The residents of Karachi should be at peace and much more confident about their safety following Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf’s promise that bringing peace in this restive city remains among his top priorities. They should now be feeling less vulnerable to the armed bandits, extortionists and target killers, who infest the metropolis and make their lives miserable both on the street and even inside their homes. The shopkeepers must be satisfied that all their strikes and protests did not go in vain. Now they should be able to do business without any fear of bands of gunmen demanding protection money or looting them or their clients in broad daylight. The common man – for whose betterment and welfare all the policies are made – should no more worry about being deprived of his cellular phone and cash or losing vehicle on a busy road.
Yes, after the prime minister’s promise of restoring the rule of law in Karachi, it should be business as usual. Industrialists, businesspeople and corporate gurus should think of new investments and explore new opportunities to make money. The working and middle classes should carry on with their lives without uncertainties and dread of violence, mayhem and chaos that have been holding them hostage for so long.
But, is the reality?
Ideally speaking, Ashraf’s promise during his first visit to the city after being elected prime minister of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP)-led coalition government should have been a sentiment changer. But sadly, it did little to give hope to the people of this beleaguered city or boost their morale.
From June 25, when Ashraf visited Nine-Zero, the headquarters of PPP’s main coalition partner the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), and gave Karachiites the good news of bringing peace here, at least 40 people have been killed in eight days of unabated political, ethnic and religious violence. The victims ranged from political activists to clerics and common citizens to senior officials of the privately-run corporate entity, the Karachi Electric Supply Company.
Meanwhile, the business of crime continues to boom. Organised gangs of criminals, many connected to this or that political party and, ironically, even to the ones in the ruling coalition, continue to pounce on their victims with impunity. The police and the rangers appear toothless -either due to lack of capacity or having made a choice due to political considerations and the force of circumstances.
The new prime minister, who is an old swimmer in the muddy waters of Pakistani politics, failed to make an impact in his opening spell in Karachi. No, we, the people of Karachi do not stand guilty of unrealistic expectations from our dear prime minister. We are rationale people despite all the insanity and irrationality around us. We know that his plate is full of grave issues. We know about his agenda and list of priorities. We are clear that he won’t write a letter to the Swiss authorities regarding the opening of corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari and instead brave the Supreme Court’s wrath that consumed former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani. Agreed that he does not have a magic wand and need time to settle in and deliver, though the prophets of doom and gloom question his survival chance in the seat of power for long. Already, many have started the count in the reverse order and are expecting his wicket to fall sooner than later.
But let’s keep all these prospects or fears – depending on which side of the fence one stands – aside for awhile and assess prime minister’s words, which indeed prove to be an echo of the past. Ashraf’s predecessor and his team members, all promised countless times a stern action against and crackdowns on criminals and gangsters and assured us of establishing the rule of law and peace in the city. But their walk could not match their talk. It was always half-baked solutions and one grand compromise after another with criminals and gangsters. By a stroke of luck, Ashraf has inherited the same team led by none other than Rahman Malik as the man in charge of the interior ministry.
Should this give us any hope or a reason to be optimistic that this time the result would be any different from the past?
One wonders what prevented the PPP, the MQM and the Awami National Party (ANP) – the partners in the ruling coalition – in the last four years from doing what is right for the city – like combating crime, stopping the infighting among their followers and establishing the rule of law. What they simply needed to do was to raise themselves above their narrow party interest, play by the book and let the law-enforcement agencies do their job – that of fighting the extortionists, land grabbers, drug and gun mafias and criminals-in an impartial manner. What these political forces, which all have major stakes in the country’s financial and commercial hub, could not do all these years, will they be able to do in the final months, weeks and days of their rule?
One is free to hope against hope, but if their past performance is any yardstick, then the writing on the wall remains ominous.
The reality is that the major political parties are largely responsible for the rampant lawlessness and crime in Karachi where breaking law is easier than living by it. The people of Karachi have feelings of frustration because their political parties have failed them. They are angry and bitter about the fact that in their city politics has been criminalised and criminal activities are being politicised. They are anxious about their safety and the future of their city given its ever-increasing ethnic, political and sectarian polarisation, which has divided its fabric both horizontally and vertically.
They feel threatened, unprotected and vulnerable to the armed gangs which undermine the writ of the state and control entire neighbourhoods. What they want from the new prime minister or any new government in the future is to demonstrate speedily that it represents a change of policy and not a mere change of faces. They are unable to go into the nitty-gritty of policies – for it is the government’s job – but they do seek concrete steps which can guarantee their constitutional right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
What they do know is that they have been repeatedly let down by their representatives, who gave them nothing but empty words and broken promises. Will Ashraf be any different or will he be just another face of this outworn political system? The signals are that he will walk the beaten path and we will continue to call for the road not taken.
The writer is editor The News, Karachi. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org