Prime Minister weighs in with Karachi operation

During his stock-taking visit of Karachi on Wednesday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif insisted that the target of the Rangers-led operation in the mega-city were the criminals, but he also remained inaccessible to Governor Ishratul Ebad and other MQM leaders. But to those who watch a bit closely how the third-time prime minister expresses himself without speaking a word find there was no big mystery in this departure from the normal when invariably the law and order meetings would be held at the Governor’s House. Thanks to his ability to stay calm even in the eye of storm Governor Ebad has survived many a crisis, to earn him the distinction of being the most durable high-office holder in the history of Pakistan. Something must have gone wrong this time that he was conspicuously kept away from a critical briefing – held at the Faisal military base instead of the standard venue of Governor’s House – on the evolving law and order situation in Karachi. Is it because his name appeared in the video Saulat Mirza recorded from his death cell? It seems the prime minister has conveyed to him that he should resign. And, should he desist, which is not expected, but you never know how the MQM can make up with the PPP once again and the two decide to resist the pressure, then the probability of Governor’s Rule in Sindh becomes a strong possibility.

Of course, the prime minister kept saying that the Karachi operation is not against any party (read Muttahida), but against the criminals and terrorists. The MQM also wants a stern action against the criminals, and would like the government to help it cleanse its ranks of such elements. Presiding the meeting at Faisal base, the prime minister said ‘there should be a fast track policy to capture who had fled the Karachi operation and taken refuge in other parts of Sindh’. But he made these remarks when Sindh chief minister Qaim Ali Shah was not there. When you say the Rangers-led operation would continue against all criminal elements and their patrons regardless of their party affiliation and two principal stakeholders, Governor Ishratul Ebad and Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, are not there you in fact show a lack of trust in provincial political leaderships. When a convict and some hardened criminals are found sheltered in a party headquarters it becomes difficult for it to deny presence of criminals in its fold. Maybe, by saying this, the prime minister is trying to suggest that the ongoing operation would continue against criminals across the board.

How the incidence of terrorism, be it in the shape of sectarian killings or extortion chits or street-mugging, destroys the peace of Karachi makes for a disturbing case in point. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was spot on when he told the Karachi Stock Exchange’s Top Companies Awards distribution function that peace is a prerequisite for development and investment, both local and foreign. Tough action against criminal elements, wherever they exist, in Karachi was much needed, he said, adding ‘the government’s inability to ensure peace in Karachi, the commercial hub of the country, would have a negative impact on all other parts of the country’. Therefore, he said, “we will continue with our efforts till criminal tendencies come to their logical end and the people feel secure”. Even when the Rangers-led operation is expected to go on for quite some time it has become obvious by now that overcoming the forces of evil in Karachi is doable. But it should be an inclusive socio-political responsibility, and not exclusively of the security forces. The political parties owe it to the electorates in the mega city to join the fight mainly by denying space to criminal elements in their camps. And on the part of security forces it is necessary that their moves and actions against criminals do not damage the image of the political parties.

Last but not least, it is encouraging to note that an MQM team led by Dr Farooq Sattar has finally met the prime minister. According to media reports, the MQM leaders have been told in clear terms that the Karachi operation will continue till its logical end and the party’s grievances will be examined objectively and judiciously.