Thursday May 30, 2024

Engineering politics

By Shahzad Chaudhry
November 17, 2017
During the PTI’s 2014 sit-in the government engaged the then army chief. When APS was hit with its attendant tragedy and was followed by the formulation of the National Action Plan, the army chief led the way evolving a consensus and a commitment to its implementation. When Yemen blew up in an internecine Arab war asking Pakistan to choose sides, the army chief was asked to accompany the prime minister in soothing ruffled feathers in Arab capitals.
While the post-Nawaz PML-N government is its weakest in effectiveness and functioning the army chief has made two critical visits to Kabul and Tehran, each with a different set of objectives essential to Pakistan’s interests; something the foreign minister should have done.
These and other initiatives are the domain of a government and its ministers, yet in each case the army chief led the way. General Ashfaq Kayani was frequently asked by the then government to take on responsibilities usually left to chief diplomats in resolving vexing problems that afflicted Pakistan during those difficult days.
Two of the most recent counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations in Fata and Karachi respectively may have been led by the army, but a large part of consolidating gains and sustaining peace remains through actions purely under political domain. This is especially so for Fata, which has needed resolute political action at the legislative and political level addressing replacement of the antiquated FCR with politico-legal conditions at par with the rest of the country.
While there could be disagreements among political players in ways to bring reform to Fata no one differs with its absolute need. And while that is where the process seems to be stuck, the military continues to push for urgency through an early resolution and implementation. That only will ensure that gains are consolidated and peace is sustained and Fata and its people can realise the promise of making good in the twenty-first century. What should have been a patent political concern has the army acting as a major catalyst because in its absence the calm returned and the gains achieved will only be reversed. The army is seen to be driving the political process for the larger good.
Ditto Karachi. It had become an unfortunate haven for terrorists like Omar Sheikh Mohammad who not only found refuge but converted it into a crime capital over time. Militant wings ruled the roost; some belonged to religious groups while others were subsidiaries of political parties. The social and economic activity of the city was ransomed to their vile ways and death and extortion became a common course. The environment sired even more criminal outfits which not only found refuge in this culture but added to the malignancy that Karachi had become. Karachi degenerated into a crime pit where normal life became impossible.
Both Karachi and Pakistan, therefore, suffered. This is what the army and the Rangers were asked to clean up. It took them six long years, innumerable lives and a persistently well-integrated effort of all elements of law enforcement, including intelligence agencies, to revert Karachi to its old self and reinstitute its vigour. The fight goes on but a large part of the malice has washed out. This included a gradual alienation of a party supremo who spewed fire against the country and its military from the safety of his exile in London. Altaf Hussain’s network of criminals, which sustained his deadly clout, was strangulated little by little.
Politically too these were significant developments. Better law and order meant normal political activities could gain momentum. The 2013 elections threw up the PTI as a potential player in Karachi that could gradually replace the fascist methods of the MQM, the party that held control of Karachi through terror and economic manipulation. The PPP, despite that it too wielded influence of the armed gangs in specific areas began to make inroads where the MQM had reigned supreme for three decades. The MQM itself suffered with the loss of a central authority whose shadow was enough to retain its supremacy. Without him, the ‘party of Karachi’ literally withered in the winds of change.
That is when newer players rose, like the PSP of Mustafa Kamal which is famously attributed to have been under the military’s umbrella. As the influence of the MQM waned and the citizenry, ever the follower of its nationalist philosophy, lost its moorings, the PSP only turned out more Trojan. The PPP hoped to fill in but kept Karachi decrepit. Due to serious infighting, the PTI failed to capitalise on the toehold provided to it in 2013 and remained listless. In all this, Karachi suffered more. The fountain of Pakistan’s economic and social energy began to dry up for lack of ownership even though the reign of terror which once ruled the city was no more.
This is when it became apparent to all: the people of Karachi, its business community and its security minders – though not as vividly to the political parties (except the MQM and the PSP) which were each driven by their selfish motives – that Karachi had to unite to belong to someone who would care and walk it out of despair, and ensure sustainable peace. This a la Fata, an entirely deprived region though for different reasons. It is thence that those who wished to consolidate gains and preserve peace and ensure sustainable progress and development got the principals of Karachi, the political parties fighting for the rights of the majority of citizenry – the Karachi-ite, the Mohajir, the former MQM core and cadre – urging them to come together to own Karachi and give back to Pakistan’s economic capital its due place.
If, and this is by way of mere deduction, the military or its functionaries – those who had earned Karachi its peace after a prolonged war against the terror-crime nexus – considered bringing people together to re-form the core that will tend to Karachi and own it, minus its malignance, it was a noble thought. In line with its own philosophy of consolidating gains, sustaining peace and ensuing prosperity. Then only the mission endured for the last six years and more could be declared successful and enduring. Such engineering is good and nobly aimed. Not to divide and break up but to unite and consolidate.
That it failed is sad. And there could be many a reason to it. Perhaps the 2018 elections might partially allay apprehensions attached to it failing to work out. But it has left behind important questions: who ensnared the MQM into parleys with their nemesis, the PSP; did Farooq Sattar deliberately walk into one with a design? Imagine what Farooq Sattar has gained for himself from the episode. He has neutralised the PSP and shown it as an establishment’s stooge; he has created space for himself within his party to exercise greater influence; and he has reignited the Mohajir flame as a rallying cry in what had become a literally sullen entity.
The engineers failed while the manipulators played a smarter hand and extorted some immediate benefits despite crying wolf. Altaf’s shadow looms large even though his alienation may have been considered complete. The future of Karachi hangs in the balance. This ride could be rougher than we had imagined.