Karachi Violence

1. Background

In the month of August, I interviewed 14 persons belonging to the violence affected areas of Karachi to get their views on the situation in their neighbourhoods and their perceptions for the reasons for it. These persons are not active in politics though a number of them are social activists and CBO members. The persons interviewed belong to different areas and ethnicities. I have removed some of their biases to generalise their comments, although the specifics are perhaps more important, but expressing them gives an impression of being one-sided. A more detailed paper will hopefully follow with examples and case studies.

I noticed the change between my conversations with the some of the same people last year and in August this year. Last year, most people I spoke to were not willing to criticise the dominant political party in their area or the party that represented their ethnicity. In August this year, almost all of them criticised the parties that represented their ethnicity and other parties as well. It seems that the terrible conditions in their areas have forced them to take a bigger view of the situation. It has forced them to think differently and has made them comparatively free of fear in expressing their views. This is a positive sign and can be built on. It seems that what Sahir said in one of his poems is true “Zulm phir zulm hai, barhta hai to mit jata hai / khoon phir phon hai, girta hai to jam ja ay hai”.

2. People’s Views

2.1 The Impact of Violence

  • The fear of kidnappings and killings have become real so one is afraid to leave home and does so only if absolutely necessary. Social activities have come to an end.
  • People are afraid to send their children to school. Before sending them one has to listen to the TV, go and check the neighbourhood to see if the road is open. Younger children can no longer go and come from school alone as they used to before. As a result, many parents no longer send their children to school.
  • When one is away one receives phone calls from the family all the time to check if one is safe. This raises the telephone bills considerably.
  • Being held up in a bus and robbed has become normal. Also, young men and women (most of them in their teens or early 20’s) are forcibly taken to public rallies. Those who dissent in anyway are threatened, roughed up and occasionally killed. Parents live in constant fear for their grown up children.
  • The banning of motorbike pillion riding has had disastrous effects. It has doubled the transport costs of those who have motorbikes. For those who do not, it has meant a considerable increase of people using mini-buses. As a result, an increasing number of people have to ride on the roof of buses. Women are the worst affected since they cannot do this.
  • There has been a considerable reduction of working women due to violence and transport related problems. As a result, incomes have fallen.
  • A lot of cheap artificial plastic weapons are available in the settlements for sale. Children play gang wars with them. Their idols are the gang leaders. As a result, there is a lot of bulling and violence among children. Many of the children are terrified and cannot sleep at night.
  • Inter-ethnic friendships have gone. People look at each other, even at an individual level, with hatred and suspicion. Even mosques are divided on ethnic lines.
  • Many people have stopped working in areas where their rival ethnicities are in control or in institutions and offices controlled by them. If they continue to work there, they live in fair. This has led to an increase in unemployment, poverty and further fragmentation of society.
  • People no longer have any faith in the police or rangers. There are numerous cases where the relatives of the victims know who the killers are, the police also have registered their names in the FIRs. Yet, these assassins are roaming around free and without fear. This leads to revenge killings which are becoming common.
  • Power now belongs to those who have and use weapons. These are young unmarried individuals 18 – 22 years old. As a result, use of liquor, drugs and sex related crimes and prostitution have increased and so have forced conversions to Islam of religious minorities. As a result, family structures have collapsed and the father is no longer an authority figure.
  • Cells in ethnic parties now settle community and family disputes regarding property, crime, marriage, divorce. As a result, government institutions dealing with these issues have become redundant and increasingly corrupt. Their “fees” have gone up as their “clients” have gone down.

2.2 The Politics of Violence

  • Much of the violence is for changing the demographies of those constituencies where there is an unequal mixed ethnic population into a homogeneous one so as to guarantee an election victory. This changing is carried out through terrorising the population by indiscriminate firing, forcing them to leave and target killing a few of them. It is also done by purchasing properties (offering above market rates or coercing families to sell) on the main corridors of movement and then “suffocating” the population at the back.
  • The transfer of 2 to 3 thousand votes from one area to another in many cases can change the election results in a number of constituencies. Various examples where this has already happened are well known.
  • The battle over the local bodies system for Karachi is less over the ideology of the system or its need and more about who benefits in an election process through which system. If the city is divided into districts (as it was before Musharraf’s system), then the PPP and ANP will be the beneficiaries. If two more districts are carved then, depending on the new demarcations, they may benefit even more.
  • One party supports the completion of building of the Lyari Expressway while another party opposes it but not for technical reasons but for the fact that if the surviving trans-Lyari settlements are removed one party loses a large number of votes in 2 constituencies.

