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Why PPP dreads calling in army

August 27, 2011

KARACHI, Aug 27: At a time when major stakeholders in the city are seeking army deployment to restore peace, the Pakistan People’s Party believes that an army operation would have serious consequences for its governments in Sindh and at the centre.

The party considered the demand to call in the army a ploy to destabilise its government, background interviews with PPP leaders indicated.

They cited many reasons for not calling in the army but it appeared that everyone in the party was convinced that the army would eventually send the PPP-led coalition government packing even if it asked the army to play its constitutional role in Karachi, as was recently suggested by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the Awami National Party, businessmen, traders and people from all walks of life have either demanded that the government call in the army or they directly sought army intervention.

Interestingly, the military leadership recently expressed its concern over the deteriorating law and order situation in Karachi and reportedly showed its preparedness to restore peace to the city if the government asked it to do so.

On Aug 3, MQM chief Altaf Hussain asked the army to come and protect the life and property of people in Karachi and take an indiscriminate action against terrorists.

The ANP, also a partner in the PPP-led coalition government, has repeatedly demanded an army operation in Karachi. The Sindh government decision that the army would not be called in at this stage was later termed ‘lamentable’ by the party.

Yet the PPP banked on police and paramilitary troops to restore peace to the metropolis and made it clear that the army was not being called in.

“The provincial government is not going to call the army into Karachi since we believe that the police, Rangers and Frontier Constabulary will restore peace to the city,” said Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon while speaking to Dawn.

Another PPP leader said: “An army operation was launched in the city in 1992 when Nawaz Sharif was prime minister. And when Benazir Bhutto came into power she sent back the army to barracks and restore Karachi’s peace by using police, Rangers and a civilian intelligence agency.

“Today, we can also restore peace by using civil armed forces but someone has to show political resolve,” the PPP leader added.

However, the PPP leaders privately acknowledged the failure of the law-enforcers to curb terrorism and targeted killings.

“Without political will no institution can stop violence and lawlessness in Karachi,” they observed.

Like the leaderships of the MQM and the ANP, the PPP leaders whom Dawn spoke to did not sound very optimistic about any significant improvement in the city’s law and order.

They agreed that the army could restore peace to the city, but said it would “not be a lasting solution”.

“The problem of Karachi is not an administrative one in nature…it is primarily a political issue. The army can solve the administrative problem but who will solve the political problems that will arise as a result of an indiscriminate military action in the city?” another PPP leader questioned.

He was of the opinion that every party was adding to the breakdown of law and order, but the party with a heavy mandate in the city was more responsible for it.

He explained: “Suppose 10 people are involved in terrorism and acts of violence in Karachi, five of them are from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, three from the PPP and two from the ANP. Now the PPP and most likely the ANP would have no objection if the army launched an indiscriminate action against these 10 people. But considering their past record, the MQM would most probably give an ethnic colour to the army action against its five men and tell the whole world that the PPP and the army are jointly targeting its people. This would not harm the army, but damage the PPP government that may ultimately result in its fall.”

Referring to the ANP demand that a Swat-like military action be launched in Karachi, the PPP leaders said that it was not possible here because who would host the internally displaced persons (IDPs) of Karachi, which hosted most IDPs of Swat, Malakand, Waziristan and other areas when the army launched the operation there.

They said that military action might have improved law and order in Balochistan, but it was a fact that political problems of Pakistan’s biggest province were yet to be resolved.