Karachi, a metropolis of around 20 million people is Pakistan’s economic hub and its largest sea-port. It has been in the grip of violent crime, murder, robberies, kidnappings, extortion and arson, for decades.

In 2011, it was rated the most dangerous of the world’s mega cities with a murder rate of 12.3 per 100,000 residents (reported by Al-Jazeera). There were 1,723 murders in 2011. None of the words’ largest 13 largest cities came within 25% of Karachi’s exceptional murder rate.

The US State Department 2014 report based on data released by the Sindh police and rangers on crime and safety, in Karachi, inter-alia cites the following figures:

2,715 killed (civilians)

191 killed (police and rangers)

125 killed (suspected criminals/terrorists)

108 kidnappings

509 cases of extortion

3,082 cases of robbery

4,068 vehicle thefts

22,284 motorcycle thefts

10,501 cell phone thefts

In addition, one may also recall the savagery and butchery in the earlier years when the city was blocked with containers, police was disarmed and a free-for-all let loose, giving an open field by hooligans to shoot and kill, at offices and TV studios. All this was done to debar the Chief Justice of Pakistan to come to Karachi. He was confined to the airport and was forced to go back to Islamabad. In this very city, Benazir’s caravan was attacked resulting in the loss of more than a hundred lives. There have also been cases of burning lawyers and the planned killing of dozens of medical doctors. Lyari was allowed to be turned into a battlefield where every other day innocent lives were lost and no investigations or prosecutions held. For days and sometimes months, there was hardly any sign of the writ of the government in the city. There was little evidence of a sense of responsibility on the part of those wielding political power. They were themselves a part of the problem and were rightly accused of complicity in the continuing mayhem. Time and again, directives were issued by the superior courts to depoliticize police and disband militant wings of the political parties. These instructions were disdainfully ignored.

Last September, the new federal government bestirred itself and brought in Rangers in considerable numbers to work with the police. Some headway was made. With police heavily politicized and militant wings of the political parties remaining intact, results achieved were minimal and not quite satisfactory.

The recently aired JIT report regarding Baldia factory burnings which consumed 258 innocent lives has dramatically spotlighted the urgency for using the full force of the state to rid Pakistan’s biggest city of the scourge of rampant murderous savagery.

The Prime Minister and Army Chief visited Karachi and held a series of meetings to launch a coordinated operation under the Apex Committee setup as a follow-up of the National Plan of Action. One such meeting was also attended by PPP president Mr. Zardari, the Sindh governor and chief minister. A senior military commander participating in the discussions is said to have called the Sindh government inefficient and incompetent.

While the Prime Minister expressed his unhappiness at the Sindh government’s poor performance and said that the state has no option but to win the war on terror, the COAS, General Raheel, did not mince words when he said that the Karachi operation would be continued without discrimination against all criminals irrespective of ethnic, political, religious and sectarian affinities. He went on to stress that political expediency could not generate an apolitical response and the police must be empowered as an apolitical and effective force. Further that, all postings should be made without any interference through the Apex committee.

What do the General’s observations and directives denote? That the provincial government having failed to do its duty has to abide by the new approach instituted by the military. There is also a question mark for the federal government whose earlier efforts have been found inadequate. Senior military officers are a part of the Apex Committee and they will have a large say in how things would be done. Will MQM and PPP, now that they after the JIT report have again come together, give up the fight and refrain from throwing spanners in the works? Will they not create a big fuss and resort to mass rallies and call for shut downs? Let us not forget that the mafias and gangs in Karachi have deep roots and wide connections. They are hard nuts to crack. With the poor quality of criminal investigation and prosecution systems, can the culprits be speedily and successfully brought to book? And will the Apex Committee resort to military courts to make short shrift of the die-hard killers and extortionists? There is many a slip between the cup and the lip.

It is indeed unfortunate that the civilian hold on state power is slipping into the hands of the top brass not because of the latter’s hankering for it but on account of sheer inability to sagaciously manage national and local affairs because of misgovernance. Especially noteworthy has been the misbehavior and cupidity of certain politicians at the provincial level.

Looking back it is a matter of regret that political parties enjoying national status like PML-N and Jamaat-e-Islami failed to create a power-base in Karachi letting MQM and PPP divide the spoils between themselves with MQM dominating the field. Hopefully, the PTI will expand its constituency in this benighted city and evolve a benign role there in the years to come.

Reverting to the military’s increasing involvement in civilian affairs, what if the Apex Committee solution does not yield the desired results? Will it mean a more direct management of Karachi by the military? One hopes that this does not happen. If however, we fall into it, is there any foolproof assurance that it would yield lasting positive results? Or will this change in the long run add to our problems and predicaments making it all the more difficult to meet formidable challenges?