The Widening Black Hole of Karachi

Weekly Pakistan Media Watch

Pakistan might look like a puzzle with too many missing pieces. Then try solving Karachi. It has all the complexities and contradictions of Pakistan, plus the intensity of a megacity on steroids. If that sounds sexy, think again. Karachi produces more victims than a country at war would do on a normal day.

  • CC / Balazs Gardi  (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) CC / Balazs Gardi (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Karachi is currently the battlefield of the war against terrorists, target killers and foreign agents. The battle lines are drawn between state and MQM allegedly controlled by criminal mafia. An “experienced” MQM is fighting back while hitting where pains most. It is even challenging the national narrative of “patriotism”, first time after Dhaka Debacle in 1971. Meanwhile, Talibans and Islamic State are busy killing academics, law enforcing personals, civil society activists and peaceful members of Shia communities.

The opinion makers in Pakistan want to see Pakistan free from the “blackmailing” and “high- handedness” of MQM, “which dictates its terms and acknowledges no rules whatsoever”. But then, they are unable to deny that it genuinely represents majority of the 20 million inhabitants of Karachi. This paradox creates a narrative that demands a “normalized” MQM deprived of its absolute leader, Altaf Hussain, “who insults army and evokes RAW”.

The early morning knock at Nine Zero


The current episode of Karachi thriller started on March 11 with an early morning raid by paramilitary force, Rangers on MQM headquarter, commonly known as Nine Zero. The member of Central Coordination Committee Amir Khan was detained while member of Central Information Cell, Waqas Ali Shah was killed. Rangers claimed arresting many hardcore criminals and discovering large cache of illegal weapons.    

The MQM leadership retaliated furiously and declared the raid as “terrorism in the name of search operation”. Altaf Hussain claimed that Rangers brought illegal armed wrapped up in blankets. Soon, there were rumors that state is thinking of imposing governor’s rule in Sindh. The fuming Altaf Hussain allegedly gave veiled murder threat to Rangers in an interview to GEO television, which prompted them to file case against him in the court.

The Dawn editorial (March 13) wrote, “Today, the MQM’s subterranean establishment is an empire in itself, its sources of finance, firepower, recruitment, training and intelligence-gathering as varied and arcane as those of Tupamaros.” Further on March 18, it wrote, “After the recent turn of events, there is only one possible way ahead for Mr Hussain. And that is to purge the MQM of the militant elements within — whether they have taken “shelter” within it, or been actively cultivated by it.”

According to The Nation editorial on March 20, “MQM is only a raw version of what all other political parties in Pakistan are made of – patronage and fear. Other major political parties in Karachi allegedly also have sizeable private militias as a substitute for the formal writ of the state.” Former army chief, Mirza Aslam Baig wrote on March 20, “The clean-up of MQM is essential, with the help of the government and the MQM leadership itself, through due process of law. Both the perpetrators of the crime and the abettors must be taken to task. Any attempt to break up the party will be disastrous.”

Confessions on the gallows

First time in the history of Pakistan, a target killer, Saulat Mirza, few hours before his hanging, managed to record his “revelations”, which were telecasted by all the media channels. Convicted for killing the head of Karachi Electric Supply Corporation (KESC), Shahid Hamid on July 5, 1997, he disclosed how former minister Babar Ghauri and current governor of Sindh, Dr. Ishrat ul Ibad asked him to kill Shahid Hamid on the orders of Altaf Hussain. The government hurriedly postponed the execution.

Prominent columnist, Abbas Nasir wrote on March 21, “Deploying such methods can be counterproductive. These can also very quickly serve to fuel paranoia among the party’s large support base that it is being singled out in a one-sided exercise and push it deeper into the arms of the hardliners.” Another editorial on March 20, while questioning the modus operandi of these confessions, said, “While it is an open secret that the MQM employs heavy-handed tactics to maintain its grip on a city where politics and criminal networks often overlap, such an approach to bring it to account is in the long run likely to exacerbate the ethnic divide in Karachi, deepen the sense of persecution, and augur ill for peace in the metropolis.”

Saulat Mirza was finally hanged on May 12.

The most famous by-elections of Pakistan

The by-elections in MQM stronghold in Karachi gripped entire Pakistan. The PTI of Imran Khan, in alliance with Jamaat e Islami challenged MQM and vowed to free the voters made hostage by “killers and extortionists”. Imran Khan visibly moved with the support of Rangers, which provided MQM opportunity to hit back convincingly. Finally, the election was declared as most free, fair and transparent with heaviest deployment of law enforcement personals. The MQM candidate, Kunwar Naveed Jamil won with huge margin on April 23.

Arshad Ahmed Arif, writing in Daily Dunya on April 26 said, “Despite Rangers raid, arrest of criminals from Nine Zero, confessions from Saulat Mirza and Muazzam Ali and decades of criticism against MQM, its success has proved that it has not weakened in Karachi.” In the similar tone, the News editorial wrote “The MQM has demonstrated that it is a force that cannot easily be eliminated from Karachi’s politics or left out of the equation when the future of the city is planned.”

According to Dawn editorial, “The party obviously has a substantial vote bank, but it should not see this as an excuse to go back to its politics of protest and questionable tactics to either ‘control’ the city or manipulate political developments on a wider scale.”  Senior journalist, Arif Nizami of Pakistan Today wrote “if the MQM assumes that victory at the by-elections somehow absolves the party of the crimes committed in its name, it will be extremely naive on its part.”

