Who has Greater Will and Resolve in controlling Karachi Disturbances: Dictators vs Civilian Governments

To understand the context of this post, please read At What Cost! Why Compute Economic Costs of Faulty Political Decisions

At What Cost? Costs of perceived strictness of military dictatorships vs the reality of civilian governments in Pakistan.
This post studies the case of Karachi disturbances and rise of MQM from 1980 and the relationships of various governments with MQM. It is interesting to note that unlike military dictators with cozy relationships with MQM, civilian governments have been more focused and have shown greater political will and resolve in dealing with the disturbances. The poor dictators always seem to be busy trying to buy legitimacy through political wheeling and dealing. There had been five major operations in Karachi during this period interestingly enough every one of these operations were conducted during the civilian governments. In contrast, during the two dictatorial regimes of General Zia and General Musharraf, MQM was given a free hand to fashion the situation of Karachi as they pleased. In both of these regimes, MQM continued to amass more and more power, and acquired greater and greater control while the civilian and military agencies acting more like bystanders. Although the rangers had been deployed since late 1980s, but they seem to had only been “operational” only during the civilian regimes.

[Work in Process]

Military Dictators Resolve to Deal with Karachi Issue

General Ziaul Haq’s reign: 1977-88

General Zia’s is a crucial time whence Karachi’s Mohajir’s were convinced or obtained the realization that their existence as Pakistanis is considered as an aberration as they were not son-of-the-soil and would only be given importance if they assert their separate identity at equal par with the four nationalities and four provinces. Their major grievances included an unlimited extension granted to quota system. The fact that only in Sindh was there the distinction between the urban vs rural quota which was perceived as Karachi, Hyderabad and Mirpurkhas related distinction where mohajirs were in majority. Gradual movement of head offices of many government organizations including CBR, Navy to Islamabad even though there is no port there, was perceived as government having no vote of confidence and wanted to move the jobs up country. Advent of Jehad in Afghanistan created a major migration to Karachi with the increase in arms and drugs and the associated problems of lawlessness. With no civic governments and all decision making concentrating in the center, the rapid increase in population in Karachi created problems that were not promptly addressed. One such problem was that of transport mafia. The ruthless transport mafia triggered the meteoric rise of MQM through the violence that erupted after a minibus ran over a girl college student at a bus stop giving rise to three days of torching of buses and minibuses. The resulting violence became a mohajir-pashtun violence that then created other killing sprees that are known as Sohrab Goth violence, Aligarh Colony and pukka qila (Hyderabad) ethnic war like conflicts. This was the rise of Altaf Husain and the militancy of MQM.

General Zia’s strategist facilitated the rise of power of MQM as a vehicle to counter the challenge to dictatorial legitimacy which was being mounted by MRD movement and the PPP resistence. MQM was also propped as a counter weight to the increase in the protests of the student wing of JI. Thus MQM was used by General Zia to divide the opposition and keep them unbalanced.

The rise of MQM in Karachi also coincides with the strong clampdown on MRD and the banning of the student unions and the labor unions. These two political platforms where much of the rising passions could have been dissipated were banned resulting in a cauldron that erupted with Bushra Zaidi’s killing in the road accident. [3] This was all done to prolong in the quest of legitimacy for a dictatorial regime.

The MQM-Pushtun conflict soon got transferred to MQM-Punjabi confrontation in model and Faisal Colony. This then became MQM-Sindhi confrontation and later changed into MQM-PPP conflict.

General Musharraf’s reign: 1999-2008

  • General Musharraf Dr Ishrat ul Ibad of MQM as Governor of Sindh, who has now turned out to be the longest serving governor. This shows that the establishment has been comfortable with the role being played by MQM during the length of his tenure. 
  • General Musharraf cultivated relationship with MQM to prop and prolong his rule. His notorious NRO laundered the crimes of over 10,000 criminals. There were several beneficiaries of NRO. MQM and PPP beneficiaries were most in number.
  • Criminals were hired in the police and other public organizations. 
  • Land grabbing mafia started ruling the rot. 
  • MQM became the king maker in the game of government formations. 
  • The peak of Gen Musharraf-MQM partnership was the 12 May 2007 violence that led to the killing of 40+ people during the visit of the deposed Chief Justice.
  • During his rule the gangsters of Layari became famous and Lyari became a no-go area where even the writ of the Rangers was not there. 
  • Kidnapping for ransom, bhatta khori, purchi mafia ruled the city. These mafias did not discriminate the civilians across ethnic lines. Each and every citizen of Karachi became a target. 
  • Armed gangs of dacoits roamed the city. Many houses were hit several times. Not a single street of Karachi was left which did not recount of stories of armed hold ups and dacoits. 
  • Not a single family was spared. Everyone could recount at least one if not many more stories of being robbed at gun point on the road.
  • Car jackings became the order of day. Mobile snatching became the famous passtime of the youth. 
  • It was reputed that a hitman can be hired for as little as Rs 10,000. A motorcycle and a gun could be rented for a couple of thousands of rupees for a few hours. Anyone could rent out the gun and the motorcyle for a few hours, commit the crime and return the gun and the motorcyle. 
  • Thousands of CCTV cameras installed and the monitoring system installed was being used for conducting crime rather than for controlling crime. 
  • Agencies simply stood by while these gangs marauders roamed the cities. 
  • CPLC became expert in solving the kidnapping for ransom cases. It was reputed that the biggest victory was recovery of the kidnapped person alive after paying off the ransom. 
  • Businessman simply escaped to upper country and those who could afford simply immigrated to foreign countries with their entire wealth after selling off their factories and belongings. 
  • NRB allowed for the local bodies to become stronger. But, the police commission reforms were never implemented that could have controlled the excesses. 
All of this happened while the primary strategy of the dictator was trying to extend his rule for ever. 

See also

Civilian Resolve to Deal with Karachi Issue

     Benazair Bhutto’s First: BB1 1988-90 (20 months)

    Rangers were first deployed to counter the MQM-PPP violence involving torture. Some kind of a truce was obtained by the Generals in this operation.

    Nawaz Sharif’s First stint: NS1: 1990-93 (2 years)

    MQM (H) was the political engineering to counter the weigth of MQM. An operation was launched and many people went into hiding. AH left the country. Leaders like Azeem Tariq were killed.

    Benazir Bhutto’s Second Stint:

    Famous Naseerullah Babar, Interior Minister of BB who used to storm the roads at night and claimed that the sack of his size had not yet been sewen in an apparent challenge to MQM’s perceived killing of the opponents and throwing them in sacks.

    Nawaz Sharif’s Second Stint: NS2: 1997-99; 2.5 yrs

    Second operation launched. 

    Nawaz Sharif’s Third Stint: NS3: 2013-  ; 3+years

    The current operation through which at this time the AH’s future is hanging in balance.

    See also:


    See other posts related to Pakistan History 101: 


    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *