Karachi Violence and Political Pragmatism

By Dr Mohammad Taqi

The recent violence in Karachi is a tragedy
no doubt. But perhaps no less tragic is the handling of the situation by those
at the helm. Imran Khan and many others have justifiably taken flak for being
Taliban apologists who provide the ideological milieu to religious zealotry and
terrorism but, unfortunately, several government officials also keep adding to
the national confusion. Of course, some Shia clergymen blaming the US and Israel
for their plight do not help either. But the fact remains that the present
government has presided over the wholesale massacres of the Shia Muslims and
religious minorities not known since perhaps the mid-1980s. And yet the Minister
for Interior Rehman Malik rambles on that “an invisible force was engaged in
disrupting peace in Karachi and Quetta on sectarian basis, but it would not
succeed in its negative plans against the country.”
Mr Malik’s boss,
President Asif Ali Zardari, is not far behind. Just as Karachi burns, the
president in a meeting with the US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson
“stressed that Washington should review its policy on the war on terror”.
Really, Mr President? How about you consider developing a policy against
terrorism or would that be too much to ask? Unleashing Mr Malik on everything
from YouTube to your own city, Karachi, is not a policy. There is nothing
invisible about the perpetrators of sectarian cleansing whether they operate in
Quetta, Kurram or Karachi. That is if one wishes to spot them — without the
blinders of political pragmatism.
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)
government had to look no further than its coalition partner the Muttahida Qaumi
Movement (MQM) for advice. The MQM has been shouting at the top of its lungs for
almost a decade that Karachi is teeming with the Taliban of assorted varieties.
From the 9/11 terror attack mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad to the Afghan
Taliban leader Mullah Ghani Baradar to the Jundallah kingpin Abdol Malik Regi to
the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) operational commander Asif Chottu, all had taken
sanctuary in Karachi at one point or another. Chottu is also believed to be
instrumental in the present round of violence. The present chief of the
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) Karachi wing, Qayyum Mehsud, apparently was a
confidant of the TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud. And lest we forget, the alma
maters of the exterminated chief of the terrorist Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP)
and Mullah Omar were in Karachi. The who’s who of jihadist terror is not so
invisible after all and also not hidden is the fact that all of them have had
the patronage of the Pakistani security establishment at one point or another.
In fact, the SSP’s first inroads into Karachi were facilitated to support the
Haqiqi faction when the Army operation was underway against the MQM in 1992. In
this context, the rising chorus to call in the army to wipe out the militants
becomes really interesting.
It is unfathomable that with the omnipresent
security apparatus of the Pakistani state, the militants could make Karachi home
with such impunity let alone raise money through extortion unless there was a
wink and a nod. We have lamented in this space umpteen times that the operations
in South Waziristan and Swat were conducted with such fanfare — and time lag —
that there was no reason for the terrorists not to make good their escape. And a
fair number of them did make it to Karachi. The MQM’s caution about the
terrorists trickling into Karachi was thrown to the winds for political
expediency at various levels. The Awami National Party (ANP) was not willing to
alienate its Pashtun base in Karachi by calling to look for terrorists hiding
among the thousands of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) migrating out of
the war-ravaged Pashtun territory upcountry. But as the ANP Karachi leadership
has apparently discovered now, there are areas where they cannot venture not
because of the MQM but the jihadists holed up there. For the first time, the ANP
and MQM appear to be on the same page vis-à-vis the jihadist terrorists in
Karachi. And if there can be a silver lining in the present disaster it is the
two parties realizing that a third force has been introduced to encroach upon
their political turf.
In Punjab, a peculiar phenomenon has played out over
the last 15 years or so. The Takfiri/sectarian militant outfit SSP and its
several leaders were graduated into a ‘legitimate’ political entity that was now
rechristened the Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat (ASWJ). Contrarily, the Shiite political
forces were banned and stigmatized as terrorist outfits. The net result was the
mainstream political parties becoming beholden to the Takfiri ASWJ, which by its
own admission entered into electoral adjustments with the Pakistan Muslim
League-Nawaz, including in the by-elections that brought Mian Shahbaz Sharif to
power. The terrorist wing of the ASWJ ostensibly was spun off as the LeJ but for
all practical purposes the two outfits are joined at the hip.
The MQM and ANP
run a similar risk in Karachi where ceding a political inch to the terrorists
might start a process akin to Punjab where the PML-N — and in many
constituencies the PPP too — is held hostage by the ASWJ through its militant
wing. Calling for the army to sort out the mess that it created in the first
place would thus be a double-edged sword for the secular MQM and ANP. And doing
so without clearly identifying the enemy and naming the objectives of any
operation could be counterproductive. If the president and his lieutenant’s
statements are any indication, their political priorities are elsewhere and
certainly do not include the Shia vote bank, which the PPP takes for granted. It
is unlikely that we will see a comprehensive policy from the PPP to handle the
Karachi situation as well as the greater question of the Pakistan-wide Shia
genocide. The Shia would be well advised to seek alternative secular political
platforms, especially in the 50-plus National Assembly constituencies where they
hold sway.
For the MQM and the ANP — two principal political players in
Karachi — however, it is a matter of pragmatism to join forces in weeding out
not just the terrorists but also their political front(s). The MQM and the ANP
may have to spell out the political objectives of any military or paramilitary
operation for their senior coalition partner. The two parties have been at odds
for long but this time around, they sink or swim
together.(The writer can be reached at [email protected]. He
tweets at http://twitter.cm/mazdaki)