Is Karachi reaching the tipping point?
Brigadier (r) Farooq Hameed Khan


The recent remarks of the Director General Rangers before the Supreme Court that Karachi was more complex than Waziristan is understandable and manifests the multifarious challenges, faced by the law enforcement agencies in overcoming militancy in this mega cosmopolitan port city.

The political parties’ sponsored militant groups and criminal mafias, no go areas, hospitals earmarked on linguistic lines, torture cells and weapon dumps all point towards a horrific mess created in Karachi predominantly by the MQM, PPP and ANP under the banners of democracy and reconciliation ever since their so-called coalition came to power in 2008.

More disturbing was the DG’s comment that the current lull in target killings may be temporary since militants were likely to regroup in case Rangers powers were not maximized or the duration not extended for longer periods. This gives credence to popular view that many target killers were being sheltered by their political patrons in Karachi’s hideouts or even in safe havens within the country or abroad.

The DG Rangers dilemma is understandable. How could the Sindh police be trusted to be fair and neutral when it remains heavily infiltrated by criminals with loyalties to political parties? Zulfiqar Mirza made a shocking confession that he inducted almost 10,000 policemen in Sindh police that included not a single one on MQM’s recommendation.

Assuming that the MQM, too, inducted its party loyalists during Musharraf’s rule, the Sindh police force itself needs major cleansing. No wonder the IG Sindh admitted before the Supreme Court that almost 40% police officers in the force were political appointees.

Recent briefings chaired by Army Chief General Kayani at 5-Corps Headquarters, his meeting with President Zardari and the Corps Commanders conference indicate the army’s concern that the Rangers required greater powers as well as autonomy to make the operation meaningful and result oriented.

When Major General Naseerullah Babar, decorated with Sitara-e-Jurat in both 1965 and 71 Indo-Pak wars, BB’s Interior Minister and a known Mr Clean led the anti-mafia/MQM crackdown in Karachi in 1994, no doubts were raised about his sincerity or determination to wipe out the criminals and restore peace in Karachi. With Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s credibility badly dented after Zulfiqar Mirza and Lashkari Raisani’s outbursts, Mr Malik should desist from influencing the Rangers operations to suit his priorities and biases.

With army officers, comprising the middle and senior tier leadership of Sindh Rangers, the 5 Corps Headquarters in Karachi needs to monitor and oversee the Rangers operation. When boosted by the intelligence support of the ISI/MI, IB, CID and Rangers own network, which also form the Joint Interrogation Team (JIT), the DG Rangers has good chances of success provided he maintains neutrality and conducts across the board operations against all militant groups irrespective of party affiliations.

Zulfiqar Mirza, too, needs to be held accountable for issuing over three hundred thousand arms licenses in Sindh, the official record of which is reportedly not traceable. Has Mirza quietly raised and armed a PPP’s Army in interior and urban Sindh? Did the Lyari and Aman Committee gangs unleash terror and bloodshed against MQM supporters with these ‘licensed’ weapons? And did all this happen with President Zardari’s knowledge/approval?

Can the target killers be speedily prosecuted and convicted? On the directives of the Honorable Chief Justice, the ATC conducted a speedy hearing within few weeks and awarded death/life sentences to those Rangers personnel found guilty for the tragic killing of Sarfraz Shah. The nation expects that Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry would issue similar directives for speedy trials by special courts in respect of Ajmal Pahari and co. whose crimes have been confirmed by the JIT.

While the MQM lawyer’s statement that his client has ‘zero tolerance against militancy’ is certainly welcomed, the MQM must willingly dismantle the no go areas, cleanse the party from criminals and surrender them, along with their weapons, to the Rangers. Since the MQM is the largest political stakeholder in Karachi, it bears most responsibility to take the lead in this respect.

This voluntary action could save bloody confrontation with law enforcement agencies, reduce tensions and public inconvenience in mid night search raids as well as also force the PPP, ANP and other religious groups to follow the similar path of dismantling and de-weaponizing their armed wings.

The MQM’s paradigm shift from ‘Mohajir’ to ‘Muttahida’ style mainstream politics was widely welcomed as being good for country’s political harmony and stability. Duly provoked by Zulfiqar Mirza and the fear of being put against the wall in this cleanup operation, its threats of returning to Mohajir politics or looking towards external support may not have gone well in the other provinces where it seeks acceptability as a national non-linguistic based party.

Altaf Hussain’s counter offensive from London failed to impress Pakistanis, familiar with his peculiar style of aggressive oratory. Nothing new was added to what Pakistanis were already aware off. The US think tanks’ prepared plan and map for Pakistan’s balkanization, Asfandyar Wali’s flirtation with his American friends, ANP’s vision of Greater Pashtunistan are all generally known. But by provoking the ANP, he may have promoted ethnic enmity in Karachi at a time when inter community harmony was direly needed.

While Zulfiqar Mirza had hailed the Army and ISI as the country’s saviors, Altaf Bhai went over board by placing his party workers at the Army’s call and inviting the Army and ISI to join MQM to confront international conspiracies. But he also warned there could be a ‘reaction’ in case of an SC verdict against the MQM. If we earnestly desire peace in Karachi, then all parties, including MQM must end the politics of intimidation and accept rule of law.

Zulfiqar Mirza’s offensive against the MQM and the continued media debate may have broken the myth, though partially that this party was beyond open criticism. The MQM needs to accept the changing environment and respect the independence of Pakistani media, which in turn should continue to remain fair and unbiased. The ISI’s in-camera startling disclosures must have been an eye opener for the Supreme Court, which is now expected to deliver precise verdicts. Karachi has reached the tipping point. All eyes remain on the Army backed Rangers operation. Should this fail to deliver the desired results, a ruthless military operation under Article 245 may well become a necessity.