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Challenging status quo in Karachi

In an unprecedented confessional interview aired hours before his execution, MQM worker Saulat Mirza made some shocking revelations, alleging that he killed KESC director on the instructions of Altaf Hussain. This interview is being celebrated as a major development against the party which is believed to have been involved in several cases of target killings and other crimes in Karachi. Despite the criminal activities attributed to MQM time and again, the timing and distribution of the video has raised certain valid questions. What is the source for this exclusive and sensational video? How credible is a confession made by a convicted murderer desperate to escape the death sentence? There is a general consensus that it is not absolute evidence and needs further investigation, hence the execution of Saulat has been halted for 72 hours.

Nonetheless, it is evident that the fourth largest political party of Pakistan is in hot water these days. The well executed Nine-Zero raid on March 11 left MQM in discomfort as the party was caught off guard. The stolen weapons recovered during the search and the arrest of several convicted criminals from surrounding areas has put MQM in a difficult spot. As a result, one could see a rather toned down reaction from the party known for its street agitation styled politics and vandalism in the city of Karachi.

As official statements started coming out, the party appeared to be dismayed and perplexed. While Altaf Hussain in a fiery speech threatened rangers involved in the raid of dire consequences, Farooq Sattar took it upon himself to take damage control measures in his press conference and assured cooperation with the rangers. Altaf Hussain further claimed that the seized weapons were planted there, smuggled under the blanket by the forces. On the other hand, Faisal Sabzwari stated that all the weapons seized were licensed and were being kept for security due to threats from extremist elements.

Ironically, Altaf Hussain has time and again called the military to take charge of the worsening law and order situation of Karachi. The Peshawar tragedy provided a much needed incentive to take action against the armed militias operating in Karachi. The apex committee meeting particularly the statements by COAS reflected urgency and a new resolve to address the security concerns in the city, Karachi operation being a key point in National Action Plan. The fact that the raid was conducted under direct orders from the military under the supervision of Corps Commander Karachi and the confessional video send out a strong message of who is calling the shots now.

The federal government though a bit late defended the raid calling it “a step in the positive direction to eliminate militants from Karachi”. Chaudhry Nisar’s assurance that the raid was lawful and conducted on intelligence reports once again highlighted how the federal government and military are on the same page in their counter terrorism strategy whether out of collaboration or compulsion. Moreover, the fact that PML (N) has no political stakes in Karachi makes the civil-military coordination more convenient for the government.

Why was this operation needed? The party supporters maintain that this raid was a manifestation of the hatred that exists against the Muhajir community however, the proponents of this action blame MQM for the deteriorating law and order situation in the city. It is perceived as the one party which introduced systematic violence in Karachi to maintain political dominance and hegemony in the city. Perhaps, with Nine-Zero raid, Baldia factory fire report and some critical confessions by Umair Siddiqui, the 30 year old status quo in the city is being challenged now; bringing MQM down with it in the future, considering the somewhat rising popularity of PTI in the city.

However, MQM is only part of the problem as almost all political parties operating in Karachi maintain militant wings (also confirmed by the Supreme Court). Consequently, the report that the ongoing surgical operation in Karachi will not remain confined to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) as the militant wings of other parties will soon be targeted as well is a welcoming improvement. Therefore, the announcement by Asif Ali Zardari to make an alliance with a troubled MQM to safeguard their own interests despite reservations from some party leaders does not come as a surprise. After all, enemy’s enemy is a friend and with PPP possibly the next target in Karachi operation, MQM provides protective wall for now.  Over the period of several years both parties have maintained a silent agreement to share power with MQM ruling Karachi and PPP the rest of the Sindh simultaneously. Interestingly, only a few months back, Zardari had instructed Bilawal Bhutto to stay low key after he had passed some harsh remarks against Altaf Hussain.

In another recent development, a case had been registered against Altaf Hussain under section 506-B for threatening rangers during his speech. While the noose around the notorious elements within the party seems to be tightening, the military should also ensure that a single party is not victimized and the operation is not overstretched beyond legal boundaries. The killing of an MQM worker Waqas Shah is highly unfortunate, the failure to expose the culprit even more so. Contrary to previous targeted operations against MQM, action should be taken against all rouge elements in Karachi, irrespective of party affiliations. To state the obvious, the state should not tolerate the armed wings of political parties or non-state actors. Under these circumstances, the real test of this newfound civil-military coordination is yet to come, provided the operation is extended across Punjab as anticipated.

By Sadaf Tauqeer

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  • Haris Shah

    I disagree with the solution being provided for Karachi in this article. Pushing MQM against the wall is not going to solve anything considering their hold on the city. There is a need to bring MQM back on board and deal with this issue through political process. Armed action against the party might just lead to a full-fledged civil war.

  • Murtaza Ehsan

    An operation in Punjab seems unlikely during the tenure of PML(N). I can vouch for more roads but nothing concrete in terms of cleansing Punjab. This is a safe haven, where terrorists can roam free and seek convergence in terms of capacity and strategy. If the range of this operation is extended beyond Karachi and up into Punjab, it will be very shocking indeed.