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.