The theatre was staged as follows. Five Supreme Court judges sat in a line. From left to right, their respective visages could not look more distinct. One sat with a thick set of salt-and-pepper hair, neatly combed sideways; one with a longish mane, carelessly tied back; one with a nearly vanishing hairline; and one with a wavy, almost poetic mop. In the middle presided the supreme of supremoes, packing the only set of darkly coloured tresses. All were bespectacled and tediously peering over stacks of battered folders.
Beneath them stood in a nervously shifting line, the Advocate General, Inspector General Sindh, and Director General Rangers. Thus began the follow up to a suo moto case from 2011 on the law and order situation of Karachi.
The Courtroom Face-Off
Bench: Nothing is happening. This is going from bad to worse. Officers are doing nothing!
AG: A large number of officers have sacrificed their lives…
Bench: Policemen of the highest order should be walking alone in Karachi. They cannot do that. They should not need protocol. Has the situation improved 100 per cent?
AG: I would like to present…
Bench: What is the improvement? I expect something in black and white. Show me the numbers. DG Rangers and IG Sindh: what is their credibility?
The AG attempts to present a brief history of crime and violence in Karachi.
Bench, interrupts: Comparing the haalaat in 2011 to those of 2013, there is no improvement. This is unnecessary hue and cry. 100 people have been killed in the last nine days. Why have you failed? You people don’t realise. You people are playing with peoples’ lives.
The frustrated Advocate General steps back, giving the podium to DG Rangers.
DG: Sir, I would like to explain the ethnic makeup of Karachi…
Bench: What difference does ethnicity make? It’s really easy to say someone is Urdu-speaking, Sindhi-speaking, some Punjabi, and some Pashtu. It’s easy to say this is a matter of ethnicity. What difference does that make?
DG: Sir, it matters because ethnic-politics matter. Militant wings associated with political parties need to be abolished….
Bench: Militant wings are not legal bodies. Take whatever action you want, the government is behind you. You have not come to Karachi to party!
DG: Sir, I assure you, we are not partying.
‘What Difference Does Ethnicity Make?’
Actually, in Karachi, it makes a lot of difference.
When referring to ‘ethnicity’ with regards to the volatile political scenario of this city, we must understand this as a socially constructed term. Ethnicity is a largely debated idea; there is no single theory behind how ethnic groups are formed. For our purposes, let us assume an ethnic group consists of a common essence: perhaps common ancestry or language, shared historical memories, elements of a common culture, or a loyalty to a homeland. Though ethnicity provides a sense of social and cultural solidarity, it ultimately discriminates by creating social, cultural and political divides. And these divides hinder unity, paving way for conflict in ethnically diverse societies, such as Karachi.
While this does not mean that ethnically diverse societies are naturally susceptible to violence, it does mean that in the absence of democracy, employment and equal distribution of resources, they are vulnerable to poverty and greed – root causes of conflict. Possible ways of preventing a society from conflict is by providing political rights to minority ethnic groups, bringing concerned political stakeholders to the table, and curtailing local political and economic greed. This is to ensure that the government can restrict politicians from exploiting socio-economic grievances of their followers and stop equipping them with arms because, it appears, the power of a barrel in impoverished neighbourhoods fills more stomachs than the power of a book or pen.
A Nexus of Crime, Terror and Ethnicity
Additionally, deweaponising Karachi is crucial to successful law enforcement operations (as has been repeatedly demanded by police officials since the last four years), and it must specifically target militant wings associated with political parties – which thus requires the government to step in and hold reins. It is these militant wings that form nexus on ethnic lines with individuals involved in organized crime (including drug and land mafia, kidnapping for ransom, target killings, extortion, and bank robberies, to name a few). It is within these groups of individuals that you can find shadow facilitators linked with terrorist groups.
Let us understand this triangular nexus of crime, terror, and ethnicity in Karachi to prevent it from destabilising further, before striking the danda on ill-paid cops whose survival depends upon saluting the political dons of the towns and districts they have been transferred to. And we, the media, the judiciary and the masses, should rise above berating, demotivating and demoralizing our own officers rather than honestly questioning the corrupt leaders we have allowed to be in power. Lastly, it is the responsibility of the judiciary to pursue these cases in a timely and efficient manner, ensure witness protection and restrict bail where possible.