Securing Karachi

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There are signs that our rulers have started the process of making necessary adjustments in political compromises to secure this city from boiling over into disaster. Karachi’s civic services are normally stretched to the limit, if they are overwhelmed because of civil disturbances disrupting services, mass reaction will make society as we know disappear into a cauldron, not unlike that to which Mogadishu has descended. Ethnic and sectarian clashes are already not a matter of conjecture anymore, sporadic clashes have already taken place. Terrorists have cleverly manipulated the city’s schisms to their advantage. Immediate remedial measures are necessary to restore the rule of law to this great metropolitan city.

Power centers proliferate in Sindh, viz (1) Governor’s House run by the MQM nominee Dr Ishrat ul Ebad and the perennial Advisor to all Governors, Brig (Retd) Akhtar Zamin Naqvi, presently enjoying maximum power in Karachi, and by extension over the Province, acting virtually as the Chief Minister (CM) in place of (2) CM Ali Mohammad Maher who exercises power only as much as is his inherent ability and/or is allowed to him by the powers-that-be (3) Karachi city’s government is run presently by the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) through the City Nazim Naimatullah (4) the present Corps Commander 5 Corp Lt Gen Ahsan Salim Hayat exercises quiet influence (as he should) in contrast to the political wheeling-dealing of his predecessor, Tariq Waseem Ghazi and last but not the least (5) power brokers exercising remote control from Islamabad, but overlapping from their own disciplines at will into sectors of their motivated interest. As a example of how usurping/encroachment of power affects situation adversely, the recent bye-elections would have been won by the MQM anyway, the Honourable Governor’s ham-handed intervention resulted in blatant over-kill and the electoral results becoming controversial.

When the MQM chose not to take part in the Local Bodies elections three years ago, they left the field open for the JI, PPP and even PML to make a comeback in the political vacuum. Grabbing opportunity with both hands, JI has done a commendable job running the city’s administration, thus eating into MQM’s once-monolithic presence. Running a party by remote control may be a virtuoso performance of MQM’s mercurial leader in self-imposed exile Altaf Hussain, it cannot go on forever. There are leadership problems at the local level within MQM needing the Supremo’s attention, or better still, presence. With MQM in a certain amount of disarray, JI being the biggest beneficiary is not going to easily loosen its present control over the city. Case in point, the largely successful strike called by the MMA on Friday. With Governor’s House at loggerheads with the City Nazim and the Chief Minister virtually powerless, the situation is tailor-made for intervention by those who wish ill for Karachi and Pakistan. The Intelligence Bureau’s (IB) primary function is provide intelligence on internal security, because of the military’s involvement in civil government since 1999, the ISI and MI have also become involved in this, since 9/11 both have been focussing on countering terrorism also. IB’s finest hour was during Maj (Retd) Masood Sharif’s tenures as DG when the militancy within Karachi was decimated by superb information gathering, only made possible because IB operatives risked life and limb to penetrate militants’ cells. While the US must be giving hi-tech support to local human intelligence (hum-int) to ferret out Al-Qaeda or Al-Qaeda’s associates, hum-int can never be replaced by electronic intelligence (el-int), case in point the lack of credible guerilla/terrorist information in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hi-tech can kick the door open, you need boots on the ground to walk through that door. Collection of information may be satisfactory, collation of that information and disseminating it speedily to the right quarters seems to be the problem.

Does all this call for Governor’s rule? Certainly not, that would derail the nascent democracy whose existence is already precarious in Pakistan. By the same token we cannot sack the city government that would be a negation of the devolution of powers that we have been nurturing all along. Requiring the electorate to exercise their preference would be an ideal route to follow, in the present state of acute polarization created by political, ethnic and sectarian tensions it would be suicidal for the Federation on the other hand, the political leaders must be free to play their political role among the masses to preserve the peace. It stands to reason that a political government should remain in power.

Karachi is bigger than more than 100 nations in the world, Sindh Province is bigger than 150. Putting an ineffective frontman in Sindh into a position of authority over the lives of 30 million human beings and/or ruling by proxy even with all political and economic conditions conducive is like playing Russian Roulette Pakistani-style (five rounds in the chambers in place of one), a gamble that is outright dangerous. Almost anybody can replace Ali Mohammad Maher, the obvious preference should be to give legitimacy to democracy by giving the reins of the Provincial Government to the majority party, Ms Benazir’s PPP. Ch Shujaat Hussain initiated the right dialogue by meeting Makhdoom Amin Fahim of PPP and Qazi Hussain Ahmed of JI in the NA on Thursday last to offer a government of consensus in the Province. PPP’s strong opposition to the President may not be palatable to Islamabad, the courageous decision to act politically (not possible without Musharraf’s clearance) is a correct example of preferring the national interest over personal feelings. The PPP could cobble together a coalition with MQM, a government of consensus alongwith PML And JI as suggested by CH Shujaat Hussain to ensure stability in Karachi. PPP’s refusal should have been anticipated, at least it clears the deck for the present PML-led coalition to have either Imtiaz Shaikh or Arbab Ghulam Rahim as the CM. Despite the “Jam Sadiq Ali” baggage (and who doesn’t carry baggage among the Parliamentarians in Sindh) one would be inclined to support Imtiaz Shaikh over Arbab Ghulam Rahim. Sindh needs a strong hand who knows the provincial ropes, having learnt his Sindhi politicking from the late Jam Sadiq Ali and having served as a senior bureaucrat in the Provincial Government, Imtiaz Shaikh has the experience and ability to do the job.

If the PPP had led the coalition, another appointee of the Federal Government as Governor would have been necessary, Ebad’s domination of security affairs because of the CM’s non-involvement has made justice in Karachi become partisan to party politics. Governor Ishrat ul Ebad must confine himself strictly within his constitutional parameters. Instead of imposing emergency or Governor’s rule, the need is to have a non-partisan Deputy or Lieutenant Governor answerable directly to the President and PM for the Province’s security. As far back as Feb 27, 1990 in “The Sindh Factor-III”, on Mar 6, 1990 in “De-Beirutizing Karachi”, on Aug 2, 1994 in “Resuscitating a City, Let no one write Karachi’s epitaph” and on Dec 15, 1994 in “Apocalypse Now”, I have repeatedly suggested the need for a Lieutenant Governor for Sindh, specifically looking after the security of the Province, this is long overdue. All the law enforcement agencies (LEAs) in the Province and the city, including Rangers, Police other para military forces, and their constituent intelligence units should directly report to him. The Lieutenant Governor should have the power to call on the Armed Forces in “Aid of Civil Power” whenever necessary. It would be best to appoint a serving three-star general, preferably someone who has already done his Corps tenure. Having combat experience i.e. hearing shots being fired in anger would be useful, tough but less bloodthirsty. Conversely we could also go with a senior police officer, the present IG Police Syed Kamal Shah would be a good choice, Shoaib Suddle is another potential candidate. The Lieutenant Governor could use a portion of the Governor’s House as a symbol of his authority, working through a Crisis Management Center (CMC) from where he can act to interdict/intercept events before they happen by acting on the collated intelligence swiftly in real-time, and if they happen, to react positively to contain collateral damage. A good commander and a good command structure will ensure that Karachi becomes too hot for terrorists to operate in. Terrorists must be fought by a single authority with absolute power to act independently but with all the resources of the State available to that entity, the cover of a political government is necessary to explain the need for draconian measures to the masses, as was done by the PPP in 1994-95. That is the only way to secure Karachi from sliding into anarchy.

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