Some months back, I had received a nostalgic email, ‘An Ode To Karachi’,  from my friend, Maqbool Rahimtoola, (MAQ), relating to the tragic situation in this, once City of Lights, now a city of blood and tears.

 “The morning mist settles to the sound of wailing. The young and the old, all there in white, lifted towards their burials. A war, a plague? No, just Karachi.. To the sound of bullets. The smell of death slowly walks this city. But who cares? No one. More deaths, more sufferings. The hospital beds are full. Will it ever stop? Who cares? It’s just Karachi”.

For the last several years, this commercial backbone of the country has been crippled with strikes and hijacked by various Mafia Dons and their gangs of hardened criminals, who are bleeding this city to death.

The residents of this once vibrant city, have been held hostage by these criminal gangs, who have turned their lives into a living hell and the streets of this City of Lights into battle and killing fields of Pakistan, in which the blood of innocent citizens flow onto the streets.

Citizens are kidnapped for ransom or on ethnic and political grounds, brutally tortured, cut into pieces, stuffed into gunny bags and dumped, like garbage on the roads. And this mayhem had not stopped even in the holy month of Ramadan.

In our first Straight Talk program on ‘A Crisis of State and Society’, at the Jang Forum in 1996, the late Dr Eqbal Ahmed, an intellectual and a well known citizen’s rights activist, had stated: ‘Our governments, both civil and military, have betrayed the nation and broken all promises made to the citizens. And in the absence of a vocal and responsible civil society, we are facing this crisis’.

 ‘Unless the citizens stand up for their constitutional rights and demand accountability and good governance, our cities, especially Karachi, will become another Beirut of the past, with pitched battles between various ethnic and political groups, to gain control of the city’.  

Dr Hamida Khuhro, who had also participated in the discussions, stated, ‘I blame civil society, especially the educated and the privileged, for this crisis. We have not played our due role as responsible citizens and have watched in silence the degradation of our ethics and moral values’.

That was over 17 years ago and since then, because of our Silence of the Lambs and lack of protest, there has been a gradual breakdown of law and order, while our law enforcing agencies have been politicized and are under the control of our political parties.

These criminal gangs have infiltrated our political parties and even volatile and sensitive neighborhoods of the city, as such no one is prepared to take a stand or give evidence against them.

The unabated blood letting in the city has forced the PM and his Interior Minister to come to this bleeding city and try and find a permanent solution to stop the carnage. Meetings and heated discussions are being held at the highest level, debating if army intervention was needed to restore peace in the city.

There is now talk of the existence of a MRA army, on the lines of the infamous IRA of Ireland, which was responsible for causing mayhem in the streets of London.

Experts in the field feel that any operation carried out by the army or by LEAs, should be impartial, launched without warning and with a zero tolerance policy.

However, if the government takes unannounced, unilateral action, then it will be accused of witch-hunting and if it takes action after long debates and discussions, then the criminal gangs will be warned and temporarily disappear from the city. Therefore, the government is stuck between a rock and a hard place and is dammed if it does and damned if it does not.

The on-off invitation to MQM, one of the largest stakeholders and a key player in controlling the law and order situation in the city, reveals the confused state of mind of the government.

If ‘Operation Clean-Up’, is launched without taking ALL STAKE HOLDERS ON BOARD, it will fail to establish transparency and sincerity and will be sowing seeds of distrust and suspicion in the minds of the other stake holders, including the business community.

In the past, the CJ had ordered several measures to bring a stop to the killings and a temporary lull in the bloodletting was established, but unfortunately, no long-term, effective measures were taken and now the killings have started again.  

After a lot of huffing and puffing, political leaders have accepted that there are militant wings in their parties, who are used by them to raise funds through bhatta and extortion.

Therefore, political parties who are using the citizens as dispensable pawns in their deadly chess games and turf wars, must be exposed and punished.

The SC must ensure that changes are introduced in the recruitment of the police, so that SHOs and police officers are appointed on merit only and not on favoritism or political patronage, as is the present practice.

And this can only be achieved if the Karachi police is depoliticized and the criminal elements that have infiltrated the LEAs, are cleansed from its ranks.  Unless a neutral and independent police force is established, free from political interference and criminals, the guilty will continue to be given protection and the city will never be free from target killings, extortion and crime.

The City of Lights now faces a ‘Do or Die’ situation and both, the government and political leaders must realize that they are playing with fire, as a dangerous human tsunami is gathering force in the country and any resistance in accepting the supremacy of the law, would lead to anarchy in the country.   Therefore, the SC must enforce its writ and ensure that the law is supreme, so that permanent peace is restored in the City.

However, more about ‘Saving Karachi’, next week.

To sensitize this sensitive issue, Helpline Trust is again organizing a panel discussion on ‘A Crisis of State and Society’ at the Marriot Hotel, Karachi, on September 23rd at 3.00 pm.

We invite all concerned citizens to attend the program. For more details, please visit our web site: www.helplinetrust.org

n The writer can be reached at trust@helplinetrust.org