Karachi -Pakistan's lifeline or City of Death

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New Delhi, Jan.31 (ANI): In recent times while the world's attention was on events in FATA and North Waziristan, another brutal battle has been raging in Karachi, which is a microcosm of Pakistan, even if the soul they say, is in the Punjabi Lahore.

In one brutal two-day spell, 21 people were killed and several injured in the second week of January this year is a reflection of the ethnic suspicion and hatred.

Both the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) and the Awami National Party (ANP) despite being in coalition with the Pakistan People's Party (PPP)-led government in Sindh blamed each other for this rise in the killings.

According to the Citizens' Police Liaison Committee, 1247 persons were killed in 2010 - the highest since 1995 while more than the 801 who were similarly killed in 2009. The latest spree would suggest that the current year could be equally violent and brutal unless the governments in Islamabad and Karachi show considerable resolve in trying to stop this mayhem.

Alarmed at the trend of violence and, in the context of the Salman Taseer killing, the Daily Times of Lahore carried a number of editorials and articles variously captioned "Bloodbath in Karachi, Ethnic Strife in Karachi, Pakistan's Beirut-Karachi, Karachi Operation."

So, did other English language papers. The reasons are obvious is that the 16 million megapolis has attracted countless refugees and job hunters from the rest of the country. Mostly homeless, these hopefuls live in their own ethnic ghettoes. One might rightly say that Karachi's problems of crime, law and order and unemployment are no different from those of other similar cities the world over. If the local mafia in Malegaon could murder a civil servant, then Karachi or Mumbai are only magnified versions of the same problem.

The issues in Karachi are far more complicated where ethnic, religious, sectarian interests clash violently and merge with business vendettas by the all-pervasive and powerful crime mafia. Extortion, kidnappings (more than 100 last year), narcotics and gun running are the chief specializations, quite often with political patronage.

Political parties have their own hit men who are known to take shelter in the UAE when the trail gets too hot. The MQM which control 17 of the 19 National Assembly seats from Karachi, fears that the influx of Pushtun from the NWFP and later also from FATA not only alters the ethnic mix of the city but a large number of the newer refugees are Talibanised. Karachi with an estimated 3.5 million Pushtun population is the largest Pushtun city in Pakistan.

Karachi contributes nearly 70 percent of the revenue to the central government and 25 percent of the GDP. In recent years US military has been sending 75 percent of its supplies for the Afghan theatre through Karachi, which includes 40 percent of its fuel requirements. Karachi is Pakistan's jugular and NATO's vital logistics link. Any disruption in Karachi, which is savage or unending, will have grave consequences up country and on the economy.

One of the main problems has been that Karachi, like the entire country, has been allowed to be highly weaponised - eight years ago the number of unlicensed arms was 18 million. This figure would have grown since then.

All political parties and sectarian groups depend upon heavily armed supporters, and these include not only the MQM and the ANP, but also the MQM (Haqiqi), Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamaat Ulema-e-Islam, Sunni Tehreek, along with other Baloch and Sindhi groups. Karachi has seen Sunni-Shia violence as well.

In areas far removed from the elegant and up market Clifton, MQM and ANP have marked out their territories; the former control places like Orangi, Korangi and Azizabad which are no -go areas for others, the ANP dominates Al Asif Square and Sohrab Goth. The MQM has three fears.

It is concerned about not only losing out to the growing Pushtun numbers but also to increasing Talibanisation; it was Karachi's Binori Masjid that was a major Taliban centre in the early days and remains so today. The hold of the Deobandhis and the Wahhabis has been growing in Karachi.

Further, their relations with the Sindhis who have always perceived the Mohajirs as interlopers have remained hostile even when MQM and PPP are in the same government.

It will take years of sustained effort to overcome this and to restore the writ of the state in parts of Karachi. A cash strapped country, more concerned with building its defence apparatus has allowed its infrastructure and socio-economic services to weaken to the extent that the Jamaat-ut-Dawa, the mother of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, is believed to have the best ambulance service in the country.

A dismal economic outlook for 2011 has been aggravated by the devastating floods of last year which had affected one-fifth of Pakistan and the number of people affected exceeded those affected by the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004, the Pak Occupied Kashmir earthquake of 2005 and the Haiti earthquake of 2010.

This has led to even more rapidly growing urbanisation causing further demographic and ethnic pressures on cities like Karachi and fertile ground for recruits to the Islamic parties. Karachi today is like a pressure cooker with a mal-functioning safety valve.

Pakistanis believe that the Americans use them periodically and then walk away. This time if they do, then the elite will be left to face the Islamic radicals who have the government cowering and unable to even amend the Blasphemy Law.

Given Pakistan's dependence on doles and a poor economic outlook for 2011, the main worry in Rawalpindi would be US disinterest in Pakistan after the draw down of forces in Afghanistan begins.

A decline in the handouts would further limit the ability of Islamabad to help Karachi. With the present turmoil in the Arab world, Pakistan will slip down further on the US radar. Stephen Cohen, the American scholar on South Asia described Pakistan, as a "house under water" in an interview on January 6, 2011 adding that "Except for its territory, which is strategically important, there is not much in Pakistan that is of benefit to anyone." That then is the state of play today. (ANI)

Attn: News Editors/News Desks: The words expressed in the above article are that of Mr. Vikram Sood.

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