The Profits of Doom

“Let us not complicate things. It is really very simple. If you control the poppy fields,Karachi, and the road that links the two you will be so rich that you will control Pakistan,army or no army.”

– Orangi shopkeeper, November 1986

The Sohrab Goth operation, the Aligarh Colony massacre, and the ensuing “ethnic” riots in Karachi, have exposed the real faces of the actors in Karachi’s urban drama. Certain facts can no longer be questioned: the ruthlessness of the mafia and the ethnic smokescreen behind which it operates; the corruption and callousness of the administration and its cordial links with the underworld; the ineffectiveness, ignorance and opportunism of political parties; the cruelty of a leaderless people bent on revenge and the abject helplessness of an incompetent government, which has sold its country to foreign interests. Given all these factors, it is difficult to see an early end to Karachi’s malaise: it is certain that the city’s “ethnic” riots will not only continue, but grow to engulf the entire Country.

The events following the commencement of the Sohrab Goth operation have made it clear that the heroin and arms mafia controls the transporters, the land-grabbers, the slum landlords and the “thekedars” who operate the Karachi job market. It is also clear that this relationship is institutionalised and a clear chain of command exists. Consequently buses, taxis and rickshaws went off the street; thekedar-controlled labour did not show up for work; abadis where slum landlords operate remained relatively peaceful, while the old katchi abadis came under attack, and paid a heavy price for standing in the way of complete mafia supremacy. It also became obvious that without the control of these other mini-mafias, the arms and drug mafia cannot bring the city to a standstill, nor negotiate with the administration from a position of strength.

The manner in which the mafia seeks an ethnic cover, and the meticulous planning which precedes its actions, were also clearly demonstrated in the massacre at Aligarh Colony. Pathans have lived in Aligarh Colony for the past decade, and many of them own shops in the market. Their relations with the non-Pathans have always been cordial. In the past few months outsiders were settled at the entry points to the colony and in certain strategic lanes. When truckloads of armed outsiders burnt the shops and houses in the area, and began a massacre of its residents, Pathan shops and homes were spared and the newcomers to the colony provided armed cover to the intruders and kept their exit points open. As a result, the cordial relations between the Pathans and non-Pathans of Aligarh Colony have been replaced by hatred, and the mafia operation has acquired a Pathan/non-Pathan colouring. Similarly, there is evidence to show that during the November riots the burning of minibuses in large numbers was resorted to by the transporters’ mafia itself, so as to enable it to promote ethnic conflict.

The purchasing of strategically placed property through strong arm tactics in Aligarh Colony a few months earlier, and the fact that the armed intruders were able to identify Pathan and non-Pathan homes and shops accurately, point to the fact that this operation had been carefully planned some time ago, and was not a spontaneous reaction to the Sohrab Goth operation, or so we have been led to believe by some quarters.

There has never been any doubt in the minds of the residents of the katchi abadis that the Karachi administration is corrupt, inefficient, and a paid employee of the various mafias which operate in the city. This conviction is now shared by the relatively more affluent areas as well, as there is no other way in which the administration’s indifference to. The situation can be explained. It was seven long hours after the massacre began, that the-administration intervened in Aligarh Colony, and then only to teargas and contain the affected population.

The mafia guns from the K-2 and Pirabad hills continued to fire on the abadis below for another eight days. They have still not been removed; it is only the uneasy peace that has silenced them. In the May 1985 riots, the people of the abadis had attacked these hills armed only with molotov cocktails, and thrown back the aggressors. However, the police raided these abadis the night before the Sohrab Goth operation and confiscated manufactured molotov cocktails and the chemicals that produce them, thus disarming the population and rendering it defenseless.

The wisdom of the Sohrab Goth operation has been questioned in the non-government media. It has been piloted out that Sohrab Goth was just a symptom of the heroin and arms trade, and that its demolition will not make any significant difference to mafia operations. Irrespective of whether the operation was wise or not, the mafia knew it was coming, though the middle echelons of the administration did not. As a result, two days before it was launched, a large number of families from Sohrab Goth, along with arms and heroin-manufacturing units, are said to have been permitted to move to Natha Khan Goth on the national highway. It is rumoured that they will move back to the superhighway, this time on the thirty-fourth mile from Karachi, where the Khadeji and Mol rivers meet to form the Malir naddi.

The role played by the official media during the riots has served to promote ethnic conflict rather than subdue it. Instead of exposing the true face of the mafia by tearing away its ethnic mask, the media has constantly appealed to both communities to maintain peace, thus accepting that the conflict was nothing more than an ethnic one. If the events at Aligarh had been properly explained to the people, and if media propaganda bad played upon the contradictions within the mafia and built them up, then the nature of the riots may well have been different. Whether the media is just incompetent, or is also a party to the conflict, is a million-dollar question. In either case, its role is inexcusable, and it must shoulder a major part of the blame for the burning of Pathans that followed the Aligarh Colony massacre and the mafia raids on the old abadis.

It is significant that the burning of Pathans occurred only in mohallas where there was no effective local leadership. It is also significant that effective leadership in the katchi abadis is invariably in conflict with the local administration. People in the affected colonies insist that if councilors Sherzada Khan and lshaq Khan of Pathan and Frontier Colonies had wanted, they would have kept a sizable number of their wards out of the conflict. Because of the leadership of Councillor Mohammad Ahmed, the pact formed during the last riots between the Pathan and non-Pathan populations of Rahim Shah, Afridi, Hanifabad and Merajunabi colonies in Orangi Township remained intact, in spite of the fact that some of these colonies were constantly fired upon from the K-2 peak. Here the ethnic mask of the mafia was torn away by the people, while the media and politicians hid behind it.

