest month of the year 2008 in the NWFP. It is a rebuke also for the jingoists in Pakistan who are forgetting that their homeland is no less deeply mired in violence than India. The latest flare-up is taking place in Bannu, with terrorists killing six policemen. Qayyum Sports Complex was targeted by a suicide-bomber from Darra Adam Khel, telling the world that Pakistan was not good for sports. A US aid worker was killed the following day in Peshawar. The Iranian diplomat Hashmatullah Attaarzadeh was next targetted — he was kidnapped from the city, and this was followed by Afghan Consul General Abdul Khaliq Farahi’s abduction. And so on.
What we must accept is that our territorial sovereignty is fast eroding. We are no longer able to control what happens here and therefore cannot be held responsible for what people from here go and do in other countries. But there is a dark and dangerous side to this observation. The plea of “non-control” and “non-responsibility”, which puts the onus on “non-state actors” instead of the state, leads to the building up of a desperate case for foreign intervention. If that happens it won’t be triggered by what is happening in Mumbai but what is happening in Peshawar. *