Bad governance, Rangers’ politicised operations behind the current chaos in Karachi


By Samuel Baid

The day Pakistan’s first Governor General Mohammad Ali Jinnah chose Karachi to be the first national capital of his newly created country, this city of lights, serenity, cleanliness and culture began sliding towards darkness, ethnic and inter-ethnic bloody conflicts, sectarian hatred, dirt and lawlessness. Of course in 1947 Karachi was the best choice for the national capital said to be the cleanliest city in whole united India. But perhaps, Jinnah could not anticipate the massive demographic change that would result from partition of the sub-continent in 1947.

The present chaos in Karachi can be traced to the demographic change. The Hindus, who accounting for 51 percent of population and had given Karachi its character, had to suddenly flee the city in the wake of partition almost emptying it of its Sindhi culture and identity. Today Hindus are only 2 percent of the total population.

A recent study of the reputed think tank, International Crisis Group (ICG), “Pakistan: Stoking the Fire in Karachi” says when the Hindus left Karachi, the population of Muslims shot up to 96 percent by 1951 compared to 42 percent a decade earlier. Sindhi speakers were reduced to 6 percent by 1981 in the city. Also the city’s religious and ethnic configuration changed drastically.

Beginning from the partition, about ten million Muslims migrated to Pakistan from India by 1963. Of these Indian Muslims, close to three million Urdu speakers had gone to Karachi.  Karachi has since remained the destination of migrants from other parts of Pakistan and from Bangladesh, Myanmar and even from the Xinjiang province of China. Gun and drug runners, all kinds of mafia and criminals, sectarian killers, terrorists in the name of Islam or Kashmir, dacoits and extortionists have all found Karachi an ideal city. But its law-abiding citizens suffer from insecurity, inadequate healthcare, unreliable water and electricity supply, transport and housing. Thus, the cleanliest city of undivided India is today dotted by garbage dumps, slums, and broken roads. A few years ago, a Pakistani newspaper wrote that Karachi had reported 100 different skin diseases affecting the local population.

The report of the Brussels-based ICG examines the factors behind the violence and insecurity in Karachi and assesses impact and effectiveness of the State’s response. The report finds that Karachi’s demographics are the roots of many of its conflicts. The city’s population jumped from mere 435,000 in the 1940s to nearly 25 million today. While Sindhi speakers were becoming extinct, Pustuns and Seraikis from Southern Punjab began flooding the city. Karachi produced 90 percent of Sindh’s and around 50 percent of national revenue. But 70 percent people are poor who live in slums called ‘katchi abadi’. Karachi has become one of world’s most densely populated cities. Here 24,000 people live per sq. km. Even middle class families find it difficult to own a home. But the elite class benefit from large housing schemes. The military has been a big real-estate stakeholder. Public transport system is all but defunct. The poor and middle income groups have to depend on private transport which service is also abysmal. The privatisation of the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) has made electricity too expensive for the people to afford. Health services are bad. Middlemen thrive as the poor people depend on them, not the State for basic services. Corruption has produced mafias and racketeers. The land, water and transport mafias, illegal gambling, human trafficking and kidnapping, account for an estimated US $2.9 billion black money a year. There are reports that parents seek mafia’s help for school admission of their children.

The Karachi Port is a strategic hub for Afghan heroin trade and an entry point for arms and ammunitions. The ICG report however avoids mentioning the impact of the Afghan War on Karachi’s social landscape. Drags and weapons began flowing into Karachi in the wake of the Afghan war in the 1980s. A large number of Afghan refugees came to Karachi and aggravated the ethno-political violence and lawlessness in Karachi, or for that matter in entire Pakistan. Until then drug trafficking was almost unknown in the city. The Afghan refugees popularised drugs as a big source of income and influence. At the same time weapons, supplied by the US and its allies into the Afghan war became cheaply and easily available in the city giving fire power to ethnic and sectarian rivals as well as religious fanatic and gang and mafia.