The national political parties have shown by their statements and inactivity that they are either irrelevant to the Karachi situation (and hence to the national situation as well) or can only help to endorse the ethnic colour it has acquired. Certain important parties have declared that the riots are the work of foreign agents who have been smuggled in to dismember the country, while others have fanned parochial feelings. The more progressive patties have stated that the present situation is the result of partyless elections, which have promoted biradaris and clans, and that therefore, President Zia must go. All these ‘lines” mean very little to the affected or to thinking people, who do not see in them any solutions to the problem. One would have expected political leaders to offer the public an analysis of the situation in which the role of the mafia in national politics is clearly identified. It is obvious even to a layman that the heroin and Kalashnikov culture is a gift of our involvement in the Afghan war, and that the billions of dollars made out of the heroin trade not only benefit the economies of other countries, but create for them a powerful client organisation within Pakistan.

This client organisation has succeeded in destroying the progressive politics of the NWFP, in making the once discredited system of bonded labour respectable again, in purchasing the administration, and in turning Karachi, which is the key to Pakistan, into an inferno. Although this client organisation has not managed to stabilise the status quo, it has certainly made the institutionalisation of change impossible. One does not know whether it is ignorance, opportunism, or simply contempt for the people that keeps the political parties silent on these key issues. However, one does know that the people of Karachi, Pathan and non-Pathan alike, have paid a heavy price for their silence, and that the worst is still to come. People in the affected areas repeatedly tell social workers that they need arms for survival, and not the food and clothing that they are being offered. Posters and handbills inform them that owning a Kalashnikov is more important than owning a VCR, a motorcycle or a television set. More guns will now come into the city, increasing the mafia’s circle of influence and, with it, the intensity of the conflict.

There are, however, some positive factors which have emerged from this conflict. The people of the affected areas have shown that they can organise themselves for relief work, defence and redevelopment of their ravaged abadis. There is a cold determination on their part to struggle for their rights, and not to give in to mafia terrorism. For the first time in Karachi’s history the more affluent areas of the city have taken an interest in the problems of the katchi abadis. Young men and women have donated blood, organised relief work, and are currently involved in helping area tanzeems in surveying the damage done to the abadis. There is also a growing realisation among the business classes that perhaps peace in the city’s excreta-infested slums is as important for their survival as connections in the red-carpeted corridors of power. However, these positive factors need to be cultivated, supported and sustained. This is possible only if the involved people come together, only if there is a dialogue between various groups interested in Karachi’s welfare and only if painful questions are asked at both city and national levels. Failing this course of action, the involvement of Karachi’s citizens with their city’s problems will disintegrate, and after the next round of violence, people will be forced to think in terms of their mohallas as that alone will guarantee their survival.

Keeping the above factors in view, what is the solution to the Karachi conflict? The only real solution is a long-term one. It involves questions of foreign policy, of Pakistan’s relations with its neighbours and the great powers, and the institutionalisation of the enormous social and economic changes that have taken place in the country. It involves the elimination of poppy growing, whose real benefits go to the mafia middlemen and the international dollar market, and not to the grower.

However, these aims cannot be achieved just by the holding of elections on a parry basis or by one or another political party coming to power. They can only be achieved by explaining the situation to the people in terms that make sense to them, thereby mobilising them for political action. Coming to power through an election is, in itself, far less important for a solution to our problems than the factors that make the holding of an election possible. Given the bankruptcy of Pakistan’s political parties, and the nature of the government in power, it is clear that, for the foreseeable future, the mafia, its foreign masters and its local collaborators will decide the late of Pakistan’s politics.

Solutions at the Karachi level have been suggested by various people involved in the katchi abadi drama, public leaders and members of the administration. These include the deployment of more government buses on the Karachi roads, along with a phasing, out of minibuses; immediate regularisation of katchi abadis, so as to free the people from the clutches of middlemen; new strategies for land development for the poor, so as to make shelter affordable to them, thereby eliminating the role of the land mafia.

Given the power of the underworld, its links with the administration, and its involvement in land and transport, these solutions are unlikely to work. The government transport system which replaces the minibuses will not be allowed to function. Regularisation of katchi abadis will not be permitted to take place smoothly, and the new strategies for development will result in speculation by middlemen and state officials. These proposed solutions and the underworld’s reaction to them will generate new conflicts, which is just what the mafia wants.

However, these strategies can he made to work, provided the people of the abadis are involved in their planning and execution and a link between the mohalla tanzeems and the administration is established on equal terms and institutionalised. A government and an administration which is terrified of the power of the people can only adopt such a course of action if the new awareness in Karachi’s affluent areas forges a unity with the katchi abadis. If this does not happen the Karachi violence will continue, and the abadis, both Pathan and non-Pathan, will become independent fortresses. The establishment’s hold will weaken, and the new awareness that has asserted itself will die of helplessness and frustration.

Sensing the turmoil that is to follow, a large number of settled Pathan families are leaving Karachi, the city they made their home, and to whose development they have contributed with their sweat and blood. The roofs of the Mingora-bound buses are no longer carrying TV sets and electronic goods, but tin sheets, charpais and items of daily domestic use. Meanwhile, their non-Pathan neighbours lick their wounds, and arm themselves for the next round that is bound to follow in the not-too-distant future.

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