By Farhan Bokhari
September 10, 2013
The past week has seen Pakistan’s ruling authorities order an army-led crackdown to tackle lawlessness in the southern port city of Karachi, in a move that says much about the South Asian country’s outlook.
It is a choice that may not only drive the political fate of Pakistan’s recently elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has promised to consolidate the country’s emerging democracy. Ironically though, Sharif’s reliance on army driven paramilitary forces to lead the Karachi clean-up has once again raised fresh questions over the ability of Pakistan’s politicians to create a civilian framework for dealing with militancy and violence.
Once a source of pride for Pakistanis as a large, thriving cosmopolitan city, Karachi has rapidly slipped to the point where parts of the city of 20 million are clearly designated as ‘no go’ areas. It is deep inside these troubled neighbourhoods that turf wars have raged with gangsters seeking to settle scores while aggressively widening their influence, undeterred by the possibility of even a mild attendance to rule of law.
By some accounts, more than two-thirds of Pakistan’s state revenue is generated from Karachi, raising the significance of the city to the country’s overall well-being.
Given Karachi’s centrality to Pakistan’s prospects, the city naturally remains a prime target for a variety of actors who are seeking to destabilise the nuclear-armed country. Yet, a series of compelling questions must be asked over the extent to which the latest action will succeed in restoring a lasting semblance of calm.
On Friday, Pakistan’s media showed glimpses of popular approval to the new security campaign, with low income families gleefully heading to the seaside late in the evening. This return of relative comfort came from the knowledge that such visitors will not be stopped at gunpoint on their return journey to their homes, confronting criminals along the way demanding money to facilitate a safe passage
In many parts of Pakistan, including Karachi, a proliferation of a drug and gun culture dates back to the 1980s when late military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq systematically created a network to train young men to fight the US-driven ‘jihad’ or holy war, in Afghanistan.
Religious institutions known as madrasas haves mushroomed in large parts of the country, including Karachi. Practically overnight, young boys recruited from all over Pakistan found their way to destinations like Karachi to be inducted in the madrasa culture. The recruits found not only the opportunity to be trained in the art of handling lethal weapons, but more vitally, they were injected with an ideological dose that prompted them to venture outwards to dominate their targeted areas.
While gangs were indeed prompted by criminal intent, there continued to be a ready supply of the proverbial foot soldiers or cannon fodder. Consequently, neighbourhood after neighbourhood from Karachi’s slums came to present a strikingly common feature.
Moreover, the army’s involvement in the latest clean-up, though necessitated by prevailing trends, must also raise compelling questions about the role to be played by elected politicians. The smiles emanating from the faces of visitors to Karachi’s beaches in the past few days are clearly in danger of becoming a short lived trend, unless backed by vigorous action to fix the long-term challenges.
Farhan Bokhari is a political and economic analyst. This article has been reprinted from the Gulf News.