Karachi is ablaze. Yet again. The different players have been through this dance so many times that by now the rest of the country knows the sequence of events by heart. First there are the target killings. Then there is the standoff, both the ANP and the MQM urge the government to take action, the latter then lets it out that it is considering leaving the coalition, the interior minister flies over to Karachi to pacify the two parties and announces stern actions against anyone who would take the law in their own hands. This pattern changes only slightly when it is in the PPP areas that the violence takes place; the outcome, however, remains the same.
The same is happening at the moment, the only difference being the MQM’s more pronounced wish for independence. The setting is the by-election for the seat left vacant after the unfortunate death of an MQM MPA. The ANP had planned to contest the elections and had been calling for a close monitoring by the rangers. After the target killings started, the party announced to quit the polls at the behest of the PPP, who wanted peace in the city. The question on a lot of minds is why the ANP would contest this election considering that in the previous one the party had less than a thousand votes as opposed to the resounding victory of the late MQM candidate. The answer, unfortunately, is not the ANP’s unplaced optimism. No one quite knows what happens in Karachi elections, not even FAFEN, the network of NGOs that monitors polls. In the ’08 polls, for instance, it could not get data for a large number of polling stations in constituencies that had returned MQM candidates. Till that haze clears, all the political parties, including the ANP and the PPP, will think that they stand a chance. To be fair to them, they probably do.
Karachi is ghettoised and, as is the norm in situations like these, it has become the victim of a turf war. All three parties are behaving far from ideally, are patronising elements in the underworld and haven’t as yet displayed a seriousness in resolving the situation. Finally, to state the obvious: while no Pakistani political party is truly modern, lowest on the rung is the MQM. That has to change. Or else, Karachi will remain the powder-keg that it is today.