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Posts Tagged ‘ANP’

Via AfPak/FP

For those of us on the outside looking in, Karachi’s violence seems exceedingly complex. I’m often left perpetually confused. But last October, journalist Huma Yusuf told me that the mechanics of the conflict are often the same – ethnically driven conflict over turf and power in the city. As we continue to delve into the underlying causes of each upsurge in violence, we observe this same pattern in different iterations. In a modest effort to break down the most recent conflict, in which more than 700 have been killed so far, 200 in the last month alone, I give you Karachi Violence FAQs Part III (Click here to see Part I, and here to see Part II).

FAQ: Who are the main parties in this conflict and how did it escalate out of control?

In Karachi Violence 101, which I wrote back in January 2010 [Note: this is by no means a comprehensive treatment of the violence over the past year, just a summary of what we've covered on CHUP], the main players in the conflict were workers or gang members associated with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the political party which controls Karachi, and the Pakistan People’s Party, (PPP), who were then vying for control over land. Violence at the time was concentrated in Lyari Town in Karachi.

In October 2010, (see Karachi Violence 102) – tensions between the MQM and the Awami National Party (ANP) had spilled over in part because of the assassination of MQM’s Raza Haider and the subsequent by-election to replace his then-vacant seat. Violence and tensions were then concentrated in Orangi Town, one of Karachi’s largest and poorest slums, where the MQM had held the provincial seat since 1988 but where it was also considered the “tensest district divided between Mohajirs and Pathans,” noted Yusuf. So, again. Turf/Power = Violence [simplistic version].

In the most recent conflict, violence erupted after the murder of an ANP activist triggered an all-out war between the party and the MQM, noted Shaheryar Mirza in Caravan Magazine‘s “Karachi’s Turf Wars” (a must-read). The killings were once again first concentrated in Orangi, and became so escalated that media outlets called July, “the deadliest month in almost two decades.” (Although some sources claim the number was more than 200 killed, other outlets say it was upwards of 300.) On Tuesday, news agencies reported that in 24 hours, 26 people were killed, of which 18 were victims of targeted killings.

FAQ: So the violence this time around is between the MQM and the ANP, but where does the PPP stand in the conflict?

As with many of Karachi’s past escalations in violence, all three parties in the PPP-MQM-ANP trifecta appear to have some role in each iteration of the cycle. Last month, Sindh Minster and PPP member Zulfiqar Mirza caused an uproar after he made provocative remarks against the MQM’s Altaf Hussain, calling the leader of a breakaway MQM [MQM(H)], “the true leader of the Muhajirs” while accusing the main MQM of trying to divide Sindh. He further stated, “I call upon the people of Karachi and Hyderabad to get rid of these lowlifes.” The Express Tribune reported, “Mirza’s rant sparked an almost instant outburst of violent protests throughout Karachi, with aerial gunfire heard in nearly every part of the city.”

But wait. There’s more on the PPP dynamic in this conflict.

During a brief period between June and July, Sindh’s “longest-serving” Governor Ishratul Ibad resigned from office, after the MQM pulled out of the ruling coalition in protest over the postponement of elections of two Karachi seats in the Azad Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Assembly.  In the Friday Times, Ali K. Chishti wrote,

During the brief period in which the Sindh governor was away, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) undid the Local Governments Ordinance of 2001 and revived the 1979 Local Bodies Ordinance, restoring the magistrate system to manage the districts through commissioners and deputy commissioners.

Chishti added, “The PPP, which represents rural Sindh, wants to consolidate its position in the cities against the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) which represents urban Sindh.” Fellow blogger Umair Javed, on the tense MQM-PPP dynamic, wrote, “Those of you who’ve been following PPP-MQM relations over the last few years would know that agreeing on a time line for local government elections has remained a major thorn for the coalition,” [read the rest of his post to learn more].

