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July 11, 2020

A deadly nexus


July 11, 2020

It is a known fact that in Karachi, violent means were used to achieve political goals, safeguard personal interests and maintain political dominance for decades.

The nexus of politics and criminal gangs was also a known fact in Karachi. The three JIT reports that have been made public by the Sindh government recently have only made these known facts official. So there is no big surprise or revelation in the reports. Most of the content of these JIT reports were already made public through some journalists.

The JIT reports describe in detail the criminal activities of Uzair Baloch and Nisar Morai. And the Baldia Town factory inferno JIT report has declared the inferno an act of terrorism. The fire at Ali Enterprise Garment Factory in Baldia Town on September 11, 2012, had resulted in the deaths of around 260 workers and had left another 49 injured.

The harrowing incident not only exposed the appalling working conditions for factory workers but also served as a reminder of the lawlessness which prevailed in the city. The families of the deceased workers are still looking for justice even after eight years of the horrific incident.

The investigators revealed in the 27-page report that the factory had been torched by assailants over non-payment of Rs200 million as extortion money.

Meanwhile, independent opinion suggests that, regardless of the cause of the fire, the casualties occurred on such a massive scale because the factory lacked basic occupational health and safety standards. There was no emergency exit in the factory.

Many lives could have been saved if the factory owners had followed international standards and occupational safety rules. The design of the building itself was flawed. The factory was built in violation of building laws. The different government departments showed criminal negligence that caused so many deaths.

Unfortunately, we haven’t learned anything from the Baldia Town factory tragedy. Many factories are still not implementing the occupational health and safety laws and rules. Labour inspections are not taking place. We are waiting for another disaster to happen before taking action.

In countries where rule of law hasn’t been established and selective use of laws has become a norm, the will and interests of powerful institutions, individuals and interest groups becomes supreme and more important than the laws and even the constitution.

When some powerful people or interest groups start to believe that they are above the law and cannot be held accountable then the very concept of rule of law and legal equality disappears. ‘Might is right’ practically becomes a law. This becomes an ideal situation for organised criminal groups to flourish and gain power. Criminal gangs use the power of guns to extort money from businesses and industries. They also amass money through other illegal activities and means.

Some politicians, police officers and other officials use their power and authority to amass illegal wealth. At a certain stage, they join hands to protect each other. It is not surprising that politics and crime join hands to form a deadly nexus. State patronage of certain groups or parties also plays an important role in the development of such nexus. With the passage of time, the state’s inaction emboldens them and they lose fear of both law and state.

The three JIT reports have informed us in detail about this nexus. From the Baldia Town factory JIT report to the Uzair Baloch JIT report, we see how powerful politicians have consistently used their authority and position to protect powerful gangsters and in return these gangsters have protected political and financial interests. This nexus developed over the years as the result of the state’s inaction and sometimes flawed policies.

PTI leaders, including Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping Ali Zaidi, are focusing mainly on the JIT report pertaining to Uzair Baloch. They want to establish a direct link between the top PPP leadership and the criminal activities of Uzair Baloch. That is why a controversy has been developed regarding the JIT report released by the Sindh government.

Ali Zaidi is still insisting that the Sindh government has altered the “original JIT report” to omit the names of top PPP leaders. While the Sindh government is arguing that there is only one official report submitted to the interior ministry of Sindh, and that has been made public. Both sides are busy scoring political points. Clearly, politics is being played out on these JIT reports.

It is not surprising at all that PTI leaders are not focusing on the Baldia Town Factory inferno JIT report. The main reason seems to be that PTI leaders do not want to offend the MQM-P that is a key coalition partner in the federal government. The PTI government only has a thin majority in the National Assembly and the MQM-P could cause serious problems for the government.

It is a known fact that the MQM used violence and criminal gangs to maintain their grip on Karachi and to intimidate, harass and even physically eliminate their opponents. The MQM ruled Karachi with an iron hand for nearly three decades.

Whatever the PPP leaders are saying to defend the actions of Zulfiqar Mirza and the strategy to practically hand over Lyari to Uzair Baloch was a mistake and wrong strategy. This policy to protect political interests in Lyari through a well-known criminal gang backfired and the PPP lost the Lyari seat for the first time since 1970 in the 2018 elections.

Many people are not ready to buy the argument of PPP leaders regarding Zulfiqar Mirza, Uzair Baloch and Nisar Morai. The party must learn from this experience and focus on issue-based and people-centric politics. Real power lies in ideas, programme, political activity and strategy. The PPP needs to return to its original radical ideas based on democratic socialism.

The writer is a freelance journalist.