The real game in Karachi – are Karachiites being killed to keep the federal and KP governments afloat?
Ever wondered whyKarachiburns whenever PPP and PML-N are in power. Is it mere coincidence that in the recent history extending from 1988 to 2010, the only time whenKarachisaw peace and economic development was from 1999 to 2007, when PPP and PML-N were not in power? In other words, why doesKarachidescend into endless violence and why is development spending almost frozen for the city whenever these two parties are in power? And what is the real game behind the current violence inKarachi? Is it the security establishment creating an environment here that could be used to pre-empt deployment of the ‘feared’ great game? Is it the PPP, with covert to increasingly overt support from PML-N, using such turmoil to blackmail the MQM to stay in government? Is it because MQM uses violence, as per popular understanding, to bargain for its interests and destabilize the government at the behest of the establishment? Or is it really, as the government would want us to believe, a turf war between the MQM and ANP and representation of a larger ethnic strife? Let us examine each of these possibilities.
Ethnic strife in Karachi?: The theory of Karachi unrest being a result of a larger ethnic strife seems flawed because had such strife existed, it should have had at least some manifestation before this government came to power; the very fact that it only surfaced during the present government negates the existence of an intrinsic ethnic conflict in the city. Also the pattern of such unrest to occur in periodic bouts coinciding with political events is suggestive of a political as against an ethnic dynamic of such unrest. And also worth noting is how millions of common people from different ethnic communities daily work together with each other in complete harmony, which would have otherwise not been possible had some real ethnic polarization existed.
Turf war between the MQM and ANP?: This is certainly true, partially though, but with the material qualification of what exactly constitutes ANP inKarachi. Is it all pathans as one would assume it to be given that the party itself claims itself as a representative of pathans only? This question really carries the key to understanding the real game inKarachi. Let us examine two key strongholds of ANP inKarachi,RabiaCity in Gulistan-e-Jauhar and Micasa Apartments in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, to better understand the ANP inKarachi.
Visit Rabia city and you would find ANP plastered all over the places in semblance of flags, leadership portraits, party offices, etc. Of the nearly 2200 flats in this apartment’s complex reportedly around 300 flats have been illegally occupied. Gunfires, dacoities, thefts, extortion, drugs, etc are now a normal though tormenting phenomenon here. So much so, that the value of a flat here has eroded to almost nothing as no one in the city could be compelled to commit the suicide of living here except for those who are stuck here as they can neither sell nor rent-out their apartment and yet if they choose to vacate and shift to some other place in search of security and serenity, their apartment would be immediately occupied and no one can then vacate it, not even the police.
The above paints a very bleak picture of Rabia city but indeed this is what the reality is. However, the question that still remains unanswered is what constitutes ANP? It has to be pathans because that’s what the party represents. However, facts are the exact opposite. The majority of the dwellers in Rabia city are ethnic Sindhis and so are the majority of workers of ANP here. Also, a major and potent component of ANP here is the MQM-Haqiqi, which has resurfaced here under umbrella of ANP. Only a small portion comes from the pathans. Interestingly, there are at least two PPP offices in Rabia city and yet ethnic Sindhis, including activists of PPP, are now surprisingly part of ANP. So in reality, ANP is not all pathans here, as is the case for many places inKarachiwhere ANP manifests, but an umbrella entity for elements belonging to MQM-Haqiqi, PPP & some drug-racket operatives with Pathan ethnicity.
PPP’s proxy war in Karachi: The question arises as to why all such Sindhis and Muhajirs unnaturally tend to be part of ANP here, which only claims to represent pathans. The reason for such affinity apparently is the funding, which flows as monthly salaries for such elements thru the ANP, the exclusive mandate for such elements to freely extort from hotels and other stores in the Rabia city and of course the protective cover for them from any state action.