So, incendiary remarks by a PPP member (though other party members distanced themselves immediately), and tensions surrounding the local government issue – both factors that make the conflict all the more exacerbated and intense. In regard to the current violence, the ruling party – the PPP – have  been watching from the sidelines this increasing breakdown of law and order. Bilal Baloch wrote last month for Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel,

The dilemma is thus: How should the government respond effectively and objectively to the violence when it is the very political actors tasked with governing and solving Karachi’s problems that are themselves protagonists of the quagmire? When the workers and supporters of the MQM and ANP… are slaughtering one another, who should the ruling partner PPP, crack down on? They could move against the ANP, but this would effectively lead their government to collapse. Perhaps the government could use their iron fists against the MQM, but battering this powerful party, long the overlords of Karachi, traditionally results in political suicide.

Just this past week, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters, “We will take every possible action to restore peace in Karachi,” adding that results of the government’s action will be visible soon. In the meantime, calls for peace by the government and political parties have so far fallen on deaf ears. Finally, on Tuesday, the Pakistani government “authorized paramilitary forces to conduct raids in some of the city’s most violent neighborhoods to try to restore order,” reported the NY Times.

FAQ: Calling in the [paramilitary] troops? What does that mean, exactly?

This is not the first time the government has called in the Rangers to curb the violence, nor is it the first time that the political parties involved in the conflict have asked for these forces to be deployed, [Ahsan from Five Rupees questions how the MQM could even do that in this post]. Back in January 2010, a journalist source told me, “The rangers that have been sent in with the police won’t make much of a difference, particularly since the police is politicized and doesn’t come under the jurisdiction of the city government. Dawn‘s Huma Yusuf noted last year, “…the MQM’s request for the Rangers, the army and intelligence agencies to maintain law and order in the city is akin to slapping a band-aid on a deep, infected wound.”

Interesting how history repeats itself, don’t you think? Or how I can cite analysis and statements made a year and a half ago during a different iteration of the violence and it still holds true today?

In terms of the role of the police in the situation, Baloch wrote in another AfPak piece this week, “Yet it is not the police themselves who are entirely to blame for the breakdown of law and order, but rather a system whereby politicians are able to use the police according to their whims…A revolution in police affairs needs to take place with regards to the relationship between the police and the province’s politicians.”

All of this further emphasizes how violence continues to be used as a political tool for intimidation and power. Mirza noted in the aforementioned Caravan piece how both parties take advantage of this, but the MQM tends to have the upper hand, particularly since they are more media savvy than their counterparts and can therefore demonize the other side more aptly.

FAQ: Amid the escalating violence, is there a potential solution?

So far, we have seen temporary solutions to a very endemic problem, a problem that is far too complex to be linear, far too brutal to be easily forgotten. The call for the Army and Rangers may quell the violence temporarily, but it is only a matter of time before Karachi erupts once again. A truce among the parties may also soon occur, but this also appears to be a short-term concession rather than a long-term solution.

On Monday, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan urged in a statement, “While gangs of land-grabbers and mafias have tried to exploit the breakdown of law and order…they do not appear to be the main directors of the horrible game of death and destruction; that distinction belongs to more powerful political groups, and it is they who hold the key to peace.”

As Karachi continues to burn, Shaheryar Mirza noted poignantly, “Land is priceless in this growing metropolis, but lives have become increasingly worthless.”

Here’s praying for you, Karachi. 

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Violence in Karachi 102

 

NYT: AFP/Getty Image

Back in January, I wrote a post entitled, “Violence in Karachi 101,” in which I attempted to break down the players in the  then-conflict, the root causes, and potential solutions, thanks mainly to interviews with journalists covering the issue on the ground. In Karachi, violence and political tensions have erupted time and time again, cloaking the city in bloodshed and garnering momentary headlines.

Huma Imtiaz wrote in the NY Times yesterday, “Targeted killings of various ethnic groups and political parties’ workers have left more than 300 people dead since 2008.” In recent months, noted Dawn Newspaper, Karachi has suffered “the worst such violence in years with 85 people killed after a lawmaker was shot dead in August.” Since Saturday alone, more than 70 people have died in the city as the result of such killings. Imtiaz reported,

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), representing the city’s Muhajirs, and Awami National Party, (ANP), with a dominant Pathan support base, have had tense relations. The MQM has accused the ANP of supporting organized crime and the ANP charges that its opponent is a terrorist organization that is responsible for the killings of Pathan residents. Both parties are coalition partners with the ruling Pakistan People’s Party in Sindh.

