Jobs, plots and rivalry

Published September 7, 2011

ALL essays on the causes of violence in Karachi, and the measures taken to contain it, end on a disappointingly tentative note. So, surely, will this one. Still the litany must go on for the fate of the city’s 18 million inhabitants in no case should be left in the hands of politicians or brigands — and officials in tow of both.

The violence in the city originates in jobs and plots. Both are given out, or grabbed, arbitrarily disregarding the law and criteria of eligibility and procedures. The Sindh chief minister recently announced that in three years his government had given out 70,000 jobs. If advertised, there would have been, perhaps, hundreds of applicants for each post. Surely, there was no advertisement nor any other credible method employed to select the best out of the army of the educated unemployed.

The emerging evidence, in fact, is to the contrary. The former Sindh home minister, Zulfikar Mirza, in his current tough-speaking spree has incriminated himself by conceding that he had filled 10,000 police posts by men whom he could trust. His trusted policemen will now be required to deal with the trouble that must follow Mr Mirza’s hysterical rhetoric.

Yet another bit of evidence of irregular appointments came in the recent disclosure by former chief minister Liaquat Jatoi that 400 grade 16 jobs had been doled out in Nawabshah district alone. The appointments in that grade can be made only through the Public Service Commission. If Mr Jatoi is right, the commission must have signed letters of appointment for politicians to fill in the names just as the home department officials would have done for police posts doled out by Mr Mirza.

The appointments made in the city district government may be lesser in number but the selection is probably no less arbitrary. The allotment of plots for housing goes by the same rule, or lack of it, as nominations in public services. More than conferring a legal title, it is connivance at encroachment by the party bosses or their nominated thugs. It is hard to know the amount of area allotted, or encroached upon, but over the years, amenity lands in the city have been fast vanishing.

The rush for scarce jobs and occupation of public land in and around Karachi had always tended to assume an ethnic or sectarian colour. As the laws and discipline increasingly yielded to expediency after the PPP and the MQM alternately became rivals and partners in managing the affairs of the city, ethnic shares in public jobs and land appear to have altogether superseded merit and fair play.

In a political environment in which rivalry and reconciliation mix in a strange way to overwhelm the law of the land and the neutrality of those public servants who have to enforce the law, real power, inevitably, passes into the hands of the mafia of crime and corruption. In Karachi, it has happened in a more concentrated and vicious form than elsewhere because of the diverse population and a divided administration.

The Punjab chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, who was in Karachi some time ago looking for a larger space for his political party when others appeared discredited, had only corruption to blame — be it targeted killings, extortion or general lawlessness.

Apparently, he is unable to understand the basic principle that no system of governance can preserve its integrity if it is constantly subjected to linguistic, regional and sectarian pressures. Corruption is the inevitable consequence of misgovernance.

Mr Shahbaz Sharif’s province is lucky to have been contending (although unsuccessfully) only with violence instigated by religious fanatics. A bigger danger arising there is the clamour for the division of the province on a linguistic basis. Even the prime minister is supporting the creation of a Seraiki province. Then there are other aspirants, Bahawalpur being one.

The saving feature of Lahore is its linguistic and cultural homogeneity. Karachi is not just an economic hub, it is also a vast hybrid of hostilities. The PML-N would be able to make some headway in the city, and also in the province only if it is able to build bridges of trust across the ethnic communities and not just share the spoils. That seems to be a tall order.

As a parliamentary democracy, Pakistan has been habitually deviating from the basic principles on which the system rests.

Relevant to the administration of Karachi is Sindh’s legislative assembly and the representative interests of the province. But most fateful decisions flow from deals struck by the party bosses sitting in Islamabad and London.

The recurring collapse of deals itself provides a justification for reposing trust in the leadership of the province backed by a neutral public service. If the parties are unable to agree, the majority view must prevail and if the majority is unable to govern, it must go back to the people for a fresh mandate. That is how parliamentary democracy works.

There is no sanctity attached to a fixed term in the parliamentary system. It will dig roots in the country only when the party bosses look up to the electorate and cease to rely on intrigue, touted as reconciliation, to stay in power. In despair, the people are already looking sideways, luckily this time more towards the judges than the generals.

The writer is a former civil servant.



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