This manifestly criminal nature of such elements within ANP in Rabia city and other places in the city is indeed mind-boggling as to how these elements manage to indulge in such manifestly criminal activities without any fear from the law enforcement agencies. After all, the party has no NA seats from Sindh and only 2 provincial assembly seats, which make it almost irrelevant here. Even the PPP’s central government’s dependence on ANP is no answer to this as such dependence is fully neutralized by ANP’s KP government’s dependence on PPP. And why does Sindhis unnaturally become part of ANP and not PPP? And who has the power to engineer ‘Muhajir’ Qaumi Movement-Haqiqi to embrace ANP that only claims to represent pathans?
Given PPP’s dependence on MQM, Haqiqi could not operate independently and openly as MQM would certainly mount all pressure possible on PPP to stop it from doing so. This is how Haqiqi has been activated and patronized under ANP. Similarly, Punjabi Pakhtun Ittehad (PPI), which was active during the 90s has also been reactivated.
The above elaboration of the situation in Rabia city is a reflection of the extremely close coordination between PPP, ANP, Haqiqi and others in the city. Such strong cooperation is evident in many other parts of the city and a interesting fact that bears testimony to such cooperation is that one can find either no or very few areas in the whole city where PPP (in the semblance of People’s Amn Committee – PAC) and ANP are both active in the same area – this despite the plurality of the ethnic makeup in many such areas. This suggests how secretly these parties have decided to operate under only one umbrella in one area and it is exactly in line with this decision that different areas have been distributed amongst them whereby the umbrella in one area is ANP, in another it isPAC.
Another testament of PPP’s patronization for ANP and PAC is the operations that were done in places like Pehlwan Goth and Dalmia. Let’s examine the operation in Pehlwan Goth where two different drugs rackets were feuding for long. One was the Mudassir chief group and the other was a Bangash group backed by the ANP that extends in influence to the Rabia city as well. As soon as the Mudassir group became a formidable opposition, a police-led operation was carried out that, instead of freeing the area of both these criminal groups, only dismantled the Mudassir chief group and handed over the whole area to the ANP-backed group as their fiefdom. Similar operation was done in Dalmia to liquidate a criminal gang opposed to the PAC for Dalmia to become the exclusiveterritoryofPAC.
While such proxy role of unelected entities like Haqiqi, PPI and others is understandable and nothing new but what could have compelled an elected entity, ANP, to adopt a proxy role for PPP? The mutual dependence of PPP and ANP, in terms of PPP’s federal government’s dependence on ANP and ANP’s KP government’s dependence on PPP, confi
gures these two parties as natural, committed and strategic allies. But more importantly, it is in the interest of both to keep MQM in the federal government as the potential turmoil that could trigger from MQM’s withdrawal from the federal government will not only topple the central government but also ANP’s provincial government in KP. Such is the strategic commonality of PPP and ANP’s interests, which also offers a lucrative proposition to ANP in terms of protective cover for land-grabbing, extortion etc. Additionally, such role of ANP serves both the interests of PPP as well as of ISI, which engineered ANP’s emergence on the political horizon of Sindh.
The fact therefore is that ANP Sindh acts as a proxy force of ISI and PPP as without such patronization, neither can elements within ANP fearlessly indulge in such manifestly criminal activities, nor can ethnic Sindhis become part of it, and nor can MQM-Haqiqi embrace the umbrella of ANP. It is knowing this exact fact, that MQM refuses to do any negotiation with ANP and considers it sufficient to only talk to PPP as it knows fully well that ANP works on the directions of PPP’s provincial leadership in Sindh. However, as already explained earlier, ANP is not the only proxy force being used by PPP against the MQM. It is general knowledge that PAC, even before its formal adoption by the PPP, was essentially a part of PPP. Similarly, parties, who had otherwise died, and were only active during the successive PPP and PML-N governments in the 90s like Punjabi Pakhtun Ittehad (PPI) have also been reactivated. Also attempts were made to create new factions within MQM like the Behari Qaumi Movement in Orangi Town and in fact it seems that MP of MQM from the area, Raza Haider, was also killed in connection with this move so that PPP alongwith all its proxies and such BQM could put together a front against MQM in the elections on the seat of Raza Haider. That BQM refused to be party to this is maybe the reason why the person heading it got killed after the election.