But what are the nuances of this conflict? Are the players involved the same as previous spates of violence and are they motivated by the same root causes? For those of us not from or currently living in Karachi, the nuances of the conflict seem daunting to comprehend. Below, two journalists – Huma Yusuf from Dawn (currently the Pakistan fellow at The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars) and Shaheryar Mirza, a Karachi-based reporter for Express 24/7, provide insight and help answer some FAQ’s related to Karachi’s most recent outbreak of violence:

Q: News agencies report that unrest first broke out in Karachi on Saturday, a day before a by-election was slated to be held for a provincial assembly seat left vacant after Raza Haider from the MQM was assassinated in August. Was the by-election the cause of this recent outbreak of violence or was it merely a catalyst following months of escalating tensions?

According to Yusuf, the mechanics of the conflict are the same as always – ethnically driven conflict over turf and power in Karachi. Although the by-election can be seen as the “catalyst” for the recent violence, political/religious/ethnic tensions are always simmering in the city. Orangi Town, the site of the by-elections, is the “tensest district in Karachi that is divided between the Mohajirs and the Pathans,” and the assassination of Raza Haider led this to be a very emotionally-charged election among MQM’s constituents.

Mirza added, the MQM has held the provincial (MPA) seat in Orangi Town since 1988. Although mostly Urdu-speaking communities live in Orangi, “it borders many different areas which have absorbed the large influx of Pashtun immigrants. Therefore, the two communities, as they expand, run into each other and begin to overlap.” As a result, he added, “some votes are won and lost in the new overlap,” leading to competition for power or “turf.”  Competing groups subsequently use violence and extortion to rule certain areas. “It is a lot like the way gangs exert their influence in other countries except that in Karachi, political parties are behind it.”

However, noted Mirza, this “political turf war” is only one aspect of Karachi’s violence. The drug mafias, criminal organizations, militant groups, student organizations, and ethnic violence “all overlap and link with each other through politics, ethnicity, and religion,” creating a complex web of unrest and tensions.

Q: This is obviously not the first time tensions in Karachi resulted in violence – is this spate of killings part of the larger trend from the past or is it different? (Are the killings less targeted and more indiscriminate?)

According to Yusuf, this recent outbreak of violence appear to be more brutal, mass killings, inclusive of people other than party workers (like the assassination of shopkeepers near Shershah).  She noted, “This could indicate two things; (1) Since the MQM has been worrying about shifting demographics in Karachi (in favor of a growing Pashtun voting block) the stakes of this round of violence are higher, and the parties are trying to give each other sterner/more violent messages than before. And (2) the involvement of other criminal groups and gangs (i.e. the Lyari gangsters that MQM has complained of). This is not a new phenomenon, but indicates a worsening level of security, law and order control.”

Mirza also noted the conspiracy theories surrounding the killings. “Amongst people who have been reporting on crime in the city for a long time, it is a common assertion that intelligence agencies also play a part in the violence – whether it is to raise tensions and pit certain groups against each other or for small-time political assassinations.” Another conspiracy theory, he added, “is that a certain political party will assassinate members of their own party (if they want to get rid of them in any case for instance) to basically show that their leaders are getting killed and trigger an ‘operation’ in an enemy area.”

He also noted another important aspect of these killings – the resulting perception amongst people within the community.

I was in Orangi town during the elections and a man came up to me and asked me where I was from. I told him I’m Urdu-speaking. He became comfortable and said, “First it was the Sindhis that were killing us, then the Punjabis and now the Balochis.” He was not affiliated with the MQM but was Urdu-speaking. This is important because this is felt by many who are directly affected by the killings. Political parties have ethnic foundations in Pakistan despite what they may proclaim. But when these killings take place, people will forget about the turf war and think simply that it is a matter of ‘wiping out’ their ethnic communities or oppressing them. The parties play on these emotions and the people support their parties as a result of this.

