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Anatomy of violence

Updated September 08, 2013

KARACHI is the focus of attention — once again. And the reason, once again, is violence.

Organised, politically motivated violence first surfaced during military rule in the mid-1980s and has continued unabated for more than a quarter of a century.

Land, water tanker, arms and other criminal mafias engaged in extortion, kidnapping for ransom, armed robberies, car and phone snatchings, etc have made hay while the sun has been hidden by dark clouds of political turmoil.

Calls have been made and are being made to de-weaponise the city, eliminate no-go areas, hand over the city to the army, improve intelligence, induct honest officers into the police force and reform the police, carry out targeted operations without discrimination, and so on. Many efforts have been made in this regard — repeatedly, but to no avail.

The real problem lies in the fact that all stakeholders — politicians, police, military, media, business community and the intelligentsia — and now the judiciary as well — view the Karachi situation as a law and order problem.

It needs to be recognised, however, that the law and order problem is a product of a much larger malaise.

The stark fact is that Karachi has suffered from a total breakdown of the social contract — an essential, implicit agreement between various interest groups on the broad contours of governance, based on which all societies and states exist and function. Resultantly, Karachi is the battleground for three different wars.

The first battlefront in Karachi is a product of the demographic convulsions that the city has gone through and is continuing to experience. According to the Population Census 1941, the linguistic composition of the city was as follows: 60pc Sindhi, 12pc Gujrati, 9pc Balochi, 7pc Punjabi, 6pc Urdu, and 3pc Pashtu.

The 1950 census showed the Urdu- speaking population rising to 50pc and the Sindhi-speaking population falling to 14pc. Within a decade, Karachi had been transformed from a Sindhi city to an Urdu-speaking city.

This upheaval has defined and continues to define Sindh’s politics. Sindhis have strived over the last six decades to retain control of Karachi, despite their demographic decline in the city.

The Urdu-speaking population redefined themselves as Mohajirs and emerged as an organised political force in the 1980s; thereby providing overt shape to the underlying political conflict.

Legally, Karachi is part of Sindh; politically, it stands apart. The PPP represents Sindh as a whole, but does not have effective representation from Karachi. The MQM represents Karachi. Even when the two are in a coalition, they function as two separate governments.

The discord over the local government law is a product of this multi-faceted conflict; which has divided the Sindh government against itself. The politicised police force is a product of this discord, which has paralysed the administration’s ability to deal with violence in the city.

Demographic change has continued unabated; albeit, at a slower but equally damaging pace. Post-independence, migration from India gave way to migration from northern parts of the country.

Resultantly, the share of the Urdu-speaking population peaked at 54pc in 1981 and fell to 48pc in 1998. However, the share of the Pashto-speaking population has continued to rise and reached 11pc in 1998.

War conditions in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have accelerated Pakhtun migration into the city and its share is estimated to reach 31pc by 2045, with the relative share of the Urdu-speaking population estimated to fall to 29pc.

A second demographic convulsion awaits Karachi in less than 100 years as the metropolis is on its way to becoming a Pakhtun city. The MQM’s nervousness and alleged militant responses are products of a subconscious realisation that it is sitting on an iceberg that is melting. The MQM-ANP conflict needs to be seen in this context.

A new linguistic battlefront is emerging and may come to a head in a decade’s time. Land tenure changes in south Punjab have seen corporate-style farming replacing the traditional style tenancy/ shareholding pattern, which has displaced thousands of peasant families.

About half of them have either arrived in Karachi or can be expected to trickle in. Today, they are disorganised and dispersed. A decade on, however, they can be expected to claim a place at the table and use militant means, if denied.

The second battlefront is in Lyari and is a product of economic factors. Till the mid-1980s, the Lyari youth possessed a secure source of jobs in city organisations like the Karachi Port Trust and Karachi Municipal Corporation. They were low-paid daily wage jobs, but provided a source of livelihood to Lyari families.

The changed political landscape post-1988, led to a drying up of these job opportunities for Lyari, resulting in petty crime as the only source of livelihood.

With support from powerful vested interests seeking to uproot the PPP’s vote bank, some of these petty gangsters became larger-than-life figures and are now able to hold the entire the city to ransom.

The third battlefront has been opened up by religious extremists, taking advantage of the political vacuum that the Sindhi-Mohajir and Mohajir-Pashtun conflicts have created.

Encompassing the religion-denominated violence is the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s war against the Pakistani state, the Sunni extremist killing campaign against Shias and the Deobandi-Barelvi divide. This is a front that has to be dealt with at the national level.

With respect to Karachi, a new social contract needs to be arrived at between the political representatives of the Sindhi-, Urdu-, Pashto-, Balochi- and Punjabi-speaking populations prior to the establishment of peace in the city.

De-weaponisation, police reforms, improved intelligence, army action and efforts to end targeted killings and crime will only succeed after the primary prerequisite is fulfilled.

The writer was adviser for planning & development to the Sindh chief minister in the last government.