“This is a moment of choice for everybody, for politicians, and for people right the way down through every part of the community.” Peter Hain (British MP from Wales)
Although Hain was talking about the situation in Ireland, the fact of the matter is that if Hain was a MNA from Karachi, he would be expressing the same sentiments about his metropolitan city. At this time, it is the month of Ramadan, when the faithful perform their ordained religious obligations of fasting, praying, and distributing charity and Zakat. This is the month when retailers and suppliers rake in most of their yearly profits and reduce their held up inventory. This is the month when social welfare organizations bombard citizens with pleas for donations and contributions. This is the month where children look forward to new clothes, new shoes, and new gifts on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr, the Muslim day of feast.
Come Ramadan 2011 and Karachi has been transformed into a city where streets have become rivers of blood, where the candles of happiness have been extinguished in hundreds of households, where the citizens, no matter how brave, walk or drive to their places of worship in fear and apprehension, and where there are no signs of security or sanity. This is the city where, instead of religious sermons and religious poetry heard from loudspeakers, one hears the rat-a-tat of gunfire by snipers and even desperadoes brazenly roaming around the city streets and lanes.
There is talk of thousands of policemen, Rangers, and other para-military forces devotedly performing their assigned tasks of maintaining peace and providing security to citizens. This claim is assiduously proclaimed by President Zardari’s Interior Minister Rehman “Baba” Malik as well as by newcomer Sindh Home Minister Manzoor Wassan. Unfortunately, one is a publicity-freak who ensures that he comes up with a new weekly theory, however preposterous, while the other professes to have “dreams” on every subject except how to usher in peace.
The main causes for this bloodshed, for this deteriorating law and order, for this breakdown in Karachi are not something that arose overnight. These are the outcome of the past decade of buildup of brutal power, manipulation, and control by new and old political and religious organizations.
In USA, especially in New York City, there was a time when five Families of Italian-American origin made life hell for the people and the government. In everyday terms they were known as The Mafia. Among themselves, their operations were known as Cosa Nostra, which meant “Our Thing”. They were also referred to as The National Crime Syndicate and today they have an informal set up known as The Commission. The five main Mafia Families are known as the Gambino, Lucchese, Genovese, Bonanno and Colombo Families. They are all independent but nationwide coordination is thru The Commission consisting of the heads of each Family.
These Families have branched out into various legal and illegal activities but one fact still remains. They are hoodlums and they have a penchant for muscle power. They are ethnic based, they deal in drugs, they deal in land grabbing, they deal in extortion, and they have learnt how to influence the political environment. As Mario Puzo’s Godfather Don Corleone would say, “Make an offer you can’t refuse”. The five Families have faced legal challenges and a lot of laws were used to break them but inspite of all social and governmental pressure, the Mafia is still strong, powerful, and can create havoc.
The Karachi of today is also under the control of five Families. They are also primarily ethnic-based, have well-trained militants, display and use arms openly, have been accused of extortion, murders, bombings, and political muscle. Some are major players in drugs supply, land grabbing and encroachments, extortion, and can even make or break the democratically elected government. These five Families are Pakistan People’s Party, Muttahida Quami Movement, Awami National Party, Sunni Tehrik, and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.
The sad fact is that gradually over the past many years all these Families have enhanced their influence over the city and have carved out their own turfs. Three of these Families are basically political parties while the last two are more oriented towards their religious manifestations. They masquerade as religious entities but in effect they too indulge in many illegal operations such as extortion, taking over of mosques, bank robberies, etc. The PPP uses the paraphernalia of a Lyari-based radical organization, euphemistically known as Amn Committee (Peace Committee). This organization has been propped up with official backing of PPP leadership to counter the influence of MQM. The Amn Committee indulges in blatant extortion, gang-wars, drugs, and protection rackets.
The business community is faced with constant threats and demands from all those forces that are on the warpath against one another. The leaders of various markets in Karachi have devised a system where they collect a fixed amount from every shop in a particular market and the money is divided between various extortionists. The government announced the disbandment of the Amn Committee but that was just for public consumption. The Amn Committee is very much active and the chits for extortion are routinely sent to businessmen. The market gossip is that an erstwhile Sindh Home Minister who has a penchant for verbal diarrhea wants to be the Don of Karachi thru this Amn Committee.
The business community has to become strong and fight back. Enough is enough. The task is difficult but when push comes to shove then drastic steps must be taken. The businessmen are tired of being coddled by Rehman Malik. He comes up with his reassuring statements and gets live coverage on the electronic media courtesy the Chamber or the Associations. As always, his bombastic proclamations turn out to be nothing but hot air. Even the police do not take him seriously. One micro example: Few days ago at SITE Association of Industry, the industrialists questioned the procedure of parading alleged criminals by making them wear a hood so that their faces are not seen. Malik assured the meeting that this would be ended immediately. As always, the police hierarchy is all deaf-ears and the old system continues. It is time the business leaders refrain from inviting him at business forums. Business organizations do not need this grotesque publicity.
Businessmen must now have their own armed militia a la the notorious Blackwater of Eric Prince. They should not demand guns for themselves because this is not a doable or advisable step as the soldiers of some of the Families have, according to Malik, latest Israeli guns. Instead, they should obtain the services of counter-terrorism experts who have retired from Pakistan Army to train an elite force. In the short term, retired Army personnel should be hired as mercenaries. Karachi businesses need atleast 300 such commandos. The modus operandi would be that whenever a market or a company receives the demand for extortion, the militia hotline would be informed. The collector would be asked to come and receive the money at a mutually agreed time, and on his arrival he would be caught, hanged upside down, and submitted to third degree torture to extract information from him. Then, gasoline would be poured over him and he should be burned to death. The CD of the whole event would be dispatched to the media, the Supreme Court, and to the Family that sent the collector. This is the pragmatic approach rather than succumbing to pressure from the extortionists and also rather than handing over the collector to the police. All that is needed are four or five such actions and the extortionists would flee the city. The ludicrous step taken by the Sindh government and Malik to “mildly warn” the extortionists to leave the city is proof positive that they have no desire to control this menace.
The other steps that businessmen should take are to compel Karachi Chamber to organize a non-violent, non-cooperation protest where all members would stop depositing their taxes and utilities bills and instead would submit these with pay orders to KCCI so that the government is forced to listen to the cries of the Karachi citizens. At the same time, KCCI must get the top hierarchy of the five Families to come to KCCI where an ultimatum would be issued to all of them to stop their nefarious activities and allow the City to flourish and live in peace. They should also be given a warning to desist from calling protest days and strikes. They should also be told in no uncertain terms that these Families should voluntarily surrender their illegal arms and ammunition, not to the police but to the Pakistan Army. They should also be categorically warned that land grabbing and drugs supplies should end immediately and all such persons within their organizations should be expelled from membership and not provided any political support.
Yes, this is a tall order and as always, the Families will not pay heed. Thus it would then be a desperate call to GHQ and Supreme Court to honor their obligations under the Constitution and help save Pakistan by purging Karachi, the City of Lights, from roguish elements.
As my friend Anwar-ul-Haq, a senior officer of Federal Board of Revenue writes:
In Bastion Ke Baasi Khudaya Teray Supurd
Toofan Uth Rahe Hain Kinaron Ke Saaath Saath
Dono Ki Ik Misaal Hai, Dono Hain Khokhlay
Insan Phat Rahe Hain Gubaaro Ke Saath Saath
Majyd Aziz is a Karachi based Entrepreneur and a senior leader of the business community. He is a former Chairman of SITE Association of Industry, former President of Karachi Chamber of Commerce & Industry, and has held posts on the board various public organizations and companies.