Not by force alone
BY I. A . R E H M A N | 7/16/2015

Karachi needs a local government of a higher level of efficiency and honesty that any other part of Sindh

THE ongoing debate on the Rangers` mandate in Karachi and its time frame is apparently missing the central issue, namely, a mega metropolitan city`s need for a democratic, efficient and corruption-free civic administration.

There can be no two opinions on the relief afforded to the citizens of Karachi, especially its large industrial/business community, by the Rangers` crackdown on terrorists and criminal gangs. A perceptible decline in street crime, including kidnapping for ransom and extortion, is conceded by all parties. But there is a limit to which use of force alone can eradicate lawlessness in a metropolis, to say nothing of its need for peace and order that could allow its citizens an environment conducive to the flowering of their genius.

The main issue in Karachi is its need for a political understanding between the provincial government and the city`s representatives on the one hand and among the latter`s various ethnic groups on the other.

The Sindh government has to realise and the sooner the better that Karachi cannot be treated as a combination of a few districts no different than other administrative units. By virtue of its size, its large pool of fairly developed human resources, and the citizens` unexceptionable aspiration for self-management, Karachi needs a local government of a higher level of strength, efficiency and honesty than any other part of the province.

Perhaps Karachi needs a system of municipal administration that interferes as little as possible with the citizens` efforts to move forward socially as well as economically. What this calls for is the adoption of a scheme of local government that ensures fair accommodation to both the legitimate interests of the provincial authority and the rights of the metropolitan population.

Maintenance of peace and tranquillity will always be a priority issue in Karachi because lawlessness will not only affect economic activity it will also severely undermine public acceptance of democratic governance. While the services of paramilitary and military forces should be available to city authorities to deal with extraordinary crises, an efficient police alone can guarantee the citizens due security and effective prosecution of offenders.

It is to be regretted that the respite offered by the grant of special powers to the Rangers has not been used to meet Karachi`s two foremost needs deweaponisation of society and creation of an urban police that relies more on intellect and technology than brute force. A crash programme to make Karachi weapon-free must not be delayed, otherwise the arms race between gangsters and law-enforcement agencies will continue to blight the life of ordinary citizens. At the same time, due priority must be given to removal of the police`s shortage of hands and technological devices and the creation of modern training facilities.

Far more important is Karachi`s need for justice and equity in matters of governance. Those having grievances against the MQM ought to realise the futility of eliminating it through force or legal stratagems. The current offensive against the party is unlikely to lead to its liquidation; it could even stop the fissiparous trends within the organisation.

The MQM too must come down from the pedestal of righteousness and abandon its claim to monopoly of power in the city. The demographic changes taking place over the years demand new patterns of power sharing and a fair distribution of electoral rewards.

For this, the leaders of the various communities and groups must sit across the table and find agreed answers to their grievances, whether they relate to forcible possession of goths, gerrymandering in delimitation of constituencies (for local to national elections), declaration of no-go areas, or discrimination on the basis of belief, race or language.

One aspect of the disorder in Karachi that rarely receives attention is the difficulty a common citizen faces in getting things done legally and within a reasonable amount of time. This is the root cause of the extortion rackets. Countless people are forced to pay protection money to changing faces of agents and intermediaries simply because the administration cannot meet their legitimate demands for civic amenities, permits and licences.

Notice must also be taken of the growing disparity between the rich and the poor. The competition between bigger estate developers is assuming scandalous proportions. They are gobbling up huge tracts of land and raising standards of luxury to tempt the neo-rich and the living space for the underprivileged is rapidly shrinking. The hovels are multiplying faster than the speed of building high towers. Unless Karachi returns to sense, discipline and equity in urban planning the hotbeds of violence and crime will go on expanding.

The time for a political settlement is now. The Rangers cannot be blamed for not having the answers to all of Karachi`s political and social problems; these matters fall outside their areas of duty and professional training. Nor can they be expected to look after the mega city forever. Indeed, the longer they are kept at the helm of affairs in Karachi the stronger will become the strains on their credibility, efficiency and even integrity.

The adage that indefinite deployment of paramilitary and military forces for tasks meant for civilians or jobs that involve dealing with the public is dangerous for their efficiency and integrity has not been proved wrong in any part of the world. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, this principle was heeded last by Ayub Khan when he withdrew military officers from civilian jobs within a few months of his coup.

There is no reason to believe that the military leaders are not aware of the risks in accepting calls to clean the civilian stables. They should be candid enough to tell the civil arm of the state to learn to carry its cross. In their ability to resist invitations to take up more and more of civilian responsibilities alone lies any hope of Pakistan becoming a properly managed state.•

Published in Dawn