It is not exactly news that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has a militant wing; but the fact that the state has started a cleanup operation in Karachi against the belligerent groups of MQM, is.

The target is the same militant wing which staged the 12th May carnage under Pervez Musharraf’s directions. But it’s not like there is a group of well identified men in uniforms that can easily be arrested. Militancy is too fused in the ranks and files of MQM to separate the ‘Political MQM’ from the ‘Militant MQM’. And this is not just the case with MQM alone. Generally speaking, this is the situation all over Pakistan.

Every political party necessitates a militant wing because it is not possible to work politics without having the backup of an armed group. This not only holds true for Karachi. In rural Sindh and Punjab, every politician has his own private army, while politicians in Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa (KP) and Baluchistan have tribal backup.

Furthermore, it is not only the politicians who have private armies, the fine and cultured businessmen also have their own armed gangs that are utilized to protect their business interests and bully labour leaders as well as consumers. Some of these businessmen are notorious for using private armies to seize land, purchase disputed plots and takeover possessions. Nevertheless, this trend isn’t only popular with the politicians and the business class.

The feudal too have their private armies to whip the poor in case they disobey or become rebellious. These armed men commit robberies, steal cattle and other belongings of the rural poor, and are also involved in kidnapping girls belonging to lowly families, on orders of their feudal lords. Gangs are vital to maintaining the might of the turban.

But then there are also police officers who have their unofficial armed backup. Gangs of proclaimed offenders, bandits and robbers are under patronage of some police officers. They rob arrogant lawyers and assertive judges so that higher-ups in the police force can manipulate them. Some police officers even get a share from robberies as a payment for looking the other way. But even police officers cease to be the last group to have armed backup. Even some respectable lawyers boast to have connections with criminal gangs who at some stage have been their clients.  Then there are some learned scholars teaching at top educational institutions who too enjoy backup of armed student groups.

And then, last but not least, there are the religious leaders starting from the mullah in a street mosque to national level leaders who invariably have a backup of armed fanatics. In fact, in the present violent environment, it is impossible to practice faith without some armed group’s backing. Religious seminaries are forts housing violent and brainwashed extremists, ready to react violently when instigated. They are a product of “Jihad”, which our state outsourced to private armies, and which has to date taken the lives of over 90,000 civilians and servicemen.

In short, in every street, there is a ‘Don’ who conveniently defies sate authority. MQM organized crime under the patronage of state machinery before it developed international links. Since the 90s there has been evidence of Altaf Hussain’s connections with India, but the state promoted him from a Don to a legitimate ‘King of Karachi’. For over a decade Altaf Hussain ruled Karachi like an emperor and at no time was Altaf’s militant wing less insane, ruthless and thuggish as it is today, but the state tolerated it all.

The state can be seen exercising the same passive approach to a lot of private armies that exist today. Our entire elite class defies state authority the same way Altaf Hussain did. The common man who cannot afford to keep an armed force is forced to seek ‘protection’ from someone ‘powerful’ which only reflects that the protection our state guarantees in its constitution is dysfunctional.

Point being that as long as the state structure is dysfunctional – the business of private armies would continue.

Security experts oppose the idea of using paramilitary forces for law enforcement. Certainly Rangers cannot be based in Karachi forever. There are real questions over post operational situation. Would the dysfunctional state machinery be in a position to prevent the emergence of another militant group? Who would fill the power vacuum after MQM, and take over the shadow economy of Karachi?

The much needed operation against MQM’s militant wing would create a power vacuum which might be filled by other segments of society, from a chieftain in a mohalla to political and religious Dons – all of whom have their private armies intact. The emergence of organized crime can only be prevented through an efficient and vibrant state structure but the state apparatus is broken and dysfunctional. It does not guarantee safety.

New militants group would emerge after the elimination of MQM’s militant wing . These might not be as organized and ruthless but would evolve over time and when they do we may need a new operation. The cycle would continue – operation after operation. None would yield sustainable peace.

The only path to sustainable peace is a functional state apparatus, which cannot be achieved through political engineering but a genuine political process. Government of the people; by the people and; for the people – alone can guarantee a leadership, sensitive to needs of society. Only the states which strengthened political institutions were able to build national institutions which eliminated private armies and guaranteed sustainable peace.

The state is required to empower the common man and confront any kind of militancy. The exploitation and manipulation of people’s mandate has to end. People have to be made stakeholders in the affairs of the state. The culture of Dons running a ‘state within a state’ has to be eliminated and the supremacy of state over violence has to be reinforced. The private armies which serve to oppress the weak and the vulnerable segments of society, have to be confronted at all levels. The genuine leadership of people has to be in charge of state affairs. That alone would guarantee peace and prosperity.

MQM needs a free hand in deciding its future path without dictation as long as it denounces violence. Political forces in the rest of Pakistan also deserve an end to political engineering by the state. When masses are empowered and people become stakeholders in the affairs of state through a genuine political process – the Dons backed by private armies would vanish. Any other experiment would only lead to further disasters.