The PML-N government at the centre has spurred the launching of a targeted operation against the many criminal-cum-political mafias infesting Karachi. Though it is too soon to say how successful the present initiative would be in rescuing the city from the tentacles of rampant lawlessness, its contours, as unveiled by the federal interior minister in his press conference last week, inspire hope. The question is: Will the government be able to stay its course and transcend petty political expediencies that have brought every similar initiative in the recent past to naught?

The government’s announcement to finally catch the bull of Karachi’s many woes by its horns coincided with the resumption of the Supreme Court hearings regarding the implementation of its 2011 order in the Karachi Law & Order case. The directives of the apex court in that order could have contributed towards bringing the restive situation in the city under control but, as in so many other cases, they were largely ignored by the previous government. The interior minister’s statement that his government would incorporate these directives in its policy for Karachi is reassuring.

In his press conference, the minister rejected the MQM call to hand over Karachi to the army, something that the party had aggressively opposed as part of the Sindh coalition until recently. He indicated that the operation will be led by the Sindh Chief Minister with federal agencies and resources at his disposal and suggested the formation of a committee comprising representatives of other political parties as well as businessmen and media persons from the city to oversee the operation so that it doesn’t become a victim of political wrangling. It sounds like a good plan and hopefully the cabinet meeting that is expected to finalise it next week will not dither in its resolve to carry it out.

The bit about consensus among political parties is bound to get tricky. Already, after the initial crackdown, the MQM and ANP have started accusing the PPP Sindh government of victimising its workers. As pointed out by the interior minister, the identified extortionists and target killers are affiliated with political parties. Earlier, in its 2011 order, the Supreme Court had also observed that the report of the Joint Investigation Team clearly implicated the bulk of political parties operating in Karachi for harbouring armed wings whose members were involved in criminal activities. And while every party insists that it will not protect such elements in its fold, they fail to live up to these pronouncements.

Another problem that is bound to crop up as the operation unfolds is its even-handedness. The PPP Sindh government that is to lead the operation is known to patronise its share of armed gangs in the city. Even the intelligence agencies that are to assist the provincial government are not above board when it comes to protecting criminal elements. Any operation that fails to target these elements will not only heighten the perception of victimisation on part of others but also compromise its effectiveness. The institution of a committee comprising all stakeholders to oversee the operation, as suggested by the interior minister, is therefore imperative.

There are other hurdles in the way of sorting out the mess in Karachi, like weak laws and the capacity and criminalisation of law enforcing agencies, but the patronage and protection of criminal mafias by assorted political players has undoubtedly been the biggest stumbling block in the quest for peace in the city. An operation invested with the political will to rise above these entrenched vested interests could overcome the other hurdles including the sheer scale of the sprawling city, the infusion of large quantities of arms and years of neglect that it has suffered.

When Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chairs the special meeting of the federal cabinet next week to review the law and order situation in Karachi, the citizens of not only Karachi but the entire country expect him to show the needed resolve and political will to tackle the many headed monster. The Sindh Governor, Chief Minister, Chief Secretary, DG Rangers, DG ISI, DG IB and MQM’s Farooq Sattar have also been invited to the meeting. It is high time that these powerful stakeholders be mindful of what is at stake, and contribute positively towards finalising the strategy to save Karachi.

Despite the bad hand that has been dealt to Pakistan’s premier city, its energy and dynamism is remarkable. Its brave and hardworking citizens refuse to be cowed down by the breakdown of governance and insecurity that hangs over their city like an incessant threat. The resilience and enterprise of its diverse population is indomitable. Truly a mini-Pakistan, people from all over the country have made it their home and you see them going about their many businesses on its many busy roads stretching for long miles. Despite the overdose of identity politics imposed upon them, you see them working and transacting with each other regardless of ethnicity or race.

For years, governments have taken a lot from Karachi and given little in return, abandoning its citizens to fend for themselves, whether it is basic civic amenities such as water and sanitation or their fundamental rights such as protection of life, liberty and property. Political parties of every hue who claim to champion their cause have done little more than fight for their turf flashing this card of divisive identity or that. Those sitting atop its treasure of resources, the federal and Sindh governments, the largest political party of the city, MQM, or other parties that represent it to a smaller degree, owe it to the 20 million souls living in Karachi to give them the respect that they truly deserve, to put the citizens of Karachi before their political calculus and petty feuds for pelf and control.

Despite all its troubles, Karachi is still an amazingly productive city, pulsating with immense possibilities far greater than what its situation allows. Give it peace and see it skyrocket to its rightful place as one of the greatest metropolises of the world.

The writer is a freelance columnist.