WEDNESDAY’S events in Karachi indicate that unless the controversy over the Sindh local government law is handled delicately and with foresight, things can easily descend into chaos. At least one person was killed — the provincial administration attributes his death to a heart attack — and several were injured when police confronted an MQM-P protest against the law in front of Chief Minister House.
The administration soon moved in as the protest was supposed to be limited to the Press Club and had breached the so-called red zone. Baton charge and tear-gas shelling followed, leading to the death of an MQM supporter and injuries to several others. The Muttahida has slammed the use of force while the PPP-led Sindh government has said it had to move in to maintain security in the area, as PSL teams are also lodged in hotels within the red zone.
Indeed, protest is a democratic right, and police excesses are unacceptable, particularly the use of deadly force. It appears as if the administration panicked, resulting in the excessive use of force. For its part, the MQM should have stuck to the agreement of protesting in front of the Press Club instead of marching to Chief Minister House. It should not be forgotten that peace in Karachi is incredibly fragile, and vitriolic statements designed to arouse ethnic passions must be avoided.
The present impasse can descend into what was the norm not too long ago, when ethnic battles used to be fought regularly in Karachi. Instead of giving the LG law controversy an ethnic colour, the government and the opposition must keep the focus on civic issues to ensure that all of Sindh’s people are guaranteed their civic rights.
The opposition parties must bear in mind that protest campaigns shouldn’t rock the boat where law and order is concerned, while the Sindh government must show flexibility, accommodate the opposition’s legitimate demands and help pass an LG law in Sindh that addresses the province’s civic issues in a just and progressive fashion.
Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2022