After days of when, how, and who would conduct it, the dubious prize of the Karachi operation goes to the Rangers. A list of 400 or so notoriously bad eggs has been drawn up by Rangers and IB. Assurances have been given that these well-known troublemakers would have been apprehended long ago, had local politicians not thrown a spanner in the works. Hold off the sympathisers and we'll make the arrests in a month, they say. These few score on the hit list, most of whom have been persona non grata for much longer than the last five years, have already gone into hiding, or left the country. This does not mean that an operation will have no effect at all; routine security in Karachi may improve, but only temporarily.

The problem in Karachi is a failure of capacity in administrative and policing spheres from years of neglect. This is not a one-time mess that any operation, conducted by any law enforcement agency can ‘clean up’. After the operation, there may be a few weeks, maybe even months of calm. But slowly, the same old maladies that were only suppressed, not cured, will resurface: violent turf wars, extortion, unemployment rising, crime resurging. Will that then be the time for yet another operation? An operation may be necessary, but unless those responsible for governance are ready to take advantage of the momentum created, they will find themselves back at square, one in a few short months.

The choice of Rangers to take the lead, is also revealing. If Rangers are tasked with the solution, they have surely escaped suspicion of being part of the problem. The force has been an uncomfortable fixture on the Karachi landscape for years now. Opposed by its detractors as an ‘outsider’, surprisingly, its unpopularity does not derive solely from occasional extreme heavy-handedness. The very fact that the Rangers have not managed much in the last few years ought to have earned them a relatively benign reputation. Why the acrimony, then? Well, the lads have a bit of a ‘when in Rome’ problem. The force has blended into the Karachi landscape in the worst of ways. The cadres of the force have fallen victim to the same temptations, the same bad habits that they were originally sent to quell. With additional legislation being hurriedly drawn up to grant extra investigation powers to Rangers, questions will not arise where the Rangers come down hard, but when they don't. Who they spare in the process, and why, will be observed with keen interest.