THE factors that cause frequent shutdowns and violence in Karachi are part of the nebulous and apparently endless war for dominance between different political parties and groups. The damage done and the losses incurred, however, are all too tangible. This week saw yet another round of violence; numerous people were killed and vehicles torched. Tuesday’s bloodshed was followed by a strike on Wednesday during which yet more people were killed and arson attacks carried out. As the smoke cleared and the city started to resume some semblance of normality, traders presented the estimate that the losses incurred over the two days when wholesale and most other markets remained shut, and supplies from the port and from upcountry were disrupted, stood in the region of Rs5bn.
This may be the situation in Karachi currently, but it is replicated with regularity across the country whenever strikes and demonstrations turn violent. Vehicles are burnt, businesses attacked and private property is looted, with the law-enforcement mechanism on the whole standing by helpless. Behind each vehicle, commodity or business destroyed or damaged is a citizen, suffering through no fault of his own. To whom should such victims turn? In the absence of a strong insurance network, he must pick up the pieces and do as best as he can. After particularly serious rounds of violence, state functionaries sometimes announce piecemeal ‘compensation’ that may or may not be enough to cover the cost of repair and might not even materialise. What does this gain for the state, or for the cause of those orchestrating the posturing that leads to violence? Nothing but the further alienation of the people. As a polity, we need to learn that our right to protest ends where someone else’s property begins. As for the law-enforcers, they need reminding that their basic job is keeping the peace.