Q: What role do politicians from these parties play versus the supposed political agents that are perpetrating these killings? How does this impact the political sphere?

According to Mirza, “It is hard to say exactly how much role the politicians play in the actual ‘ordering’ of killings and the like.” Much of the violence is perpetrated on a more local level through local actors and agents from political parties, with “some resulting from personal enmities within rival parties in an area.”

He added, “The PPP has a greater disconnect from its lower cadres than the MQM. In Karachi, it is said the MQM is so well disciplined and organized that it would be unheard of that any action is taken without the direct consent of its supreme leader.” However, Mirza added, “I find this hard to believe and the rapid spiralling nature of violence contradicts the fact that every killing can be ordered from such a high place.” The political sphere is impacted a lot through the blame game. “The MQM has specifically identified politicians and political agents it thinks are responsible, bringing them into the public sphere. The politicians seem to be immune from a lot of the personal attacks, except for how they are viewed within their rival’s minds.”

Q: Much like before, Army rangers were deployed in the city to restore order. Is this productive in breaking the cycle of violence in Karachi?

According to Yusuf,

The Rangers’ presence historically has succeeded in reducing incidents of violence. The problem, though, is that deploying the Rangers is not a long-term, systemic solution to the deep-rooted problems of Karachi violence. It’s just a temporary band-aid, one that loses effectiveness once the elite forces step away from tense areas. In some ways, reliance on the Rangers over the years has worsened the problem, because that means the police have remained largely inept and corruptible in the face of Karachi’s complicated ethnic and turf wars.

While it is good that the federal government and politicians have been taking increasing note of Karachi’s violence, added Yusuf, “the truth is that this is a local problem, with well entrenched powerful local actors. The solution will have to come from within Karachi, not from Islamabad.”

Q: As a journalist reporting on this issue on the ground in Karachi, what are some obstacles or frustrations you face in your coverage?

As is common with most types of war/conflict reporting, noted Mirza, the people who get killed become a statistic in the news process. He added, “We aren’t given the space to pursue the families and give the victims a face or their families a voice. The reporting is very simplistic when it comes to targeted killings.” Moreover, he noted, a lot of killings that take place during a long spate of targeted killings “get falsely reported and lumped into the overall death toll.” This exacerbates the situation, making it seem worse than it is, and panicking the public even more.”

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Dawn photo: Abbotabad Riots

Below is my piece that first appeared in Foreign Policy‘s AfPak Channel, a continuation on my previous post that delves more into the party politics that often clouds what the real issues are or should be:

As the 18th Amendment, the constitutional reforms package designed to bolster parliamentary democracy in Pakistan, inches closer to becoming a historic “landmark bill,” one particular part of the legislation has sparked considerable controversy and political wrangling — the renaming of North-West Frontier Province to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Over the weekend, people from the province’s Hazara Division, (who speak mainly Hindko as opposed to Pashto) staged demonstrations, and on Monday, at least seven people were killed and over 100 were injured in Abbottabad when police used force to break up a protest. The demonstrations continued on Tuesday, with Dawn reporting that mobs in Haripur, Mansehra, and Abbottabad (in Hazara) blocked roads, chanted slogans, and burned tires — all in the name of a name.

The bumpy journey to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa did not begin in the last few weeks. The Awami National Party (ANP), the secular Pashtun nationalist ruling political party of the province, has long campaigned for a change to Pakhtunkhwa, even passing a resolution in favor of the development in November 1997, noted The News columnist Rahimullah Yusufzai. The name, argued the ANP, accurately reflects the Pashtun-majority of the region, much like Pakistan’s other provinces — Balochistan, Sindh, and Punjab.

But the PML-N staunchly opposed this label, (officially calling for a referendum last September), claiming the title marginalized other ethnic and linguistic groups in the province, including Hindko, Seraiki, and Khowar-speakers. A deadlock over the name continued, with an array of alternative names proposed as a compromise. While some reflected more neutral geographical areas (Khyber, Neelab and Abaseen) and historical references (Gandhara, the old Buddhist-era name of the region), other noteworthy runner-ups included Afghania, the clandestine ‘A’ in “Pakistan,” coined by one of the earliest proponents of the Pakistani state, Chaudhry Rehmat Ali in 1933.

