Friday, August 6

A murder in Karachi: Caution about leaping to conclusions (UPDATED)

A reader asked it I'd meant to type "lost-cost" loans while I was upbraiding foreign governments for throwing money at Pakistan. It was a typo; I'd meant to type "low-cost loans," but I think it was also a Freudian slip. I'm going to let the typo stand because it's an apt summary of what international development schemes have sown in Pakistan.
The press interpreted the spectacular terrorist attacks in June on two Ahmadi mosques as a sign of escalating violence against Pakistan's minority religious sects. But I pointed to the location of the mosques and in particular the one in Old Town, noted Karachi's white-hot real estate market, and noted that authorities should first inquire into local disputes between businesspeople, real estate speculators, business interests among the city's most powerful politicians, etc. before pinning blame on sectarianism.

On Monday Raza Haider, a lawmaker in Karachi's leading political party (MQM), was gunned down. The assassination was the latest in a string of killings of politicians in Karachi during the past month. Haider's death touched off revenge attacks and wreaked so much havoc in Pakistan's second largest city and the country's business hub that the Pakistani rupee came under further downward pressure. At last count more than 90 people have died in the violence and at least 195 suspects are under arrest.

The killings point to sectarian fault lines in the ethnically-diverse city but an AP report on Haider's death sounded a cautionary note:
[Karachi] has long been plagued by political violence between supporters of rival parties that draw votes from different ethnic groups in the city of 16 million people. Their supporters are accused of running protection rackets and illegally seizing land, muddying the reasons for the bloodshed.
Sharfuddin Memon, the head of the Citizens' Police Liaison Committee, speculated the killing of Haider and others may be related to a government operation against so-called "land mafias," which illegally occupy commercially valuable land often allegedly with the backing of political parties.

"The assassination and the ensuing killing have diverted the government focus from that operation," said Memon. "And this mafia, it is not operating in isolation, there are elements in the civil administration who are in connivance with them."
This is not to discount the seriousness of ethic and religious strife; Haider's party has been very outspoken in their criticism of the "Talibanization" of Karachi since large numbers of Pashtuns from Taliban areas flooded into the city. And it could well be that Haider's murder was carried out by a Taliban terrorist group.

But Pakistan is not only the 'land of the generals;' it is also the land of 'mafias' -- land mafia, transportation mafia, water mafia, you name it mafia. Everything of any great value is controlled by gangs with connections to the military and civilian government officials. That needs to be kept in mind when assessing reports of terrorism in Pakistan.

One also has to keep the mafias in mind when taking in accounts of Pakistan's police and soldiers slain in the government's war on terrorists. As the AP report suggested, the true situation can be murky in many cases.

If Haider was one of the good guys I'm sorry for his death but in any event his murder and the events that followed in Karachi should scare a little sense into Saudi Arabia, Beijing, NATO governments, and the United Nations. Stop throwing aid at Pakistan; stop throwing lost-cost loans at the government; stop being an enabler, stop lying.

During the days of Eliot Ness, gang warfare in Chicago was called gang warfare, even though the murder carried out by the gangs against any honest cop, judge, journalist, or politician who challenged them could also be described as terrorism.

It's now time to call a spade a spade in Pakistan. Start talking straight to Pakistan's regime, if any government on this planet even knows the meaning of the concept any longer. Millions of lives hang in the balance. Granted, the regimes that have done the most to enable Pakistan's criminals couldn't care less about those millions. So it's up to the taxpayers in the democracies that are helping the regime rape its country's poor, decimate what exists of its middle class, and wreak bloodshed on innocents in Afghanistan and India, to call out their own governments over the matter of Pakistan's gangsterism.

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