Friday, March 11, 2016

Khaled Ahmed - Killing Karachi The rivalry between PPP, MQM and militants is destroying Pakistan’s most important city

The Sindh Assembly’s PPP majority is killing Karachi to avenge itself on the rival MQM that wins the urban vote in all elections. Its streets are full of rubbish, its roads broken, and its administration shot through with extractions in billions going to the feudal elite from rural Sindh that lives in Karachi, empowered by the city’s expanding underworld.

The latest arrest, of a Karachi underworld don called Uzair Baloch, has opened a colossal can of worms of politics-mixed-with-crime, destroying Pakistan’s economic backbone. Two big political parties of the province — the rural Sindh-dominant PPP and the urban Sindh-dominant MQM — are dreading what Uzair may confess in the custody of the army’s border force, the Rangers.

Karachi is the heart of Sindh, once populated by communities with a highly developed social consciousness from Gujarat. Like Mumbai, Karachi too was developed into a modern metropolis by Hindu, Parsi, Memon and Ismaili traders who lived in harmony. The Sindhi was still in the process of slow gravitation to the big city when Partition happened and Muslim refugees from India’s Uttar Pradesh flocked to Karachi. As the non-Muslim Gujaratis fled to India, Urdu-speaking Muslims filled the gap meant for internal Sindhi migrants. Today, Karachi’s 20 million population has an Urdu-speaking majority, led by the MQM. It has changed its name from the Muhajir (migrant) Qaumi Movement to the Muttahida (united) Qaumi Movement, with ambitions of becoming an all-Pakistan party.

Migration usually leads to violence. Few Pakistanis realise what the 1947 migration has done to their most important city. Early administrative discrimination and local reaction to the newly arrived pushed the migrant youth to underground resistance. Dutch scholar Oskar Verkaaik in his book Migrants and Militants: Fun and Urban Violence in Pakistan (2004), examined how a students’ movement, heavily mixed with religion as an identity-marker, became a political party in the fascist mould, its leader Altaf Hussain gleaning its basics from Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

The Pakistan People’s Party was formed by a US-educated Sindhi feudal (wadero) leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who won the 1970 election and thereafter ruled from Islamabad, thus plucking the party out of its straitjacket of language-based Sindhi nationalism. Today, it has increasingly shrunk from its national outreach and begun representing the feudal power of interior Sindh. In his book Karachi: Ordered Disorder and the Struggle for the City (2014) French scholar Laurent Gayer has described the plunge of the MQM and the increasingly feudal PPP into a relationship of patron-client with Karachi’s criminal gangs.

Sindhi leaders win big in the provincial hinterland where voters are mostly captive communities living as serfs. The wadero lords live above the law in castle-like, guarded residences in Karachi. Within the PPP, they form a hierarchy of equals that makes discipline impossible. Their usually unruly sons mix with the sons of a growing elite of bureaucrats ruling in tandem with “wadero power”. Add to this migrant-wadero mix a third element and you have a combustion no one can control — the internal migration of people from the predominantly Pashtun north, affected by terrorism in the “ungoverned spaces” created for mounting cross-border challenges to neighbouring India.

The trio — the migrant MQM, wadero PPP and Pashtun-Afghan militias — guided the common urban criminal to carry out activities for two kinds of leverage: Funds and coercive power. A competently researched book, Decade of the Dacoits (2005) by Imdad Hussain Sahito, had literally predicted how the wadero feudal would lean on crime to shore up his power in Karachi. In 1991, then chief minister of Sindh, Jam Sadiq Ali, was found to be involved in the kidnapping-for-ransom of a group of Japanese visitors by wadero-supported dacoits from interior Sindh.

Before the Rangers got going, there were dozens of no-go areas in Karachi to suit the violent triumvirate. The MQM got into trouble when the arrested killers started singing. The biggest irony hit Pakistan in 2014 when a hired “target-killer” confessed he had been trained in Mansehra near Abbottabad where Osama bin Laden was found — and killed — by the Americans in 2011. Since the Mansehra camp belonged to the Jaish-e-Muhammad of Maulana Masood Azhar — now in custody in Islamabad for the Pathankot attack — the fate of Karachi became further complicated.

Both the PPP and MQM have a strong presence in the parliament, batting off what’s clearly their symbiotic merger with criminal gangs. The PPP’s protest against the Rangers’ remit in Karachi strikes a chord in interior Sindh and the rest of Pakistan. The MQM is secure behind the support it gets from the urban population of Karachi and other cities of Sindh. Disloyalty is punished with certain death, even if you feel safe in a city abroad like London.

Uzair Baloch is the don of Lyari, the largest of Karachi’s 24 districts, where the PPP has regularly won while the rest of Karachi has gone to the MQM. Gayer writes: “The romance Lyari and the PPP culminated in 1987 with the wedding reception (walima) of Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari in the locality. The following year, Benazir Bhutto was elected from Lyari at the National Assembly, followed by her husband two years later.” 

In the Rangers’ custody, Uzair Baloch is talking of “billions” collected for the PPP leadership and hundreds of opponents killed to make things easy for it. What may become really dangerous for the PPP leader living in exile in the UAE may come from Uzair Baloch — who killed Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi and, more frighteningly, who killed her “all-knowing” bodyguard Khalid Shahenshah later in Karachi.