At the end, hyphenating the name to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa became the compromise everyone could agree on.

Well, almost everyone.

Although Pakistani media outlets televised people in the “province-formerly-known-as-NWFP” celebrating in the streets, the honeymoon period was soon over. PML-Q immediately expressed reservations over the new name, claiming they were not privy to the negotiations between the PML-N and ANP. PML-Q leaders have since criticized both the ANP and PML-N, alleging that PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif supported the new name “for his personal gains,” and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa was part of “a conspiracy to divide the province.”

While it would be easy to cloak Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa with the “conspiracy” label, twirl some handlebar moustaches and call it a day, Pakistani politics are never that straightforward. The PML-Q, as Ejaz Haider, National Affairs Editor of Newsweek Pakistan told me, has significant support in the Hazara division, “as is clear from the fact that its candidate was the runner-up in the January by-election in Mansehra.” However, PML-N has a more considerable vote bank in the region, with strong ties to the people of Hazara.

Given that the PML-Q suffered major losses in the 2008 elections, it seems they are trying to remain politically relevant and “capitalize on the emergence of the malcontents at the expense of the PML-N,” noted Dawn’s editorial. But at what cost? Their political provocations have indirectly led to the deaths of innocent people in Abbottabad, and the spread of mobs throughout Hazara. If the party claims to truly represent the interests of the people, it should address the issues that go beyond names and frilly hyphenated labels — the power shortages, the rising food prices, and the unemployment. Even if the 18th Amendment sails through the Senate and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa remains intact, political parties must avoid language that will destabilize the province further. At this rate, a province by any other name would not smell as sweet.

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After years of back-and-forth posturing, gesticulating, muchy-twirling and chest puffing – it’s official. Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province will officially be renamed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, after the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms (PCCR) signed the draft of the 18th Amendment Wednesday (dubbed “the best constitutional thing to happen since the 1973 consensus Constitution”). 

For those unaware of the issue, Rahimullah Yusufzai does a great job of detailing it in The News this week. In “The Case for Pakhtunkhwa,” he wrote, “The debate on renaming [NWFP] is serious business because it concerns the identity of its people and their place in the federation of Pakistan. However, the direction it has taken is sometimes comical, and at best uninformed and politicized.”

The Awami National Party (ANP) have long campaigned for the change to Pakhtunkhwa, (in November 1997, the NWFP Assembly even passed a resolution in favor of the name), asserting that it reflects the Pashtun majority of the province. However, the opposition (specifically the PML-N) claimed the titlemarginalized other ethnic groups in the province,” though every other province in Pakistan – Punjab, Balochistan, and Sindh – reflect a specific ethnic group. Go figure.

As parties entered into lengthy debates over a potential province name, some interesting options have come out of the woodwork – Neelab, Nuristan, Darul Islam, Afghania, and Abaseen, (a name used for the Indus River). At the end, renaming it Khyber (in reference to the Khyber Pass)-Pakhtunkhwa seemed to be a compromise both the PML-N and ANP could agree upon (although the PML-Q expressed reservations).

In his piece Yusufzai made one particular point that was interesting – “People with fertile imaginations and unconcerned that the issue was to provide identity to its majority Pakhtun population came up with still more bizarre names that don’t even deserve to be discussed.”

Since I was not privy to the “bizarre” names that failed to make the chopping block, my overactive imagination can only wonder out loud. Imaginary PML-N, take it away:

  • Muchiekhwa or Muchiestan – Because everyone’s got a moustache. Even the ladies.
  • Sharifs-are-your-pals-stan – Not so subtle way for PML-N to shore up voter support among Pathans.
  • We-want-your-votes-but-Punjabis-actually-rule-stan – Um, yeah. No.
  • RAW-istan – “Wait, what do you mean RAW isn’t the Taliban in disguise? Taliban doesn’t equal Pashtuns? Damn.”
  • Nawaz-ia – Nawaz, the hair plugs called. They want their lack of subtlety back.