The RAW material of Karachi conflict

It was an unprecedented speech by Altaf Hussain that helped confused and divided Pakistani opinion reach a consensus about MQM and its alleged anti-Pakistan militant network patronized by Indian spy agency, RAW. The two and half hour long speech was delivered in response to a press conference by a police officer, Rao Anwar who produced two MQM terrorists, Tahir and Junaid, confessing how MQM workers were being taken from Bangkok to India for training. The had told that two London residents, Nadeem Nusrat and Mohammad Anwar were in regular contact with RAW while Hammad Siddiqui and Farooq Sheikh implement plans in Karachi. The police officer said that MQM was more dangerous than Taliban. He demanded that the party should be banned. He was suspended by Sindh government, the next day and reinstated two weeks later.

On May 1, while humiliating Rao Anwar in worst possible manner, Altaf Hussain narrated the history of atrocities against Mohajars of Karachi. He ridiculed army’s surrender at the time of Dhaka Debacle and warned to fill Sindh River with blood in case of another confrontation with MQM. He pointed out the corruption of army and asked his youth to start preparations for the war. Finally, he asked help from RAW. He said all this while his speech was being live telecasted by all the media channels of Pakistan.

The army reacted sharply. According to BBC URDU, “The army spokesperson, Major General Asim Salim Bajwa, while terming the Altaf Hussain speech as uncalled for, unnecessary and disgusting, said that the judicial action shall be taken against incitement of violence and talking foul of army leadership. With this rose a wave of editorials, columns, talk shows, features, articles and statements calling for judicial action against Altaf Hussain under article 6 of constitution dealing with high treason. Altaf Hussain extended apologies the very next day saying that his request for help from RAW was only sarcastic. He said he was hurt by being repeatedly labeled as an Indian agent.

The Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies passed resolutions against speech while calling for judicial process for high treason. The Standing Committee on Defense in National Assembly also passed resolution. The People’s party legislators, however, moved swiftly to soften the situation by terming apology by Altaf Hussain as sufficient.

The Nation wrote on May 2, “MQM’s leadership, instead of supporting the institution that is valiantly performing a national duty in all parts of Pakistan, it is trying to malign and accuse it of partisanship. But historically, the MQM has never been able to get out of its blackmailing mode, be it with political elements or the law enforcing agencies.” For Nawa e Waqt, “the way Altaf Hussain is asking for help from RAW and inciting his workers for violence, if he does not review his behavior and does not cooperate with Rangers, the government will have no option but to impose governor’s rule.”  
On May 6, the NA resolution appealed to the government to move the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) in an inter-state petition under Article 20(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which relates to incitement of “national, religious or racial hatred” because “both Pakistan and the UK are party to the ICCPR”. Another editorial said, “It is now imperative to break the network of RAW. It should be done immediately. We should not compromise on the security of our country.”
Writing in Pakistan Today on May 9, columnist, Khawaja Manzar Amin said, Hidden agendas cannot remain hidden forever and the truth will out in the end, even if those who fought for it were murdered. And history is not too forgiving of Fifth Columnists and Vidkun Quislings who betray their own nation.”  

Karachi of MQM or MQM of Karachi

Discussing possible change in Karachi, seasoned journalist, Khaled Ahmed wrote, “If Karachi is “normalised”, the MQM will learn to live like a normal organisation, unthreatened by non-state actors-turned-renegades and by ditching its target-killers after cleansing its structure of the internal terror that allows Altaf Hussain to micromanage it.”
The News columnist, Ayyaz Malik wrote on May 6, “the days of un-trammeled dominance of the MQM in Karachi are inevitably bound to come to an end.” Amir Zia in Hilal magazine was of the opinion that, “Any charter aimed at establishing peace in Karachi should include the immediate goal of breaking the nexus between crime, politics and religious extremism.”

According to Afzal Rehan of Jang, “The biggest positive is that MQM consists of lower middle and middle classes. Secondly, its program is clearly progressive with no element of extremism or sectarianism. There are many good things in their organizational structure as well. Only problem is their violence. Army should let them be stronger on the condition that they will get rid of their extremist elements.”

Famous Urdu weekly, Humshehri recalled that Karachi was a very peaceful city in 70s. “In 80s, General Zia ul Haq, in order to diminish the popularity of People’s party, encouraged an ethnic organization. Karachi is seeing bloodshed for last thirty years. General Raheel Sharif is correcting the mistakes of past. He should make sure that no new blunders be made for coming generations to pay the cost,” said editorial of weekly Humshehri of 30 April.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall……

The brutal killing of 45 Ismaeli Shias in Karachi, on May 13, shook the entire country. The 13 perpetrators, riding motorbikes and a car, stopped a bus at an empty road and mercilessly killed most of the people on the bus. A terrorist organization, Jandullah, which has announced allegiance to IS accepted the responsibility though a pamphlet that warned against Shia “infidels”. The Foreign Office announced that the RAW was behind this incident. Ansar Abbassi, however, reported in The News on May 17 that investigators probing the incident have found some initial clues suggesting the involvement of proscribed Lashkar e Jhangvi (LJ).  

The tragic incident put question mark to the entire approach of counter terrorism. Is it terrorism or extremism that should be eliminated? What happened to National Security Plan against terrorism? Can we proceed without regulating religious seminaries and their lethal narrative? How can we succeed curbing extremism when sectarian killers and their dreadful proscribed organizations are enjoying complete impunity? Are Jandullah, IS, Taliban, LJ and LeT are Indian agents?

Fahd Hussain wrote in Express Tribune on May 17, “Who has courage to take on the madrassas and their powerful sponsors? Who has the courage to lock horns with the apologists who provide physical and ideological space for the extremists? Who has the courage to bring down political parties that feed a narrative of extremism and who soften the ground for intolerance among the population?”  

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