ISI’s proxy game in Karachi: ISI seems to have adopted the same proxy strategy inKarachi as it did in the 1990s when it created and patronized anti-MQM proxies such as Haqiqi, Punjabi Pukhtun Ittehad and others. There are multiple factors influencing such strategy of ISI. One, there seems to be a significant contribution of the top army general’s linguistic affiliation to his outlook on the country and its different elements. No wonder, both Aslam Beg and Musharraf and even Kakar to a certain extent chose to deal withKarachi in a much different manner as against Janjua and now Kayani. The approach of Beg and Musharraf was based on trust of the Urdu-speaking majority of Karachi and no wonder it yielded clearly positive results, especially during Musharraf’s term, when Karachi saw both unprecedented economic development and unparalleled peace (except for a few one-off incidences) in recent history. As against Musharraf and Beg, both Janjua and Kayani’s approach is of clear distrust of the Urdu-speaking majority inKarachi and therefore the need to confront them covertly with proxy forces and then overtly with military operations, prejudiced JITs, etc. It is because of this role of linguistics that I am a firm believer that a Baloch general will deal with the Balochistan insurgency in a wholly different manner from the ruthless approach of the current general. But of course Balochis are not fortunate enough to be allowed a Baloch general and the majority of Karachiites are no less unfortunate not to have the likes of Musharraf and Beg but the likes of Janjua and Kayani in power. Another factor influencing Kayani’s strategy inKarachi is his ‘capability and not intentions’ doctrine. The army thinks that the MQM may or may not have the intention to embrace the great game against the interest ofPakistan inKarachi, however it certainly has the ability for it and therefore effort is underway eversince Kayani has taken over to pre-empt such ability.
When Kayani took over, MQM had peak popularity and almost absolute control ofKarachi. No matter the distrust, an overt military operation therefore was no possibility in such an environment against the MQM. Therefore, the military decided to confront the MQM covertly, reinventing the same old proxy game and using the same old proxy forces (Haqiqi, PPI) while also creating some new ones (ANP). Such proxies-to-be were then tactfully carved within a coalition configuration under PPP that also guaranteed PPP’s adoption of such proxy game as well. This has already been explained above in detail.
Such proxy forces were unleashed on the MQM while the police refused to act and such is how MQM was dragged into violence. While the actions of confrontation that was initiated by such proxy forces was ignored (including killings, relentless land-grabbing, forceful occupation of flats, etc), the whole effort of the security establishment was on framing MQM for the violence through prejudiced JITs, etc. One wonders why no JIT is made for continuing incidences in Orangi town and other places. With almost unabated violence for more than 3 years now, the military establishment feels it has both weakened the MQM (from its absolute control of Karachi in 2007), made it less popular by portraying it as the main source of unrest in Karachi, and thus have laid out the justification for a military action against it at anytime of its choice. With the foundation now laid, such military operation may be timed to the military’s choice. Whenever it wishes to do such an operation, it will engineer a fiercer bout of killings (killing 200-300 people in a day or continuously for a few days) and use such escalation and the accompanying public sentiment to start an operation, which could very well be timed to distract attention from US pressure for operation in NWA citing the emergency nature of the situation in Karachi.
Replay of the 90s in Karachi: And if you were to analyze the violent history ofKarachi in the last two decades, you would find such proxy game as the root-cause of unrest inKarachi, which in other words means that such violence can mostly be attributed as government-inspired as only governments can patronize and sustain proxies. A very interesting attribute of such proxies created and patronized successively by PPP and PML-N governments is that they are solely MQM-specific. Such proxies have no political ideology, no agenda and all of there activities in terms of words and deeds are focused on opposing the MQM. It is entirely due to this reason that these proxies die as soon as their patron, PML-N and PPP, are out of power and indeed it is due to this reason alone that violence then largely ceases to happen inKarachi.