Dude. Nawaz-ia would have been TOTALLY awesome.

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On Monday, Pakistani media outlets reported that the National Assembly passed a resolution in support of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation 2009 for the Malakand division. However, although the decision was technically unanimous, news agencies did add that representatives from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) did stage a walk out from the session, ultimately not participating in the vote. The AP quoted Farooq Sattar, a top party leader, who asserted, “We can’t accept Islamic law at gunpoint.” According to GEO News, “Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani speaking on the occasion said the Parliament was taken into confidence in the above matter and added: ‘We respect the mandate of the provincial government and congratulate the people.'” The resolution will ultimately allow for the enforcement of Sharia law in the Swat Valley region, which has been demanded by both the militants and the NWFP provincial government.

Last Thursday, Sufi Mohammad, the leader of the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-Mohammed [TNSM] and the main broker in the peace deal between the Taliban and the provincial government, left his “peace camp” in protest of what he called President Zardari‘s “failure to enforce Islamic law in the Valley.” According to Dawn, “A provincial government official appealed to President Zardari to sign the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation to save the peace deal from collapsing, and the Swat Qaumi Peace Jirga gave 10 days to the president to sign the regulation or face a protest movement.”

The development today will ultimately add further pressure on Zardari to sign the resolution. At the start of the floor debate on the regulation today, PM Gilani stated, “The whole nation is united in its support of the Swat regulation and wants the president to approve it.” However, noted the Associated Press, “Even without the president’s approval, judges trained in Islamic law have already began hearing cases in Swat, and witnesses say the Taliban are in effective control of much of the region. However, in The News this weekend, Rahimullah Yusufzai noted the qazi courts were hurriedly set up by the provincial government following a deadline set by Sufi Mohammad, and “still lack a proper legal cover that could only be provided once the president puts his signature to the law.”

Today’s approval of the regulation as well as the resulting debate once again raise the dilemma of the price of peace in Swat. If we allow the Nizam-e-Adl regulation to be officially put in place, are we emboldening the monster of militancy? Are we legitimizing harsh punishments and the opression of women, [see the post about the flogging of the young girl]? Although supporters of the regulation say the changes in the legal system will speed up justice there, not lead to such practices, recent developments leave me both skeptical and concerned. The deal is two-way though, and essentially means the Taliban will agree to cooperate with security forces, denounce suicide attacks, close their training camps and turn over their weapons, among other measures. Tell me, security now versus a potentially bigger problem later – which would you choose?

**I also wanted to highlight two upcoming related events. Tomorrow, PBS Frontline/World will air Children of the Taliban, a documentary film in which correspondent Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy takes a dangerous journey along Pakistan’s fault lines, investigating an insurgent new branch of the Taliban and their young recruits. The piece will be broadcast on PBS tomorrow at 9 pm EST. Below is an interview clip with filmmaker Obaid-Chinoy, who explains her motivations behind making this documentary.

Also, Khalid Aziz, who directs institution-strengthening for the FATA Secretariat will be screening, “Cries of Anguish” at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. TODAY at 4 pm EST. The short film documents the issues facing Pakistan’s volatile tribal areas and provides a human perspective on the conflict. The screening will be followed by remarks and a Q&A with Mr. Aziz. If you are not in the DC area or cannot make the event, it will be webcast live [click here].

Last but not least, Nicholas Schmidle provides an “Idiot’s Guide to Pakistan,” in this month’s Foreign Policy magazine. A good read for those of you who want to learn more background about the conflict.

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Below, Jackie, an American working in Karachi and CHUP’s Correspondent, delves into this week’s violence in the city and discusses who are the players, why are they fighting, and how it has impacted daily life in Karachi:

While this week’s international news coverage of Pakistan focused on Indo-Pak relations following the Mumbai bombings, here in Karachi, pre-existing ethnic tensions between Pathans and the native-Urdu speaking population erupted. The violence started on Saturday in Banaras Chowk and quickly engulfed the western parts of the city. The conflict raged on until Tuesday evening, leaving 42 dead, hundreds more wounded, and thousands of dollars in property damage.