There is no denying the fact that two ethnic conflicts between Sindhis and Mohajirs that started with the creation of Pakistan in 1947 did not make Karachi, a city of bloodshed and horror that the Afghan war and General Zia ul Haq’s manipulations did. Gen. Zia increased anti-Shia sentiments and organised the Mohajir community into Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM) to take on the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) in Sindh. But by the mid-1990s Sindhis and Mohajirs made peace between themselves.  Mohajirs began to call themselves as neo-Sindhis. But the ethnic bloodshed increased many times more now. Mohajir-Pastun riots and intra-Mohajir clashes became daily features in Karachi.

If we examine the Islamic militancy, a new US-inspired zeal for Jihad during the Afghan war and terrorism in tribal areas and in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (former NWFP) we will agree that they existed as the fallout of the Afghan war much before the emergence of Al Qada attacks against the US installations on September 11, 2001.

The ICG study notes that Karachi’s ethno-politicised conflicts were complicated by the new entrants who came from Swat in Khyber-Paktunkhwa and South Waziristan agency during the military operations started there in 2009 against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Dislodged from these two places, the TTP established a base in Karachi and challenged the secular Awami National Party (ANP).  By 2013, the number of the Taliban cadres increased up to 8000. The Taliban drove the local residents out of their strongholds in Karachi West and Malir and forcibly grabbed their land. They hired local criminals to finance their activities. They also indulged in extortion, kidnapping for ransom and robberies.

In addition to the TTP, there are numerous anti-Shia and anti-India Jihadi groups all linked to local madrasahas.  There is anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and anti-India Lashkar-e-Toiba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa (LeT/JuD) and Jaish-e-Mohammad who ran charity fronts inviting scant reaction from the Rangers or the local Police.

The ICG report finds that the deployment of Rangers in Karachi beginning September 4, 2013, amounted to stoking fire in Karachi. Its heavy-handed political crackdown is aggravating the problems. Yet Karachi continues to be the Pakistan’s most violent city where 476 persons killed by militants last year.  Rangers are authorised to keep an arrested person in their custody for 90 days. But they deny or do not register arrests at all, as the Frontier Corps (FC) does in Balochistan. The MQM says since the Rangers’ operations begun it has discovered bodies of at least 70 activists and over 125 supporters are still missing. Women are the worst affected when male members of their families simply disappear or are killed in fake encounters.

Last year, during the national by-elections and local polls, Rangers brazenly tried to persuade people not to vote for the MQM. The Army broke up the MQM by floating its faction Pakistan Sarzameen Party (PSP) consisting members who had been earlier arrested and kept in custody. Rangers also got after the PPP and arrested its important leaders even in distant Larkana where they had no jurisdiction. They also harassed NGOs and the media. Rangers extort money from businessmen and take bribe. Police benefited from corruption in their ranks. Rangers also control water supply and earn money by selling water at premium through tankers.

Which is more dangerous for Pakistan’s long-term security, Rangers distinguish between good and bad Jihadi/terrorists. They do not touch the members of the sectarian outfit, Sipah-e-Sahaba (renamed as Ahl-e-Sunnat wal Jamat), who incite hatred and violence against the Shia community in Karachi. Similarly, LeT/JuD and Jaish-e-Mohammad who have pockets of influence in Karachi are good Jihadi in Rangers’ eyes. They also do not disturb pro-Jihadi madrasahas. The ICG report concludes that bad governance, ethno-political conflicts, politicised Police and Rangers, military interference, mafias and racketeers al stoke fire in Karachi.

The problem in Karachi, or for that matter in whole of Pakistan, is that political issues have been brutalised as security issues and threat to Islam since the creation of the country. Activists, who merely flag local law and order issues or municipal mismanagement and demand a redress mechanism, are first ignored and then criminalised. The Army, politicians and religious fundamentalists have not learnt any lesson from the cause of the breakup of their country in 1971.