2.3 Bhatta

  • Bhatta has always been taken as zakat/fitra. Before it was as a religious obligation but now it is extorted.
  • Voluntary chanda was given to the MQM in a big way in its early days. Some of the collectors became extortionists and are now part of a larger bhatta mafia. People became fed up of giving chanda so perhaps extortion became necessary.
  • Before the extortionists went personally and asked for bhatta. Now they send a parchi. Sometimes one receives more than one parchi from different sources. If you ignore the parchi, you are threatened with death or kidnapping of your near one. If you still ignore it, the kidnapping takes place or you are killed. More recently failure to comply results in a hand grande being thrown at your shop. As a result of this, small businesses belonging to those communities that were in a minority in certain neighbourhoods have moved to areas where their ethnic population lives. This is a process of ethnic cleansing and helps in determining election results.
  • Lyari gangs also took and take bhatta. They had conflicts over it. Rahman brought the gangs together. As a result, there was comparative peace in Lyari. After he was killed, the gangs resurfaced. The Aman Committee has tried to bring them under its wing but Lyari has now become politically divided.
  • Earlier in Lyari intercity transporters (passengers) used to come. Their adda was here. The local gangs used to change them bhatta in exchange for protection and use of space. The police had a share in it and so protected this activity.
  • The adda was shifted to to Yousef Goth in 2006 after which the local gangs lost this lucrative access to bhatta. So they started to collect bhatta from the markets of the old town. Here they clashed with MQM supported bhatta extractors.
  • Cargo in the form of fruits, vegetables, Afghan transit trade items, Iranian petrol still come to the old city areas. Bhatta is charged from them and is a source of conflict between different groups.
  • Market adjoining Lyari are a big bhatta market most of it controlled by MQM which is not happy that others should encroach on their presence in this area.
  • Gangs also tax drugs, gambling dens and property transactions. They give no bhatta to the police as they are stronger than them but used to give it 6 to 7 years ago.

2.4 Land and Properties

  • Revenue land and the Goth Abad scheme process is used through bribes and coercion to manipulate land records to an extent where on paper the location of Goths is changed making the actual Goths legally landless. The new settlements created through this process are ethnic in nature and are protected by the ethnic parties and are a part of the turf booty.
  • In certain cases, people who claim to belong to political groups have told the local estate agents that if any property is up for sale, they should have the first right of purchase. Estate agents who have not followed this course have been warned and a few of them killed.
  • Buildings under construction used to pay bribes to the KBCA during construction to get approval for various stages of development. Now they pay the bhatta mafia as well and in an increasing number of cases only the bhatta mafia who “permits” them to violate rules and regulations.
  • In the old town and in all areas where there is a possibility of profits, there is considerable pressure and coercion for house owners to sell their properties to developers. In addition, there has been large scale encroachment on formally and informally developed properties including houses and apartments. Money is asked for vacating them. Settlements of these disputes have been taken to political parties who have charged a fee for settling them. Even a property belonging to the High Court near Khuda-ki-Basti has been encroached upon with help of political parties.
  • Drug and car business money is being invested in this real estate business since it brings the largest profit in the shortest period of time and also increases the political powers of the groups involved in this business. In both businesses fraudulent documentation is used and people are regularly cheated in the process.

3.  Where do we go from here

What is given above are the views expressed by the individuals whose lives have been disrupted by violence. Perhaps there are inaccuracies and misconceptions in them but this does not matter. Public sector and social reform cannot take place unless the causes and repercussions of violence and conflict are understood from the point of view of people who face and react to them. This reform can only be done through the holding of at least 5 to 6 hundred public hearings of various interest groups and on that basis developing broad recommendations which can be fine tuned to create a new governance structure and societal values and to lay the foundations of institutions for providing the people of Karachi (keeping in view that it is also the capital of Sindh) with security, livelihoods, appropriate education, transport and recreation. Since the old institutions have collapsed, it is important to initiate this process. The broad parameters for it, can be discussed.

It is now increasingly acknowledged, both in India and Pakistan, that a major cause for the Partition of India in 1947 was the lack of generosity on the part of the Indian National Congress and a lack of trust on the part of the Muslim League. The same lack of generosity and trust was, to a great extent, responsible for the separation of East Pakistan from Pakistan, the Sri Lankan conflict and the Beirut civil war. It is also behind the failure of the Israelis and Palestinians to come to a settlement on the basis of justice and equity. On the other hand, Mandela was able to prevent a civil war in South Africa because of his immense generosity which led to the creation for trust between two communities that had between them a history of cruelty, hatred, intolerance and violence. The political protagonists in the Karachi conflict must take a lesson from Mandela and rise above their petty turf and election related interests so that a sustainable peace for the city can be achieved. Such a peace cannot be manufactured through administrative tinkering or army action.  

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