EVEN as the law and order situation in Karachi gets increasingly out of hand — dozens have been killed since the start of the weekend — the reaction to the sectarian violence that has flared up has been as inadequate as the usual response to political violence in the city. When clashes erupt between activists of ethnic or mainstream political parties, those parties let a certain amount of bloodshed take place before they hammer out a deal and then issue instructions to their workers or affiliates to retreat. While that process is taking place, law enforcement appears to be at a complete loss as it sits back, taking only reactive action, and waits for the politicians to sort out the mess. Meanwhile, the interior minister blames mysterious and unnamed external forces. As sectarian clashes now dominate the Karachi hea-dlines, a similar pattern of response — or lack thereof — seems to be emerging.
In this case it is the ulema who are issuing empty platitudes in public while in reality being unable or unwilling to order their followers to stop the bloodbath. Over the weekend the Milli Yakjehti Council met in Islamabad — not in Karachi, where a meeting of this particular organisation, meant to promote cooperation across sects, would have sent a strong signal against sectarian violence. And while it discussed everything from the role of religious parties in Pakistani politics to unity of Muslims across the world to supporting the blasphemy laws, what got lost in all this talk was the carnage taking place in Karachi, which should have been the focus of the meeting. A couple of days later, the interior minister made the rather remarkable assertion that there is no sectarian conflict in Karachi and that the recent clashes are being carried out by “invisible forces”. He said this after another meeting of the ulema — again held in Islamabad.
The upshot of all this is that officials and lead-ers appear to be doing nothing, leaving an ill-equipped, poorly trained and understaffed law-enforcement structure to react to incidents once they have already taken place. Putting in place extraordinary Muharram security arrangements is a necessary step, but that is only a short-term fix. What it will not improve is the fundamental inability of law enforcement to tackle a problem that is simply beyond its scope; even the army is now vulnerable to anti-state groups, and the Rangers have demonstrated that they cannot fill the void created by an undermanned and easily influenced police force. As long as the ulema and the government fail to develop a more lasting political solution, there is only so much any of these organisations can do.