When the wanton violence was let loose on the bloody May 12, I was in Vietnam, with a group of European and Far Eastern businessmen, who were invited by the Messe Munchen, a German Trade Fair company. My son was relaying me a running commentary from Karachi on phone, at one stage he just kept the phone next to the TV and I could hear the charged voice of Talat Hussain of Aaj. That was the time when our Vietnamese host had taken us on a tour of Hanoi and we were walking to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum – something I always wanted to do. Listening to what was happening to the people of my city, my heart sank. Perhaps my worry was written large on my face, some friends asked what happened and I had to not only tell them the news but also the whole background. They were quite well-informed about our executive versus legal fraternity squabble. Pakistan was the topic of the day, but alas for wrong reasons.
A day earlier the Messe officials were telling us that they are planning to organise a major international infrastructure conference and exhibition in Hanoi, because the fast-growing economy needs investment in infrastructure. I was tempted to draw their attention to Pakistan, which I said is a bigger economy than Vietnam. But then after the disturbing news from back home I dropped the idea of pursuing it any further. Who would come to Karachi, when we are shooting our own people, while the Rangers, Police and whole establishment stood by and watched it, as if it was happening in Rwanda?
On returning home the first shock was that my older son and daughter, who returned to Pakistan after finishing their studies abroad and are working here, said Baba enough is enough our idealism was finally shattered on the bloody May 12, and we want to migrate to the West.
First few days’ people were just sharing the horrible stories. Now all the political parties are blaming each other for the violence, which has taken over 40 lives. The civil society, political parties, city elite, intelligentsia and government officials I have met in the last week are directly and indirectly convinced that the Sindh government led by MQM was responsible for the carnage. The MQM leadership is now at pain to prove that the PPP started the violence. But they have no answer to the deadly question: Who held the law enforcing agencies and city administration back?
It is here I think they cannot shrug the responsibility off. In the first place being a part of the government they should not have called their rally on the same day when the Chief Justice of Pakistan was invited to speak at the bar. They know what happens when the CJP goes anywhere these days thanks to the popularity thrust on him by the government. A question can be rightly raised that this was MQM’s fundamental democratic right. Right. It is everybody’s right, but rights have to be exercised with sagacity. Being the incumbent government, being the largest political party of the city and being the claimant that MQM is ‘the secular and democratic party’ the burden of magnanimity and grace were on their leadership. But undisputedly they fell short of this responsibility. MQM had earned a few marks with the Karachiites when they stood up on the women’s right issue a few months back. People felt that the party is showing signs of maturity. But all the credit was washed away with the bloodbath of 5/12.
Now feeling isolated and faced with a barrage of criticism it has taken up a PR exercise which has saved the city from a major strike at least for the time being. The problem with MQM, or to be honest with all major political parties in Pakistan is that democracy is a mean to ride and not amend. This is the reason that MQM says “Karachi is their city and others should not try to show their strength”. This is against the democratic tradition as everybody has a right to express, canvas and show their political will. Trouble with our psyche is that monotheism is deeply indoctrinated. Democracy teaches us acceptance of plurality of ideas. Commitment to the principles of democracy teaches us respecting descent and believing in freedom of expression for the opponents of our point of view and beliefs.
Looking at the country’s domestic and geopolitical situation, one cannot be very optimistic about its foreseeable future. It may be doing better on the economic front but politically it seems to be drifting to more violence and chaos. Karachi’s future cannot be much different from the rest of the country. And it would not be long before the political uncertainties would start affecting the economy.
My friend Munir Malik, who was given an intimidating message with a volley of bullets that he should not lead the struggle for independence of judiciary, predicted in a TV interview that it’s going to rain for the better. Munir is an optimistic lawyer. But hasn’t the scripture said: “For he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” And Lord Justice Bowen’s witty rhyme said:
The rain it raineth on the just,
And also on the unjust fella.
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust has the just’s umbrella.