Pakistan burning at both ends

Pakistan is on fire both in the north and south of the country. In the north, the military is engaged in a brutal war –” at the behest of the US –” with what are described as militants or Pakistani Taliban. Since 2008, the Americans have launched drone attacks killing more than 1,000 people, most of them civilians. This has now escalated into direct US military assaults on Pakistani border posts killing its soldiers as happened on September 30 in the Kurram Valley. The Americans have threatened to widen attacks further into Pakistan without caring about its sovereignty.

In May 2009, the Pakistan army launched a brutal assault on Swat Valley ostensibly to fight the Taliban. An estimated three million people were forced to flee their homes. The Swat operation was launched because the US demanded it. Some refugees from Swat have still not returned to their villages that remain in ruins. This year’s devastating floods have caused even more destruction. Entire villages were wiped out and will take years to restore any semblance of normalcy to an already devastated people.

At the other end of the country, violence has periodically erupted between different ethnic and political groups in Karachi. The latest mayhem that engulfed the port city started on October 16, a day before a by-election was to be held to fill a seat that became vacant when Raza Haider, a member of the Sindh provincial assembly was gunned down in Karachi in August. He belonged to the Muhajir Qaumi Movement (MQM), a political party that insists on playing up ethnic politics. It is allied with the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of Asif Ali Zardari. A rival political party, the Awami National Party (ANP), also allied to the PPP, announced boycott of the October 17 vote. This, however, resulted in firing in different parts of the city leaving more than 22 persons dead over the weekend.

Gun battles have continued since and the death toll had climbed to 60 by October 20 although informed observers believe it is much higher as bodies are recovered in remote areas from drive-by shootings. Given past experience, more fighting and killings can be expected in the coming days.

Karachi, with its 18 million people, is the industrial hub of Pakistan. From there, US and NATO supplies are also transported north toward the Afghan border crossings at Chaman in Baluchistan and Torkham in the newly-named Pakhtunkhwa-Khyber (PK) province located in the northwest. At least 80% of US- NATO supplies to Afghanistan go through Pakistan.

Residents of Karachi, a city that was virtually shut down on October 20 because of the killings, are used to such mayhem. What is less well understood is the reason for continued violence. MQM party members believe they own Sindh’s urban centres, especially Karachi, and refuse to share political space with other parties. The ANP, that has its home base in PK and parts of Baluchistan, is viewed as intruding on MQM turf. Millions of Pathans from the PK province have migrated to Karachi in search of work. Most of them are employed in low paying jobs working as guards at the palatial homes of the rich; others drive taxis or wagons plying the potholed roads transporting people in the city. Many also sell wood for fuel. Despite living in Karachi for decades, they are still considered outsiders, ironically, by the children of those that migrated from India.

The MQM is notorious for torturing opponents, real or imagined. Its leader, Altaf Hussain, lives in self-imposed exile in London (England). Despite 40 murder cases registered against him, he has been granted British citizenship. He delivers marathon speeches from London via video link to rouse party faithful. They need little prodding. The party cadre is made up of gangsters, murderers and rapists. They collect extortion fees, called bhatta, from business owners, big or small. Those that refuse to pay get their businesses torched or worse, they are killed.

This gangsterism rooted in local politics has now assumed international dimensions. It is widely known that the MQM has deep links with the Indian intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Altaf Hussain was a cab driver in Chicago before entering politics. He has not done a day’s work since the party was formed in the early 1980s. Its origins are equally murky. The party did not come into existence as a result of the needs of would-be members. It was the military dictator, General Zia ul-Haq who secretly encouraged formation of the party to undermine support for the PPP that was viewed as the greatest political challenge to his rule. A party born in the lap of the military has now grown into a monster feeding off extortion money as well as funds provided by RAW, the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

The MQM has now placed itself completely at the service of the biggest paymaster: the US, in its so-called war on terror. Accuse any Pakistani of being a member or sympathizer of the Taliban, al-Qaeda or linked to terrorism and the Americans would shower you with sacks full of dollars. This is what the MQM is doing to great effect in Karachi.

It not only accuses the Pathans in Karachi, most of them from Swat and Malakand where the Taliban have considerable strength, of being Taliban or their sympathizers but the MQM has also offered to eliminate them. The Americans willingly pay bakhsheesh for such services. After all, General Pervez Musharraf, the former Pakistani dictator, openly boasted in his 2006 book that he and the military had collected hundreds of millions of dollars as bounty money from the Americans for handing over suspected al-Qaeda or Taliban members. Why should the MQM behave differently, especially when it can gain politically from the arrangement?

The killings in Karachi are having a serious effect on business. Power blackouts (electricity being shut off for several hours each day) are very common and business has been badly affected. Foreign investment has dried up because of lack of security. Pakistan’s economy took a massive hit due to recent floods. In addition to homes, roads and bridges, standing crops were destroyed as were grain depots. The next crop will not be planted until next year raising fears of a serious famine.

Amid all this doom and gloom the dimwits ruling Pakistan continue to behave as if there are no problems. They live in their luxury bubbles and flaunt their wealth, especially when foreigners visit. There was an embarrassing episode when actress Angelina Jolie visited the flood victims in Pakistan. While she refused to give any media interviews, Pakistani officials swarmed around her like flies pushing the plight of the flood victims aside and asking for more international handouts. At the end of the tour, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani told her that his family would like to meet her. She assumed they would be in Islamabad. She later discovered that a special plane was chartered to fly Gilani’s family from Multan to Islamabad. A lavish dinner was laid out for Ms. Jolie and she was showered with expensive gifts. Pakistani elites and their families love to be in the company of celebrities; they think it enhances their VIP status.

Upon her return to the US, she gave a blunt report to the UN. She asked why Pakistani officials live such an ostentatious lifestyle while the poor fight over a bag of rice. She mentioned the lavish dinner laid out for her at the prime minister’s residence, itself reflecting the opulent lifestyle of the elites. That dinner could have fed at least 100 people. She told the UN, the world community should not send any aid to Pakistan until officials there live less extravagantly and make some sacrifices to help the flood victims. One could fault Ms. Jolie’s morality –” she is an actress –” but there could be no question about her compassion and judgement of the reality there.

If a Hollywood actress not too familiar with politics can understand what is wrong with Pakistan, why can’t the people see this and rise up to get rid of the parasites masquerading as rulers and leaders of Pakistan?