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Forget all else but the real evil

December 05, 2015


The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

THE killing of the two military policemen in Karachi was a grim reminder, if one was needed, of the existential challenge facing Pakistan despite the sacrifices, and battlefield successes, of the security forces.

Nobody in their right mind would have thought that the monster, the Pakistani state (read the military) nurtured for so long would be snuffed out overnight, even if the khaki leadership had decided in all earnestness to root it out.

Curbing violence in Karachi was always going to be more difficult as the whole operation needed to be intelligence-based here. It was impossible to replicate what was done in the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan-infested tribal areas where town after town was cleared of the civilian population and then the militants taken on.

It will take more than a mere meeting to smash militant networks in Karachi, given the multiple denominations they represent.

Here miles upon miles of narrow, winding streets in hundreds of settlements spread across the length and breadth of the city, meant those wanting to hide from the law-enforcement forces, or even take them on, had a perfect camouflage to operate from.

From the anecdotal evidence I was able to gather over a two-week period in November, after having talked to dozens of citizens belonging to different tiers of society it was not too difficult to surmise that the operation has so far yielded positive results.

There was a general sense of relief at the improved security situation. “You can’t believe how nice it is to leave home for work in the morning and not be filled with uncertainty whether I’d ever see my family again at the end of the day,” said my friend’s driver as we travelled across the city. This sentiment was echoed by dozens of others.

A Dawn colleague said one of her domestic staff had not taken his salary for years as he left for home in the evenings. He always took it in the morning and dropped it off at his home in one of the distant suburban abadis. “This month he happily asked for it as he was leaving in the evening saying it was safe to carry cash even after sunset.”

Admittedly, these are tiny windows to a bustling, complex metropolis and it would be foolhardy to imagine the whole picture based on these. But I must say it was after a very long time on my latest visit that I heard something positive being repeated by a number of people unconnected to each other.

Although hundreds of policemen have been killed in Karachi over the years, what captures the news headlines, the imagination of commentators and even the attention of those in charge is whenever an army soldier is targeted. This time was no different. The so-called apex committee was convened at a day’s notice and we heard in the news all it resolved to do.

It will take more than a mere meeting to smash militant networks in Karachi, given the multiple denominations they represent. From the religious extremists of the banned TTP to the secular gun-toting members of the MQM sectors’ set-up, you name it.

Taking their cue from the most powerful party in the city, other political parties seemed to realise that if they needed to maintain a toehold in the metropolis it would be impossible to do so without armed supporters. Thus, sprouted several other armed groups.

There are also suggestions that in the post-Musharraf era, when the MQM started to slip from its pre-eminent status in the eyes of the establishment, some intelligence officers posted in Karachi patronised armed gangsters in Lyari so they could pose a challenge to the Altaf Hussain-led party. The resultant mess is there for all to see.

Looking back to draw lessons from the past is justified. But its becoming a pretext to lament the present while letting inertia rule is unacceptable, even criminal. Given its complexities, Karachi may be a case in point but the whole country must remain in our focus.

One hopes that today’s local elections demonstrate to all political parties that it is possible to retain support and the committed vote bank without having to maintain an army of armed supporters. All parties in the city, and its largest in terms of representation must carry the biggest burden, must commit to politics without guns.

Once we see such a commitment manifesting itself in the politics here, there is no stopping Karachi. It may just be a pipe dream at this stage but imagine the scene if all parties in the country’s commercial capital compete in the provision of services to their voters. This has to happen.

A bigger evil is never far and needs to receive our full attention. It rears its ugly head every so often in the form of bigotry, intolerance, extremist violence. Whether it is the Safoora Goth massacre, or the killing of policemen, Rangers or soldiers or simply an attack on young women students playing cricket at a university campus, these are but different shades of the same evil.

Disunity or at least the appearance of discord among our civilian and military leaders strengthens such voices, emboldens such sentiments. Take for example last month’s statement by the prime minister that the future direction of the country would be liberal and democratic.

Many welcomed it vocally. Those not comfortable with the idea kept quiet. Then, a few days later, the often overenthusiastic ISPR complained about the government in a public statement, drawing a public rebuttal from the government.

Following speculation of a civil-military breakdown, a gathering of our ‘ulema’ at the Jamia Darul Uloom Haqqania, the alma mater of the late ‘amirul momineen’ of Afghanistan Mullah Omar, issued a warning to Nawaz Sharif against propagating liberal values.

Hope our leaders, both civil and military, are aware of the consequences of a public spat between them. Imagine what would happen if there ever was a falling out.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2015