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'De-weaponisation of Karachi a must'

August 29, 2011

Pakistani paramilitary soldiers examine seized weapons at a criminal hideout during house to house search operations against criminals in a troubled area of Karachi on August 28, 2011. – AFP Photo

An uneasy calm prevails over the city following the killing of over 300 citizens in targeted killings in a month. While the respite from the brutal killings seems temporary, many are wondering as to what lies ahead after Dr Zulfiqar Mirza’s no holds barred press conference on Sunday.

Pakistan’s financial capital has a long history of ethnic violence that began in the 80s’ and to date shows no sign of mellowing down. The tussle between the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), that represent the Urdu speaking community in Karachi, and other ethnicities began in 1986 when a student named Bushra Zaidi was crushed to death by a mini-bus believed to be owned by a Pathan.

“The Bushra Zaidi case was the first incident of ethnic violence in the city that lead to the formation of ideological political forces based on the ethnicity and what we now have as MQM and Awami National Party,” recalled Mubasshir Ali from Hazara, a transport contractor back  in the days. His two buses were set ablaze on account of doing business with Pukhtuns in transport line and he winded up business after suffering a huge loss.

Many believe that it is the MQM and ANP that is behind the target killings and as the blame game continues, the PPP has kept a low profile.

The main tug of war visibly is believed to be between the MQM and ANP when it comes to targeted killings in Karachi but Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has kept a low profile despite being accused of its alleged involvement in the ongoing target killings in Karachi.

“It is simple to understand that whatever is going on in the shape of target killing is actually politically motivated ethnic clash amongst the main political parties like MQM, ANP and PPP,” said Zohra Yusuf the chairperson Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

She said that the demographics of the city are changing which has engaged these parties to take control of the areas being dominated by each group. “MQM has been a major stakeholder of Karachi until the previous general elections. After other political parties managed to secure small pockets and established vote bank, MQM was not happy with it. The PPP and ANP are targetting more share, as a result they face confrontation from dominating party,” she adds.

On the contrary, MQM claims of being the most affected party in the spate of recent incidents. “I request you to look into the incidents carefully. The way Urdu speaking people are kidnapped, humiliated, raped and tortured is deplorable. Who is running the human banks and is involved in extortion, drugs and all kinds of mafia?” questioned Faisal Sabzwari, former minister and member provincial assembly from MQM.

He further said that the operation being launched in specific areas should be across the board and no party or group should be spared. He said that if law enforcement agencies find a target killer affiliated with MQM, then there will be no resistance from the party. “We demanded the operation in Karachi and it was called for bringing peace and end to killings of innocent Karachiites,” Sabzwari claimed. He also backed the reports prepared by HRCP and insisted that “people must realise who is disturbing the peace.”

The HRCP is working on a fact-finding mission in Karachi to ascertain the causes of the current wave of violence in the country’s largest metropolis. The fact-finding mission issued an interim statement.

In view of the importance of the task, the mission headed by HRCP chairperson, commission’s vice chairpersons for Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh. Senior members of the governing body held detailed discussions with representatives of political parties, lawyers, media persons, police officials, businessmen, teachers and intellectuals, hospital and medico-legal authorities and development experts.

“The testimonies gathered by the mission are being compiled and analysed. This process may take some time before the commission can present its findings before the people,” revealed Ms Yusuf. Though no accurate figures were provided by Ms Yusuf, she went on add that around 348 people were killed in July and the number might doubled by the end of August.

The finding sate that Karachi is in the grip of a multi-sided wave of insecurity-driven political, ethnic and sectarian polarisation that has greatly undermined its tradition of tolerance and good-neighbourliness. While gangs of land-grabbers and mafias have tried to exploit the breakdown of law and order, they do not appear to be the main directors of the horrible game of death and destruction; that distinction belongs to more powerful political groups and it is they who hold the key to peace.

Furthermore an interesting fact learned by the commission is that all political parties agree that “it is necessary for all to respect each other’s position and legitimate interests and desist from attempts to capture political heights through violence.”

The commission said that practically everybody the HRCP mission talked to recommended and called for the de-weaponisation of Karachi and offered to join efforts in this direction. “There is no reason why an all-parties’ campaign to recover weapons, including the licensed ones, should not be launched,” opined Ms Yusuf.

Moreover the complaints against law-enforcing agencies received by the HRCP mission range from dereliction of duty, abandonment of post, and long delays in responding to distress calls to downright collusion with criminals. Unless these shortcomings are removed the people of Karachi can have little hope of peace and security.

ANP leader and Sindh Labour Minister Amir Nawab, says that the operation launched in Karachi is “something better then nothing” and that there should be more solid action. “We demand that Karachi should be de-weaponised as it’s an urban city not a tribal area. The operation should be carried out without any discrimination only then we will be satisfied,” demanded Nawab.

He further said that there should be permanent solution to the problem. He also admits that Karachi is under the grip of various mafias backed by political parties. “If any terrorist or target killer is found affiliated with the ANP he should be taken to task. We offer to launch an operation from our homes. No group or party should have any problems with it,” Nawab conveniently demanded.

Furthermore, on the reports of ANP’s dissent over the operation cleanup in scattered areas of the city, Nawab said that a section of press was misreporting their version. He said that this issue has been discussed so much that everyone is interpreting their own version of the story.

Surprisingly, the PPP remains silent on the issue of its affiliations with the target killers, mafia and land grabbers from Lyari. “No one would like to come on record to accept or deny the affiliations, as everyone knows the facts,” said one senior PPP representative. According to the PPP leader there was a division in party over the “ownership” of these groups or so called mafia.

“I personally feel that other political parties have exploited the PPP for alleged links to these groups. There are some senior leaders who have openly claimed that the People’s Amn Committee is an offshoot of PPP,” said senior PPP leader. However, this leader appreciated the search operation in Lyari which he believed was not PPP targeted but was launched to nab terrorists.

The law enforcement agencies or police authorities however are reluctant to talk on the issue and are avoiding giving comments on the ongoing action taken by them. It is mainly because of the rift between former senior minister and senior vice president Dr Zulfiqar Mirza and Interior Minister Rehman Malik. The resignation of Dr Mirza after a no holds barred press conference has left a deep impact on the power corridors in Islamabad.

But what was interesting to see after Dr Mirza’s press conference ended and he came out in the compound area of the Karachi press club, he was greeted and guarded by hundreds of people of Lyari and leaders of controversial People’s Amn Committee. How the MQM reacts or where this situation is going to lead remains to be seen.

According to Imtiaz Gul, the head of Centre for Research and Security Studies, the “turf war” between political parties for controlling the city is growing. “I have never had any doubt that the problem is between political parties. The internal security apparatus is weak which is leading to such massive level destruction in the shape of ethnic target killing,” Gul explained. But he also maintains that the developments after operation and Dr Mirza’s warning style press address will not be reciprocated by MQM.

“The MQM is in the line of fire and would not react hard to Dr Mirza’s accusations instantly. They understand the gravity of the situation and ground realities and I think that they will act maturely and in a well calculated manner,” Gul added.