On Saturday night, while I was getting ready for a wedding, my roommate called me from just south of Orangi Town, concerned over the reported violence in the area. She had gotten stuck in a terrible traffic jam on the way home from work, and her driver mentioned that there had been some rioting in the area. At first, I assumed this was the usual gang-related unrest that plagues the areas where our organization operates. However, it became increasingly apparent this was much worse – I began receiving phone calls from different people reporting gruesome stories of violence and destruction from the northwest of the city. I ended up staying in that evening, and the next evening, and again the next…

Rumors abounded – the factions of the MQM population were cutting off Pathan ears, the Pathans were retaliating by pouring superglue in people’s eyes and ears. It was particularly scary being shut-up in the house and hearing sporadic, word-of-mouth accounts from family and friends of friends in the area; it wasn’t clear what was actually happening, and how much, if any, of these stories were true. At one point, we heard that 50 or 60 buses were driving around shooting people at random, then an hour later someone else claimed everything was more or less fine, some minor riots, but with no casualties. As the violence continued into the week, different ‘finger-pointing’ theories emerged. These ranged from an alleged RAW (India’s foreign intelligence organization) plot in response to the Mumbai attacks to an MQM-led uprising against the growing Pathan population in Karachi.

The major papers reported stories of torched businesses, houses and vehicles as well as shootings and indiscriminate murders. People were fleeing the area to stay with family in other parts of the city. Many shops and businesses closed their doors and schools shut down until Wednesday. Sindhi officials and party members made empty statements calling for unity and claiming the riots were a conspiracy by some against democracy. Because the local police were basically ineffective, the paramilitary Rangers were let loose on the city, but even this failed to curb the bloodshed.

After hearing these stories, reading the news and talking to different people, I have reached some understanding of the situation. The increasing violence in recent years in NWFP led the Pathans, the major ethnic group in that province, to move to other areas in the country. Consequently, Karachi – the industrial and commercial hub of Pakistan – has seen a significant increase in its Pathan population. The MQM [see previous blog entry], an Urdu-language based party, fears any potential threat to its political hold on the city, and from time to time harasses this population by threatening local Pathan-owned businesses. Many fear the “Talibanization” of Karachi, supposedly led by these new Pathans, adding further fuel to the fire. In the most recent election, the PPP [Pakistan People's Party], the ruling political party, the ANP [Awami National Party], a secular party that has a strong Pathan base, and the MQM agreed to form an alliance. Not surprisingly, these riots demonstrate that these political statements of unity for the greater good of Pakistan do not amount to much. Many say that it was the two parties, MQM and ANP, that stirred up this conflict. As for how exactly this started, or who is behind it, I do not know, but it seems plausible that the underlying hostilities between these two groups have created a tense situation that can explode into violence with very little prompting. It will be interesting to see how the story unfolds over the next week as hundreds of people involved in the riots were arrested and are now in police custody.

Regardless of who is responsible for fomenting the recent spate of violence, it’s obvious the supposed PPP-MQM-ANP alliance does not run very deep. The police and paramilitary Rangers exercise little power, and, once things spiral out of control, everyone sits back until the smoke clears and the politically motivated blame game begins.

To read Jackie’s other guest posts, click here.

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According to the Associated Press today, a major opposition party, the Muttahida-Qaumi Movement (MQM) voiced their backing for PPP co-Chairman, Asif Ali Zardari to become Pakistan’s next president, “as the power struggle following the resignation of Pervez Musharraf intensified.” The news agency added,

Zardari has played down speculation that he covets the top job. However, opposition backing will strengthen his hand in a struggle with coalition partner Nawaz Sharif over a compromise candidate to fill the post and the even more urgent issue of restoring judges purged by the former army strongman.

The AP cited a leader of the MQM, Haider Razvi, who said the party “wanted Zardari as president because of his past sacrifices and for his ‘wisdom and vision’ in handling Musharraf’s ouster.” The official advocated the next president be from outside Punjab, and noted that Zardari – a Sindhi – was “most eligible” for the job. The MQM, added the news agency, “dominates Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, and other urban areas in the southern province of Sindh and recently buried its long animosity with Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party.”

