Monday July 22, 2024

Karachi: hope vs fear

By Saleem Safi
April 12, 2018

I visited Karachi recently after a very long time. Once called the city of lights, Karachi had fallen over the years into the darkness of lawlessness, staged ethnic rivalries and gang rule. However, the situation is improving and stability is returning to the city, thanks to the matchless efforts and sacrifices made by the people and security forces.

Though my visit was a short one, it proved to be rather helpful in understanding the problems and politics of Sindh, especially Karachi. That said, in the midst of high hopes and beautiful memories, I also came back with a sense of uncertainty.

By sheer chance, Farooq Sattar was seated next to me during my flight to Karachi. We had a fruitful discussion about the MQM and the problems and politics of Karachi. Kamran Tessori also visited me in the hotel and enlightened me about his stance. I also met Faisal Sabzwari, a very dear friend and the main force behind the Bahadurabad group. I also enjoyed the hospitality of my friend Mustafa Kamal as well as Anis Qaimkhani and discussed the present and future of the Pak Sarzameen Party. During my meeting with Mayor Waseem Akhtar, we discussed the problems of the city and issues related to the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC).

Asfandyar Wali Khan too happened to be in Karachi and we enjoyed the hospitality of Shahi Syed. Shahid Afridi had also arranged a lavish meal which was also attended by DG ISPR Major Gen Asif Ghafoor. I also spoke about the issues of Karachi with them.

My most important meeting was with Idrees Bakhtiar and Mazhar Abbas, both excellent journalists who helped me enormously with my understanding of the politics of Karachi.

Due to the generosity of Najam Sethi, I enjoyed the PSL final match held in Karachi. Seated in the Chairman’s Box with the prime minister, corps commander Karachi, corps commander Pindi, DG Rangers, and GOC 25 Dev, it was very interesting that only GOC 25 Maj Gen Zahid and Dr Miftah Ismail supported Islamabad United. The others were all the supporters of Peshawar Zalmi. However, the PM and the corps commanders did not reveal who they supported right till the end.

Like in the rest of the stadium, emotions in the Chairman’s Box were also changing with the changing situation of the match. When the position of Peshawar Zalmi weakened, Dr Miftah mockingly sympathised with me. I replied that he should not worry; the supporters of Peshawar Zalmi would emulate Nawaz Sharif and never accept the result of the match and instead take the case to the people’s court (supporters of Peshawar) where we were indeed in the majority. This friendly banter ended with a roar of laughter in the Chairman’s Box.

The next day, I met with Corps Commander Shahid Baig and DG Rangers Maj Gen Muhammad Saeed; they revealed some eye-opening facts about the situation in Karachi and Sindh.

Militarily, the control of Karachi is in hand of those officers who have served on the tough fronts against the Taliban on the western borders. GOC 25 Maj Gen Zahid Mehmood, for example, is performing his duties despite having lost one leg during an operation in Bajaur. It is a good sign that Lt Gen Shahid Baig and Maj Gen Muhmmad Saeed are zealously pursuing the initiative taken in Karachi by Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar and Lt Gen Bilal Akbar.

Bringing peace to Karachi is the result of effective planning and the sacrifices made by the security forces. However, the people of Karachi also played a decisive role in this huge task by bravely facing terror and cooperating with law-enforcement agencies in the latter’s efforts to bring peace to the city.

In the past, hatred was created by dividing people on ethnic lines. These lines are becoming blurred, as was highlighted by the manner in which the people of Karachi were supporting the Islamabad and Peshawar teams.

Karachi has changed and I feel that the momentum of change cannot be reversed. For the first time in years, I witnessed Karachi free of violence. To me, the founder of the MQM has little to no chances to leading the city now; he seems to have become just another chapter in the history book of Karachi’s politics.

Once dominated by big portraits of the founder of the MQM, the Karachi I saw this time was decorated with portraits of cricket players. The whole stadium was roaring with patriotic slogans, not party slogans.

Despite such positive developments in Karachi, I did detect a sense of uncertainty overshadowing my hopes and expectations. It is the kind of fear that I had sensed while returning from my visit to the tribal areas. My fear is based on some of my observations during the visit.

First, the capacity and performance of the civilian administration in Sindh is not up to the mark and may even be getting worse. It seems that non-civilians are in the driving seat and the civil administration plays the role of a silent spectator. I fear that if the civil administration and institutions are not restored, developed and empowered, the gap between the people and the security forces may widen. And then all the efforts for peace and stability would end up having the opposite effect.

Second, political uncertainty still prevails in Sindh and Karachi. Though it is a glaring fact that the MQM’s founder is now history and neither he nor the MQM can be as strong as they were in the past, it is not yet clear what kind of alternative political leadership will fill the vacuum.

Third, it seems that the political forces are looking towards other non-civilian institutions instead of taking any step and initiative by themselves. Fourth, I sensed a strange kind of confusion in the political theatre of Karachi and Sind. While every political group and party is suspected of taking direction from non-political forces, every party also complains that the other is being favoured more. For instance, the PSP is considered as the blue-eyed boy of certain elements, but the party also complains about other factions from the MQM getting more patronage. Similarly, Farooq Sattar’s group is also considered to have such patronage, but this group also feels that preference is being given to the Bahadurabad group. The latter thinks it’s the opposite.

It is also widely believed that the PTI is being supported in Karachi – like in the rest of Pakistan. But now the PTI feels that the PPP has gained favour. The Jamaat-e-Islami and ANP feel betrayed and think that they challenged the leader of the MQM but now his predecessors are being pampered and supported.

Last, but the most worrisome, is the fact that all the political parties and leaders are busy in politics of their own survival instead of focusing on the problems of the province and its capital. I worry that if the political leadership of Sindh, and especially of Karachi, continues such politics of survival, and ignores the real problems of Sindh and Karachi, then the youth could create another platform instead of the MQM. All these stakeholders need to concentrate on addressing the chronic problems and genuine grievances of Sindh and Karachi. As the financial hub of Pakistan, Karachi’s peace and stability is a pre-requisite for the economic prosperity and wellbeing of the country.

The writer works for Geo TV.

Email: saleem.safi@janggroup.