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Karachi is yet again on fire and the events have happened in quick succession. Unfortunately, this is not happening for the first time in Karachi’s sad history. The violence of the 1990s is widely attributed to General Ziaul Haq’s policy of divide and rule. The echo of accusations against MQM (then Mohajir Qaumi Movement) that it was being supported by General Zia’s dictatorial regime to counter the PPP and other Sindhi nationalist groups, keeps on revisiting us.

Even today, many think that the level of peace in Karachi is directly proportional to MQM’s share in the power pie. In other words, any challenge to MQM’s power claim can leave Karachi blood-stained. This theory is quite powerful but again falls short in telling the whole truth.

I keep on writing that perceived individual deprivation and marginalisation, when it gets a collective identity — be it ethnic, political, sectarian or any other — immediately creates two distinct groups: a group of victims who are being oppressed and a group of oppressors.

In societies with ample resources of livelihoods, such as democratic values, sufficient fiscal cushion for social safety nets, and minimum standards of good governance, the basic needs of everyone are met to some extent. In such societies the deprived and privileged classes may mutually co-exist without violent conflicts. However, in a situation where resources are scarce, democracy becomes non-functional; state is lacking fiscal cushion to provide social protection and there is no concept of good governance or rule of law.

In such a situation, a collective identity to individual deprivations would immediately lead to a class conflict that may turn violent at any time. The current violence in Karachi is a living example of this. The unprecedented violence has got ethnic, political, sectarian and criminal reasons.

Karachi is ethnically diverse but still a major hub of native Urdu-speaking people. The competition for scarce resources between Urdu-speaking population and Sindhi-speaking, between Urdu-speaking and Pakhtoon population, and between Urdu-speaking and Baloch is a reality. The conflict between perceived marginalised and perceived oppressors has turned violent and is one of the major causes of recent “tit for tat” target killings.

Karachi is also held hostage by the political conflict — MQM versus MQM Haqeeqi, MQM versus PPP, ANP versus MQM; and the love-hate relationship between MQM and PML-N. These have turned the situation extremely volatile.

The power struggle is geared to not only monopolise the scarce resource-base of Karachi but also to control the administrative and law-enforcement machinery (through political postings and transfers) that would help in gaining access to those resources.

No wonder, in order to protect the interests of their constituents, MQM has to remain part of the ruling alliances be it with PML-N, as “B” team of a dictator, or with PPP. By virtue of its access to power corridors, MQM has managed to put an unwritten ban on creation of new political parties in Karachi.

MQM-Haqeeqi tried to emerge as an independent political group and the result was violence and target killings. Pakhtoons were welcomed in Karachi as long as they remained economic immigrants. However, their emergence as political power under the auspice of ANP led to violence and target killings between MQM and ANP.

The PPP and MQM’s marriage of convenience seemed to work in the beginning but when PPP started interfering in transfers and postings in Karachi and when PPP’s People’s Aman Committee started challenging the street power of MQM, the result was bloodshed and violence.

A deeper analysis reveals that the existing political set-up in Karachi is not only intolerant to creation of new political parties but it is also intolerant to any non-political player who has the potential to change the existing voting pattern divided along loyalties to MQM, PPP, ANP and other smaller but established players such as PML-F and PML-N.

This is where the conflict and violence takes a sectarian twist. Killings of leaders of Sunni Ittehad and those of Dawat-e-Islami reflect sectarian root causes of violence. Attacks on Edhi establishments and its ambulances, though not sectarian in nature, highlight intolerance of existing power brokers towards emerging group that has the potential to challenge their political hegemony.

The struggle for control of power in Karachi did not remain confined to ballot boxes. Most of these political parties draw their power and resources from non-political and criminal gangs involved in drug trading, land grabbing and extortions. There are areas and zones divided among gangsters. Any encroachment in their territory by an opponent group leads to bloodshed and violence.

Even if these gangs are not being run by politicians, the latter do provide patronage and support to individual gang members belonging to their respective parties. Evidence produced by Zulfiqar Mirza against MQM, MQM’s diatribe against People’s Aman Committee, and tit for tat allegations of MQM and ANP against each other reveal that all three major players in this arena have some role to play in supporting and fostering criminal gangs that are threatening the very fabric of Karachi.

There are also talks about involvement of either foreign (CIA, RAW) or/and domestic spy agencies in flaring up recent violence in Karachi. However, I am not very convinced of these theories (at least in the context of current crisis). The power seekers in Karachi are already self-sufficient in mutual destruction and don’t depend on provocation from any agency to put their city amid the flames.

The fact that Karachi is threatened by multi-faceted violence necessitates multi-faceted solutions too. Karachi requires short, medium and long term measures and all of those measures should be implemented simultaneously without wasting more time.

An over-simplistic solution like asking the army to restore peace in Karachi would never work in the medium to long term. Army or rangers may help in curbing gangsters and their activities but that would simply mask the symptoms which may reappear once the army hands over Karachi’s control to civilian agencies. One needs to wait and see the real impact of current surgical operations by rangers. However, these operations should be backed up by some medium and long term measures too.

One should remember that army is not meant to clean the mess created by flawed political decisions. The political forces should adapt to a genuine political process to rectify the consequences of their short-sightedness. Dialogue with a view to understand each other’s point of view; a resolve not to support and patronise criminals and not to politicise the police and provincial bureaucracy; tolerance towards emerging political groups; and a political will to provide space to local leadership through local government elections are some of the steps that political forces should take to save Karachi in the long term.

De-politicisation of Karachi police in particular and provincial bureaucracy in general is a must. Merit-based postings and transfers of officials should help achieving this objective. These institutions need to be reformed to remove the perceptions of social exclusion and marginalisation among diverse groups present in Karachi.

The best way to de-politicise these institutions is through providing an assurance to public servants that their lives and jobs would not be at stake for following the rules and procedures. This assurance should come from the top leadership of all the political forces who have a claim in Karachi’s power corridors. This leadership should understand that prevailed violence in Karachi may be the last nail in the coffin and the whole democratic set-up may get wrapped up if they did not show political maturity.

Another most important measure that would ensure durable peace is de-weaponisation of society. In short term, de-weaponisation would entail confiscating all weapons being used against innocent people. However, long term de-weaponisation would mean demilitarisation of our minds and attitudes so that we may strive for a society completely free from torture, violence and weapons.

A durable solution to Karachi crisis lies in formulating and implementing policies and procedures that may reduce individual deprivations and marginalisation and, in turn, promote social justice.

The writer heads Sustainable Development Policy Institute and can be contacted at

This article was originally published at: The News

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.