An article released by Geo TV’s website today reported that Zardari thanked MQM chief Altaf Hussein for his “positive role during the political developments over the last few days.” In a statement released Wednesday, Zardari asserted, “I am thankful to all democratic forces including MQM that helped coalition government achieve key objective of forcing President Musharraf to resign.”

As speculation over Pakistan’s next president is likely to increase, news of clashes within the coalition government continues. According to the NY Times on Wednesday, “Political order in Pakistan frayed further on Tuesday, the day after President Pervez Musharraf resigned, raising questions about who in the deeply divided civilian government would be in charge and for how long.” The news agency added:

The instant deterioration in relations within the government became evident when Nawaz Sharif, the leader of one of the two major parties in the governing coalition, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, walked out of a meeting here over the restoration of the chief justice of the Supreme Court, who had been dismissed by Mr. Musharraf. He then headed back to his home in Lahore, a four-hour drive away.

An article in The News today seemed to affirm these reports. According to the piece, “Because of the recurrence of their [the PPP and PML-N] differences on the judges issues, the situation at one stage was so tense between the two leading coalition partners that some of those present in the meeting room of the Zardari House feared that the coalition might collapse sooner than later.” Dawn, in its coverage, echoed that coalition leaders failed to resolve their differences on the judiciary restoration, since both sides “refused to relax” their stance on the issue. The news agency added, “Sources told Dawn that Awami National Party president Asfandyar Wali Khan saved the day for the coalition by offering to play the role of a mediator between the two parties.”

What exactly is the issue over the judiciary? While Nawaz Sharif centered his political campaign around the reinstatement of the judges suspended by Musharraf, particularly Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Zardari “has made it clear that he does not want Mr. Chaudhry back on the bench,” noted the NY Times. The news agency added, “He prefers the chief justice installed by Mr. Musharraf after he imposed emergency rule in November, Abdul Hamid Dogar.” Given the iconic status of Chaudhry for the lawyers’ movement, compromising on his reinstatement seems unlikey. In fact, noted the Times, the movement regards Mr. Dogar as an illegal appointee. However, noted the news agency, “Mr. Dogar comes from Sindh Province, Mr. Zardari’s political base, and the two men are friendly.” [Image from Dawn]

Zardari’s reported unease with reappointing Chaudhry lies in the fear that the chief justice might undo an amnesty agreement that absolved the PPP co-chairman of corruption charges, part of a package arranged by Musharraf when Zardari returned to Pakistan with his late wife, former PM Benazir Bhutto. Such a development would of course complicate Zardari’s reported aspirations for the presidency.

Although officials like the ANP’s Asfandiyar Wali Khan and Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States Hussain Haqqani have played down the disputes between coalition members, it seems we may be headed towards yet another political deadlock, a development that has serious ramifications for the future of this government. That is, of course, unless a miraculous compromise is reached during the next coalition meeting, slated to take place Friday. Dawn reported today that the ANP leader and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman “are expected to come up with a solution” for that session.

Meanwhile, the security situation remains increasingly volatile. According to media coverage, a suicide attack in the FATA region Tuesday, for which the [Pakistani] Taliban claimed responsibility, killed 32 people and wounded 55 in Dera Ismail Khan, a town near Waziristan. The NY Times cited a police chief who said the bombing “was part of continuing sectarian strife between Sunni and Shiites.” Many of the dead were Shiites, media sources reported, although two police officers were also killed in the attack. The NY Times also reported, In another unexpected move after Mr. Musharraf’s resignation, the chief of staff of the Pakistani Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, visited the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Tuesday…the first time the Pakistani general had attended a meeting of the commission in Kabul since assuming command of the Pakistani military in November.” [Image from NY Times]

How do issues related to security and economic problems factor into the political environment? Simple – The longer this coalition government argue over the current judiciary issue, the more distracted they are from these other problems. Moreover, a fracture in the coalition, as has occured in the past, would create a power vacuum that would inevitably have dangerous repurcussions for Pakistan’s volatile political, economic and security environment.

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