Violence (Pvt.) Unlimited
We were always taught that a fire is caused by a combination of oxygen, flame and combustible materials. This statement is true but very inadequate. As confirmed by the much publicised TV coverage, a fire needs at least two more ingredients. A gang of criminals as if on a picnic, leisurely spraying fuel and flames and a battalion of policemen as if on a holiday, trained to watch helplessly. The bar of violence in Karachi is being rapidly pushed upwards. From burning tyres on narrow isolated lanes, we have graduated to destroying complete markets on M.A. Jinnah Road. From TT pistols to rocket launchers and hand grenades. From sole proprietor street bouncers to Puppoo or Rehman Dakait Violence (Pvt.) Unlimited. From Lyari and Baghdadi dens to the multinational private armies. Violence is the new corporate brand for politics in Pakistan. As if we were not doing enough, we now have multinationals like Blackwater chipping away at our market share of criminality. Clearly we provide lucrative incentives and one window opportunities for Foreign Direct Investment in our expanding chaos and crime market.
Karachiites sit at the edge of a frequently erupting volcano. May 12 2007, December 27 2007, April 09 2008 and December 28 2009 share a well defined pattern of orchestrated mayhem. Armed gangs of goons and criminals suddenly appear from nowhere, as if they are well trained members of a Rapid Deployment Force on a 15 minutes standby notice. They kill , loot, arson and disappear – in a well rehearsed, relaxed and professional manner. They are oblivious to being seen by CCTV, other citizens or TV cameras. The most painful commonality of these events is the dubious role of the law enforcing agencies. Typically they would stand by as helpless and indifferent observers, providing a safe passage to the executioners.
Violence in Karachi, is a lucrative corporate business. It is financed and sponsored by big time politicos, political parties, religious groups and state agencies. Puppoos, Rehmans and Abid Alis are only the front desks for the high and mighty. The front desks are disposable commodities and are jettisoned when no longer needed. The criminal gangs are organised on the basis of territory and crime specialisation. They operate as stand-alone or provide sub-contracted services to their co-professionals such as land grabbers, construction mafias, the drug carriers, the water tanker battalions, the weapon traders, the human traffickers and the ‘bhatta’ collectors. The general purpose mercenary gangs are available on ‘assignment’ basis and excel in disrupting political gatherings, target killings and arson. These criminal gangs are equipped with highly sophisticated weapons and their sustenance is subject to patronage from political parties, religious groups, government officials and the law enforcing agencies. Aping Clausewitz’s description of war as an extension of diplomacy , the private armies are used by their patrons to promote political objectives, extend power base or seek illegitimate gains.
Karachi’s vulnerability is well recognised by its frank and efficient Mayor, who admits that violence in Karachi resides just one statement away. People are scared and hesitant to voice their opinion or take part in healthy civic activities. Many of Karachi’s finest administrators – Hakim Saeed, Shoukat Mirza and Shahid Hamid are just a few examples of people who were killed for their reformatory thinking and actions. Navaid Hussain from ‘Shehri’ was seriously injured and Nisar Baloch killed for raising his voice on civic issues. When every one speaks with a gun on the table, the possibilities for reason, dialogue and dissent disappear. Has Karachi’s future become hostage to the interests of the organised criminal gangs.
Karachi is threatened by the onslaught of Talibanisation. But the worst nightmare scenario is Karachi’s desire to itself voluntarily adopt Talibanisation as its new way of life, without even waiting for the Talibs to arrive. After all Talibanisation is synonymous with a mindset of achieving one’s objectives through brutality and weapons. Is that not what we see already happening in Karachi. Weapons and militancy is the new language spoken in streets, business and politics. Karachi’s Violence (Pvt.) Unlimited companies now control many parts of the city where the police cannot enter even in their armoured vehicles. One such APC was destroyed by a rocket attack when it tried to enter the no-go areas of Baghdadi town a few weeks back. The powerful urban elite is already fully Talibanised and follows only the rules applicable in FATA (ie. No rules). They imitate the life style of FATA Taliban, by roaming around in the streets of Karachi, carrying loads of weapons and private guards in their stolen or smuggled Prados, often with illegal or no number plates. They spend the new year’s eve firing Kalashnikovs, less for fun and more as a signature for power. Talibans could not have done better.
Karachi must take radical actions to de-weaponise itself if it does not wish to become another Waziristan or Rwanda. It is neither economical nor wise to first let the monster grow , like we did in the case of Taliban, and then try to spend next many years in getting rid of it. We are already very late, but we may still have an outside chance, if even now we take a united stand on complete de-weaponisation of Karachi. It will need a strong will and even stronger trust between political parties, religious groups, government and other stake holders to come to a single point agreement. No citizen, regardless of his party or status will own a weapon – licensed or otherwise. Needless to say that the government and the police will need to shed their apathetic sleeping-partner role if a project of such serious consequences must even begin to happen. With the sorrow and pain of the last days of December 2009 still fresh in our psyche, can we all come together to begin a dialogue on making Karachi a weapon-free and peaceful city.