But to be fair, the PPP and PML-N learned the art of proxies from the army, which, initially, during the 1992 operation, with political support from PML’s Jam Sadiq orchestrated creation of MQM-Haqiqi. And the army made no secret of its proxy game as the then Army Chief, Asif Nawaz Janjua, openly shared his goal behind creation of Haqiqi when he said that ‘if there could be factions within PML and PPP then why not MQM’. The dual-bloodletting was then unleashed when on one hand the Haqiqi was patronized to violently confront the MQM, killing many MQM activists in process, yet the army operation was directed at the MQM sparing only those who would change loyalties to the Haqiqi. That few did is how the majority of them got killed either by the Haqiqi or by the Army. This undoubtedly was the seedling of violence inKarachiand every successive PPP and PML-N government continued this tradition of activating the Haqiqi and other proxy gangs, like PPI, during their period to control, threaten and confront the MQM. Same is now being repeated, though at far greater intensity, when PPP has yet again assumed power.
Are Karachiites being killed to keep the federal and KP government afloat?: How does this strate
gy of PPP to proclaim itself as an ally of MQM and use such proxies against the MQM serve it? The reason for PPP strategy is simple – they can’t afford to openly oppose the MQM as also needs them as a partner and therefore are covertly patronizing creating and strengthening committed anti-MQM proxy forces in the city. Using such proxies, PPP has tactfully engineered the phenomenon of target killing in Karachi to blackmail the MQM of being framed & maligned for such killing and of being subject to yet another operation should it opts out of the federal government. Not surprisingly and certainly by no coincidence, such bouts of target killing initiate whenever PPP is doing negotiations with the MQM. Just take this last episode that initiated in and around the time Zardari was trying to convince the MQM to end the boycott of Sindh Assembly and reintegrate with the government.
PPP also uses the violence in Karachi to distract attention from its corruption and mis-governance at the center and has already successfully managed to camouflage other relentless criminal activities including extortion, land grabbing, illegal and forceful occupation of flats, proliferation in street crimes, robberies, dacoities, kidnappings for ransom, etc.
PML-N and PPP’s collaboration for Karachi: Of real and substantive help to this gory game of PPP inKarachi is the PML-N that lends more strength to this game by unqualified finger-pointing at the MQM. The PML-N does not want to assume responsibility at the center at this time when it fully well knows it will also fail like PPP to address the economic and security crisis. Additionally, the PML-N does not wish to see MQM in government either at center or especially in Sind when its turn comes around as it does not wish to see any real opposition to its federal government from the strategic Sind province (that could potentially come from MQM) but only friendly opposition from the PPP in return for its current friendly role towards the PPP. The PML-N therefore only wishes for this government to fall by way of a PPP-MQM clash in Sindh and not in any way thru any effort of PML-N itself. Subsequently, it wishes for formation of an interim government thru mutual agreement between the PPP and PML-N only (including a government of PPP’s choice in Sind), allow PPP to undertake requisite legislation in Sind near end of its current term to dismantle the local bodies system, regularize encroachments, register IDPs as voters and re-demarcate constituencies to its benefit in Karachi, Hyderabad, etc that would weaken the MQM and benefit the PPP and thus again help PPP gain either a simple majority or a coalition government with PML-N in Sind. In this way, PPP in Sindh will act as a friendly opposition to the PML-N government in center the same way and in return for the current friendly opposition role of PML-N.
Whose interest does the Karachi unrest serve?: The popular understanding that the MQM is directing such violence to destabilize the government does not make sense as, in the current parliamentary configuration, the MQM could very conveniently trigger such destabilization by withdrawing support of the federal government. With such convenience available, it hardly makes sense to kill and be killed. Additionally, such violence certainly does not provide the MQM the foundation it requires for exalting itself into thePunjab and other provinces that it is yearning for. Then the assumption that the violence is because the MQM refuses to accept other parties’ activities inKarachi also looks flawed because had this been the reason, the pattern of target killing should have been continual and not linked to the times PPP and MQM are negotiating. On the other hand, the PPP does seem to have a logical interest in theKarachi violence as it keeps up the pressure on the MQM to stay in government, which otherwise MQM would not do, especially when the government has become such unpopular. This is exactly why the bouts of target killing happen whenever the PPP is trying to regain MQM’s support. Also, unlike past, when the army could use theKarachi violence to topple the government and even intervene, the PPP is sure that an army takeover or other semblance of interference is not possible this time around.