Pakistani leaders often project Jammu & Kashmir as Pakistan’s jugular vein in justification of their supporting jihadi terrorist groups against India in an attempt to change the status quo in J&K. It is not.
2. Karachi is Pakistan’s jugular vein. It is the economic capital of Pakistan contributing a substantial part of Pakistan’s industrial production and tax revenue. It has Pakistan’s only functioning international port. The Gwadar port, on the Mekran coast of Balochistan, constructed with Chinese assistance and commissioned three years ago, has so far failed to come up to expectations as an alternative to Karachi as an international port due to the continuing Baloch freedom struggle and the inability of the Pakistani authorities to develop the subsidiary infrastructure to connect Gwadar with the other economic centres of Pakistan, particularly in Punjab.
3. Karachi is also of strategic significance not only to Pakistan, but also to the NATO troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is still Pakistan’s most important naval base. Gwadar is being developed as an alternate naval base to reduce the vulnerability of the Pakistan Navy in Karachi, but it is estimated that it will take another five to eight years before Gwadar as a naval base starts functioning in a satisfactory manner.
4. Karachi’s importance to the NATO forces in Afghanistan arises from the fact that the NATO continues to be dependent in a large measure on Karachi for providing logistic supplies to its forces in Afghanistan. While the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has been able to frequently disrupt the movement by road of these supplies across the Pashtun tribal belt, it has not so far succeeded in disrupting the landing of these supplies from ships in Karachi and their onward movement till they reach the tribal belt. This would show that security continues to be tight and satisfactory in the Karachi port itself as well as on the road axis from Karachi through which these supplies initially move before reaching the Pashtun tribal belt,
5. The TTP’s oft-reported plans to disrupt the unloading of the supplies at the Karachi port and their initial onward movement have not succeeded so far because it has not been able to build up local support in the large Pashtun community in Karachi, which is believed to have more Pashtuns than Peshawar, the capital of the Pashtun majority North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).The road transport economy of Karachi is largely in the hands of the local Pashtun businessmen, who own most of the truck fleets operating in the area and come foreward to help the NATO forces in maintaining their logistic supplies despite frequent attacks by the TTP as the convoys move through the Pashtun tribal areas in the NWFP and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
6. Despite frequent allegations by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the Mohajir organization headed by Mr.Altaf Hussain, living in political exile in the UK, about the increasing Talibanisation of Karachi, there is no reliable evidence to show that the TTP has been able to develop a foothold in Karachi. The Pashtuns of Karachi still largely support the secular Awami National Party (ANP), which is strongly opposed to the TTP.
7. The renewed wave of violence in Karachi in recent weeks is not due to the ingress of the TTP into the city. It is due to two of the three old animosities, which have always made Karachi the most violent city of Pakistan. These three animosities are--- the Mohajirs vs the Sindhis, the Mohajirs vs the Pashtuns, and the Punjabi Sunnis vs the Mohajir Shias. After Pakistan became independent in 1947, the Mohajirs, who are the migrants from India and their descendents, replaced the Sindhis, the sons of the soil, as the largest ethnic group in Karachi. The resulting tensions between the Mohajirs and the Sindhis were exploited by the Zia-ul-Haq military regime to crush the Sindhi nationalist movement and to counter the influence of the Pakistan People’s Party. The Mohajir-Sindhi animosity, which led to a large number of violent incidents in the 1980s and the early 1990s, has since come down. The PPP and the MQM coming together in a coalition government in the Sindh province has contributed to the dilution of this animosity.
8. The Mohajir-Pashtun animosity was a bye-product of Zia’s policy of encouraging a large number of Pashtuns to migrate to Karachi in order to keep the Mohajirs as well as the Sindhis under control. Zia’s rule was marked by large street clashes between the Mohajirs and the Pashtuns, both of whom are migrants to Karachi----the Mohajirs from India and the Pashtuns from the NWFP and the FATA. Despite the ANP, which commands the political support of large sections of the Karachi Pashtuns, being part of the ruling coalition in Sindh, the animosity between the Mohajirs and the Pashtuns has acquired a new virulence in recent months due to the ill-advised attempts of the MQM to reduce the political influence of the ANP in Karachi.
9. The MQM will never be able to replace the ANP’s influence in the Pashtun community. By seeking to undermine the ANP in Karachi, it will be only facilitating the Talibanisation of the Pashtuns of Karachi. The TTP will be the ultimate beneficiary of the increasing animosity between the Mohajirs and the Pashtuns.
10. The Punjabi Sunni-Mohajir Shia animosity has been an outcome of Zia’s policy of resettling a large number of Punjabi Sunni ex-servicemen in the rural areas of Sindh in order to reduce the rural influence of the Sindhi nationalists. While large sections of the Punjabi Sunni migrants support the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) of Mr.Nawaz Sharif, an increasing number has been supporting anti-Shia extremist organizations such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the mysterious Jundullah about which not much is known.
11. The increasing virulence of the Mohajir-Pashtun and Punjabi Sunni-Mohajir Shia animosities is once again making Karachi a bleeding city . Since the beginning of this year, over 50 persons are reported to have died in Mohajir-Pashtun clashes and about a hundred Shias have been killed in attacks on Shia religious gatherings by Sunni extremists.
12.If the increasing violence in Karachi is not controlled in time, it will further damage an already weak Pakistani economy, pave the way for the ingress of the Taliban into the city and create additional problems for maintaining the logistic supplies to the NATO troops in Afghanistan. There have been unconfirmed reports that the US has already started examining the feasibility of developing Gwadar as a fall-back option to bring logistic supplies by sea and transporting them by road to Afghanistan in order to reduce its dependence on Karachi. Even if these reports are correct, it will be some years before this idea could be given a concrete shape. Till then, law and order has to be maintained in Karachi and the efforts of the TTP to gain a foothold there thwarted.
13. Despite the deteriorating situation in Karachi, one has the impression that neither the federal Government of President Asif Ali Zardari nor the Pakistan Army nor the US-led NATO forces is paying serious attention to the important task of restoring law and order in Karachi. One sees a disturbing policy of drift which could prove dangerous. The importance of Karachi for the success of the US “war” against the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda has hardly been given any prominence in the discussions in Washington DC on Af-Pak policy options. ( 7-2-10)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )