LAHORE - Finding a solution to the worsening situation in Karachi will not be an easy task, the federal government’s seriousness notwithstanding. The reason: Most of the parties are opposed to a military operation, and the alternatives being suggested had proved ineffective in the past.
It will be a spectacular achievement if the federal cabinet succeeds on Wednesday in taking some decision on restoring peace to the cosmopolitan city of some 20 million people, one 10th of them illegal immigrants. Also in the city is operating a Mohajir Republican Army, which indicates that some foreign countries are also playing a role in what is happening there. The presence of the MRA was revealed for the first time in an interior ministry report to the Supreme Court a few days ago.
(Although the interior minister subsequently stated that the report was not meant for the apex court, he insisted that it was authentic).
The federal cabinet is taking up the matter after the complete failure of the Sindh government, led by Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah who was also the chief executive of the province during 2008-13, when the MQM was also part of the coalition.
Killings and extortion have been going on for the past several years without any letup. (Former Sindh homer minister Dr Zulfikar Mirza had held many leaders of the coalition responsible for the lawlessness in the country’s biggest city).
To set the situation right, the PML and the PPP governments had launched operations in 1992 and 1994-96, respectively, and their results are too well-known.
A TV channel discussed the Karachi situation at length in a show on Sunday night in which representatives of the PPP, the PML-N, the MQM, the ANP, the PTI, the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Sunni Tehrik were present.
They were asked if a military operation could help normalise the situation. All of them answered in negative except the MQM man, who said the Rangers and the police had already failed because of which the army operation was the only option left.
This ostensibly means that if the cabinet decided in favour of a military operation, it will not get cooperation from most of the parties.
The show participants were also asked if the law enforcement and intelligence agencies were responsible for the deteriorating situation in Karachi. Surprisingly, all of them unanimously said ‘yes’.
Questioned if appointments made in the police by the previous government were on political basis rather than on merit, they answered in the affirmative (which amounts to the PPP and the MQM accepting the allegation).
Representatives of other parties, except Sunni Tehrik, said some elements of political and religious parties were also involved in land grabbing and extortion in Karachi.
As for the solution of the Karachi situation, the representatives of six parties supported a targeted operation jointly by Rangers and police supported by intelligence agencies. The MQM was, however, in favour of a military operation. They called for an end to all no-go areas and purging the entire country of all illegal weapons.
President Zardari had said a few days ago that in the presence of a political government in Sindh, there will be no justification for calling in the army. In his opinion, the police should be given a free hand to set the situation right.
All these points are relevant for the Wednesday meeting of the cabinet and will help it chalk out a better strategy. The PML-N government should learn from the mistakes of the PPP-MQM coalition and should not repeat them. It should formulate its strategy and accept responsibility of its results.
And Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan should not insist that Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah should be the captain of the new operation. The success of the federal government’s policy would be another failure of Mr Shah which he will try to ward off at all costs. The old captain will not be in a position to lead the new team or implement new policy.