FOR all the talk of deweaponisation in the last few days, it’s clear what the drama is really about: politics. Any genuine concern for law and order is at best a secondary concern for Karachi’s main political parties; that much was obvious from the way the debate shaped up this week. Trying to avoid a special focus on Karachi and deflect any talk of a military operation there, the MQM argues that deweaponisation should take place not just in Karachi, but across the country. The ANP argues for the opposite, likely in part because stripping people of arms would be culturally unacceptable in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata, but mainly because it wants the focus to remain precisely where its political rival does not want it to be — on Karachi. Meanwhile, in a glaring display of lack of concern about policy effectiveness, the ruling party supports both moves in an attempt to protect its political alliances. Proceedings in the National Assembly and the Senate this week were thus a farce, with parliament becoming a forum for political parties to one-up each other rather than address citizens’ concerns.
Lost in all this rhetoric were the practical challenges of carrying out deweaponisation, whether in Karachi — where it has been tried and has failed — or elsewhere in the country. Who, for example, would carry it out? In Karachi, at least, with an overwhelmed police force and the Rangers’ ability to operate effectively in the city in question, the military would likely have to be called in, which would be a political minefield. Who would be targeted?
A first step might be to choke off supply lines, focusing on curbing smuggling rather than trying to retrieve huge amounts of unlicensed arms from their owners. Whatever the answers, the lack of substance in this week’s debates proved that the conversation was about political posturing and appearing to be concerned about law and order.
And ultimately, regardless of the methods used, deweaponisation in Karachi would run into the same road block that other law and order problems do: the extent to which violence and politics are intertwined in this city. Short of a no-holds-barred, bloody military operation — which would only temporarily relieve political rivalries, as previous operations have done, rather than addressing them — the only way to tackle the problem is for all the city’s major political players to reach a sustainable agreement on arms control. But as this week’s drama has proved, nothing will change as long as they continue to view Karachi as a zero-sum battleground rather than a city in which millions of people are trying to survive.