Editorial: Karachi blows up again
After the Wednesday killing of two MQM workers in the northern part of Karachi, bikers went on a spree of murders in Khwaja Ajmer Nagri, Surjani Town and New Karachi Industrial Area. Till the last news, around 30 people had been killed and many more wounded while dozens of vehicles and small shops were set on fire. The situation has forced the government to close all educational institutions in the city. Karachi is once again in the grip of complex violence, but this time it was precisely predicted before it happened.
All the three parties in the ruling alliance in Sindh have lost men from their communities. The MQM and the ANP were supposed to be on the warpath, but even Sindhis have been murdered, which must adversely impact the PPP’s stance of being a neutral and honest broker in the dispute. The Rangers have sent in their commandos and arrested a number of people taking part in the violence. The Rangers’ commander says rightly that the violence can end if the three political parties cooperate. This points to the ethnic nature of the current round of violence.
The Sindh ANP leader has spoken about a “foreign hand”. What did he mean by that? Does he have evidence of the involvement of any hostile intelligence agency acting as agent provocateur or was it the usual knee-jerk reaction that unfortunately finds ready resonance in Pakistan when any violent incident has to be obfuscated? The ANP does not point to the Taliban these days as a policy; therefore, the Pashtun leader in Karachi could not have been laying it at the door of Baitullah Mehsud. On the other hand, the MQM has been constantly issuing warnings about a Taliban invasion of Karachi. For his part Baitullah Mehsud has publicly boasted that he would take over Karachi too one day.
But the MQM is a controversial entity in Karachi. Its warnings have been dismissed as needless alarmism by those who oppose its politics and strong-arm methods. The provincial home minister has said there is no threat from the Taliban; and the ANP is compelled to represent all Pashtuns in Karachi because of the vulnerable situation of all the peace-loving and hardworking migrants from the NWFP and the tribal areas. Yet there is no doubt that some Pashtuns in Karachi look to the Taliban as their redeemers in the middle of a number of alienated communities. This was proved this week when neighbourhood jiziya-demanding Pashtuns beat up and wounded a number of Christians in Tiasar Town in the Surjani area, a place where the latest bout of violence has unfolded.
Reference has cropped up also to the “land mafia” and the brawling gangs of criminals in such places as Liyari. There is no doubt that both these elements have caused violence in the past but in the current situation they may only be playing a marginal role. The possibility of someone hiring criminals to do drive-by motorcycle killings cannot be ruled out, but all signs and tokens in Wednesday’s killing spree point to the persisting tensions between the MQM on the one hand and the ANP and the PPP on the other. The last two have stood together on the matter of introducing “shariat” in Swat while the MQM has been the only party refusing to vote for Nizam-e-Adl in the National Assembly.
The nexus with the Taliban doesn’t have to be proved. Evidence of it has been forthcoming in the past, but the problem is made complex when all Pashtuns are lumped together and suspected of being linked to the forces of Baitullah Mehsud. Since there is considerable ghettoisation in the mega-city, the mere fact of living together in a state of siege forces the mixing-up of the criminal with the political.
This is complicated further by the dominant Deobandi seminaries in Karachi who sympathise with the shariat aspects of Taliban activity in the tribal areas. In the face of all this, the police establishment in Karachi is too small, too ill-trained and too ill-paid to take on the challenge of pacifying the city’s fully armed groups. There are many things that should have been taken in hand but our politicians were busy doing less dignified things under General Pervez Musharraf. They can be taken in hand now. *
Second Editorial: Withdrawing troops from eastern border
The notice taken by the western press of Pakistan’s withdrawal of 6,000 of its troops from the Indian border is understandable. To the West it means that Pakistan’s stance that it is threatened not so much from the terrorists within its territory as from India is now in the process of being changed. Pakistani troops were sent to the Indian border in December last year after the Mumbai attacks by non-state actors from Pakistan. The troops taken from the western border to counter the perceived threat from India have now been returned to its earlier position.
The US and the UK are endeavouring to convince Pakistan that India is not involved as much in terrorism in Pakistan as it thinks. Even after the production of “evidence” of Indian interference, the reaction from the US is that Pakistan has not proved its case. The same can be said in Pakistan since this evidence has been put before an in-camera session of parliament but not the general public and the media. What Islamabad has to prove — apart from the more credible claim of Indian interference in Balochistan — is that India, together with the US, is supporting Baitullah Mehsud. This conspiracy theory looks for credibility in the fact that while the US drone attacks have taken out Al Qaeda and other Taliban targets, the US has made no attempt to take out Baitullah Mehsud who currently poses the biggest threat to Pakistan.
While the national security establishment in Islamabad is alive to the internal threat, it remains suspicious of India’s designs against Pakistan through the former’s aggressive presence in Afghanistan. There is now credible evidence from non-Pakistani sources that India’s presence in Afghanistan is not entirely benign. What is required therefore is an analysis of what options Pakistan has given the presence on the one hand of the internal security threat and, on the other, a nexus of that threat with India’s flanking manoeuvres against Pakistan.
So far we have not seen any attempt by the political and military leadership to lay out the broad contours of such a policy. Troop deployment has to be seen in relation to what kind of threat Pakistan is facing. India is unlikely to challenge Pakistan overtly since by the very fact of intelligence on its current strategy, it is fomenting trouble inside Pakistan. *