Return of violence to the megapolis Karachi (13 Feb , 2010)

Return of violence to the megapolis Karachi

After a lull of a few months the violence storm has returned to Karachi. During a short moment of peace as compared to the rest of the country, anxious Karchiites wondered what is saving the city from violence. Then there were theories that MQM is balancing it as the Taliban know that any blast in the city would spark serious ethnic riots and that would disturb their funding channel. Others attributed the calm to the fact that representatives of all the ethnic communities who live in Karachi are in the government alliance. This they believed was keeping the lid on the type of violence being seen in Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. These theories came to an end with a bang on Ashura day.

Now that violence has hit the city with a vengeance it needs to be analysed. The city is facing at least four types of violent incidences: 1) Sectarian which has killed more than 70 people; 2) Political target killings of the workers of Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and its splinter group the Mohajir Qaumi Movement; 3) ANP, MQM and PPP workers target killings which is a prelude to the forthcoming local government elections; 4) The land grabber war with the civil society representatives in Lyari. All these are multi-faceted complex issues, which need to be examined thoroughly and individually. Because of a lack of space let’s focus on two major aspects – the technological revolution in the world of crime and militant politics because of the weaponisation of all the groups and rise of sectarianism thanks to Saudiasation of religious narrative.

The self-destructive policy of General Ziaul Haq to install the Islamist Mujahideens government in Afghanistan sucked the Americans in the conflict. Foolishly, Pakistan was made a frontline country of the cold war. In mid eighties any journalist who covered the Afghan war knew that almost 70 percent of the arms and ammunition that were given to the so-called Mujahideens were being sold by them in Pakistan. Writing for some foreign periodicals, I toured many Mujahideen hot spots. I was told that before giving arms to various Mujahideen groups, who were mainly organised on a clan basis, the intelligence officials were asking for advance money. These agencies sleuths knew that the Mujahideens were selling most of the arms given to them. The militant groups used to take short-term loans from money lenders in Chaman and tribal areas for the payment of advance to officials. After selling the big chunk of arms that were given free to Pakistan by the Americans, Chinese and Saudis, the Mujahideens would go to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets and their host government. According to the US government small arms of over $3 billion were given by them alone to Mujahideens during the 10 year war. This does not include arms which came from other anti-Soviet countries.

Now even if we discount reports that 70 percent arms were sold to Pakistanis and say that only 50 percent found their way to various tribes, political parties and the crime world, Pakistanis have collected over US$1.5 billion small arms only in the eighties. Add to this at least another one billion dollars arms and ammunition that is in the hands of different Jihadi groups and Afghan Taliban that were nourished by our establishment in the nineties and in the last decade. This means we have over US$ 2.5 billion illegal arms floating in this country. According to the book ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ the CIA and ISI created “techno-guerillas” who learnt how to make bombs and fix them in cars, carts and cycles. The same people have turned master trainers and have created a new generation of trainers for sectarian and Jihadi groups.

In mid eighties I had asked the veteran leader Wali Khan at the Karachi press club that with the influx of Afghan refugees and weaponisation of the country do you smell Beirut? He spoke for the next half hour on this and warned that he is seeing the country burning with the fire alighted by the short-sighted Zia. He was not wrong. Today the whole country is burning because of the technological revolution in the crime, political and Jihadi world. The days of fighting with an axe and sticks have gone and the whole new Kalashnikov culture is ruling. The conflicts which used to lead to small skirmishes at the political and sectarian fronts now kill people in scores in bomb blasts. The dimension and intensity of conflicts in this society has changed for the worst and forever!

Now let’s take the second issue of sectarian killings in the country. The ideological differences between the Shia and Sunni sects are over 1400 years old. But in the sub-continent we had a more tolerant outlook. Both the sects lived in a more or less peaceful co-existence. Even today some Sunni tolerant believers join the Ashura procession with ‘Tazias’. There were indeed some stray incidences of violence in the month of Muharram, but the intensity of such conflicts was low. We had no ‘techno-guerillas’ then.

So what changed in the recent past in Pakistan which had inherited tolerant values of the sub-continent? The major change came when the people of Iran fell from the feudal despotic pan in to the religious fascist fire. The first Shiite government led by its clergy was formed. The Iranian people’s revolution, which was hijacked by the clergy, came soon after the left parties alliance take-over in Afghanistan. This unnerved the Arab Sunni monarchs and the Pakistan government led by a Sunni zealot General. The Saudi started pumping in money to Pakistani religious political parties, extremist groups, madaris and mosque imams. They also started giving scholarships to some madrassa graduates for further studies in Saudi Arabian religious universities, which are known for their Salafist tilt. According to a well-researched book ‘A-Z of Jihadi Organisations in Pakistan’ by Amir Rana, 64 percent of madaris in the country adhere to the Deobandi school of thought, although the majority of people in the country have Barelvi inclinations. This is mainly because of Saudi and other Gulf countries funding that came from the eighties onward.

On the other hand the Iranian clergy started inspiring the Shia youth and funding was also made available to protect the interest of this minority sect in Pakistan. The training ground and sanctuary for the anti-Shia extremists was provided by successive Islamist governments of Afghanistan. Thus a proxy war is being fought on our soil and intolerance is being nurtured without any check.

Easy availability of lethal weapons and unrestricted access of all means of communications to the bigots would continue target killings and sectarian violence with impunity. The menace has to be fought both at an administrative and ideological plane. But who will take this call? (

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