Editorial - The language of violence - Monday, March 28, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=38610&Cat=8

Karachi is riddled with fresh wounds and is bleeding profusely. The loss of life is on so enormous a scale it is frightening even by the city’s own standards where violent deaths are common. According to a tally based on reports this newspaper carried, at least 140 people have lost their lives in the ongoing wave of political and ethnic violence over the past fortnight. The victims include activists of various political parties. What is more worrisome is that the city is witnessing new cycles of violence reflective of reluctance on the part of the coalition partners – the MQM, the ANP and the PPP – to accept and adapt themselves to changes that are quietly taking place and are bound to change the political landscape of this home to around 18 million people. This explains why the understanding reached between the MQM and the PPP that was announced with much fanfare at a press conference at the Governor House earlier this month, has failed to prevent targeted killings in Karachi. We have yet to see a four-member committee – comprising two members each of the Muttahida and the People’s Party and formed at the behest of President Zardari after days of reconciliatory talks - take any concrete measures in this respect. This has allowed murder with impunity.

The implications of the government’s failure to stop the bloodshed have already started showing. Large neighbourhoods are beginning to turn into ethnic ghettos as common citizens with no political affiliations whatsoever are targeted by rival groups. Attacks on buses carrying passengers apparently belonging to the Urdu-speaking community have grown increasingly frequent in Pakhtun-dominated areas. Likewise, ordinary Pakhtuns, including labourers, fruit and vegetable vendors and drivers have been targeted in areas populated mostly by Urdu-speaking people. A newspaper report recently quoted an unidentified senior health official of the Sindh government as saying that victims of targeted killings and patients from a certain ethnic background are not taken to hospitals whose staff are believed to be from the rival ethnic group. That people now prefer dying to being taken to such hospitals indicates the degree to which ethnic hatred has been allowed to permeate what was once the ‘melting pot’ of the country. If this terrible trend is not arrested soon, it has the potential to paralyse commercial activity that makes Karachi the financial lifeline of the country. Also, counter hand grenade attacks on offices of the MQM and the now banned People’s Aman Committee prove there are criminals out there who have more lethal weapons than Kalashnikovs and TTs.

Can we expect an early end to this madness? Things on the ground suggest that citizens are likely to suffer more of the same in the coming months. Unable to share in a civilised manner the biggest financial pie that this city is, the coalition partners cannot afford to sever links between their politics and the extortion, land and drug mafias. Consider this: the MQM is busy mainstreaming itself in other parts of the country, especially Punjab, and cannot lose sight of the ‘bigger picture’ ahead of the next general election (it has lost around 65 activists since January this year but continues to cling to power despite threatening several times to quit the government); the PPP spearheaded by its home minister in Sindh is trying to venture out of Lyari and gain ground in Bin Qasim and Malir towns with the help of the banned People’s Aman Committee; and the ANP is striving hard to learn to speak the language of violence so it does not lag behind its rivals.

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