The writer is senior staffer at The Express Tribune firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s great to see the PPP, the ANP and the MQM standing together on the same platform, demanding a united front against terrorists. It’s great that parties that are considered liberal and left-wing can bury their differences like this. It would also be great if this alliance would last beyond May 12. It would have been greater had such unity been seen at any time in the past five years to demand and deliver, let’s say, an end to violence in Karachi. Of the two demands — the second purely hypothetical at this point — guess which one was in their power to deliver? In the past week or so, there have been repeated attacks on these parties, in which dozens have died. In the past five years, close to 9,000 people have been killed in what we like to call “targeted killings”. Consider that number for a moment. It’s close to 20 per cent of the total casualties, civilian and military, that Pakistan has suffered since the start of the war on terror.
Some feel as if the parties being targeted are somehow reaping what they have sown; some may even take what I am writing as a justification for it, but this is not the case. To imply that these parties somehow deserve the violence that is being directed against them is inhumane. It is an extension of the same sick and twisted logic that makes people ask why Malala should be defended when other, more anonymous, children die in drone strikes. There is no relation, and yes, the mass violence of terrorists and the sporadic street violence that Karachi has been subjected to are completely different animals. The PPP suffered the first and most devastating blows. The ANP has been subjected to atrocities for years, and the MQM, too, has buried many of its dead, though most of those were not, until now, the result of terrorist attacks.
But at the same time, to ignore their sins of commission and omission; sins that played a direct role in the bloodbath Pakistan’s largest city has been subjected to, is as dishonest as applauding the attacks on them is evil.
We’ve seen these parties sit together before, on the treasury benches of the Sindh Assembly for one thing, and, of course, whenever Rehman Malik decided the Karachi body count had got too high for there to not be a show of action.
The pattern was predictable: dozens would die, shops would be set ablaze and schools would be closed. Accusations would be levelled on talk shows and press conferences. Then there would be a day of mourning, and if the mourning became violent, another day of mourning for those who died during the first day of mourning. Then a high-level meeting would be called and Mr Malik would fly in to troubleshoot, no pun intended. If there was a walkout by one of the parties, then he may have to fly a little further to sort that out as well. And then the cycle would repeat. Ad infinitum. The tragedy is that, for all their differences, all these parties behaved exactly the same way on the ground.
Now, those same parties call for the Election Commission of Pakistan and caretaker government to step in, call for the police and Rangers (army deployment is unacceptable to, at least, two of them) to provide security. One has to ask how they expect this to happen. The police are the same as it has been in the past five years. Their numbers and capability have not been enhanced because it wasn’t in the interest of the governing coalition to carry out police reforms. Police stations were auctioned at times and SHOs appointed largely on the basis of a cosy power-sharing arrangement between the stakeholders. How then does anyone expect the police to suddenly do a job they have been unable to do in the past five years? How do they expect the caretakers to control the situation when those who claim to own Karachi never took ownership of it?
The rhetoric now, as in the past, is bombastic. The arguments are emotional and the warnings dire. And here’s the thing; the warnings are correct. There is Talibanisation in Karachi. And to give credit where it’s due, the MQM warned of it a long time ago.
The ANP, which really should have known better, did not credit the warnings, or did so privately. The PPP, of course, had a single agenda: to survive a full term in government. That they did so is no small achievement, but it came at a terrible cost. They were pragmatic when they should have been visionaries, absent when they were needed. They were almost zen-like in their utter inaction and abdication of even the semblance of governance. To bring Karachi under control was not an impossible mission; if consensus could have been built between political parties and the military for the Swat operation, then Karachi, the problems of which are largely administrative, could have been saved. The only thing missing was the will to sacrifice a little power for the greater good.
The MQM, PPP and ANP want and deserve the freedom to campaign without fear. This is their right. But we also deserve some freedoms: the freedom for our children to go to school; for our shops not to be looted, for our buses not to be burnt, for a stray bullet not to end our lives. Is that too much to ask for? Does asking for it make me a Taliban sympathiser?
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2013.