|The writer is a barrister and a public policy graduate from Harvard University firstname.lastname@example.org|
These mafias run empires fed on land-grabbing, drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion, under the patronage of powerful political quarters. There is a campaign to usurp this mega city’s resources so that the mafias can operate with impunity and grip the entire country’s economic jugular vein.
The operation is to be carried out under the aegis of Sindh’s home ministry, by the Sindh police that has been stacked with PPP loyalists over the past two years, with 2,500 new recruitments and 1,266 transfers. This fact alone militates heavily against any naive hope that an operation by the provincial police will be impartial, just or effective. This same police force has in the past been unwilling to take action against killers who roamed the city with impunity.
Najam Sethi, an experienced journalist and analyst, has observed that the MQM will be disproportionately targeted in the police operation. That is putting it mildly. Karachi’s middle-class population fears that history will be repeated, the operation will unleash untold violence against ‘Urdu-speaking’ neighbourhoods.
The ANP is also baying for an operation, lending credence to the belief that the aim is to strike down the MQM, its rival, rather than deweaponisation. Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, a senior federal minister in the ANP, had no qualms in asserting his party’s superior fire power: he warned that Pakhtuns are ‘trained’ from birth in the use of firearms. Bilour betrayed his confidence that deweaponisation would not apply to the ANP, as he threatened that in any violent showdown, the less ‘trained’ MQM would fare very badly.
Such menacing words are well-founded: in early August, MQM MPA Raza Haider was gunned down. His killers were never arrested. Throughout September, killing sprees left scores of innocent, ordinary Karachiites dead on the streets. The bloody climax was reached on October 19 with the Shershah market massacre. Despite numerous eyewitness accounts and documentary proof of extortion, the Lyari gangsters identified as suspects remain untouched by the Sindh police. Furthermore, the representative for Lyari, who happens to be from the PPP, is brash in opposing any police action against the Lyari gang, now as notorious as Al Capone’s mafia was in Chicago.
With such a tableau of violence, hatred and lawlessness imminent, the average Karachiite would probably be better off living in 1920s Chicago, amidst the daily sound of machine gun fire and body counts, extortion and political corruption. At least there was hope of justice from the federal authorities, who pursued organised crime and Al Capone’s multi-million dollar empire of bootlegging, racketeering and extortion. Capone could never be convicted of a single violent crime despite being a legendarily brazen killer.
Yet the federal authorities never gave up and for Chicago’s citizens the story ended well. Al Capone was eventually undone by two things: a US Supreme Court ruling that the illegal income of bootlegging was subject to reporting and hence income tax had to be paid on it; and the tenacity of US tax authorities in prosecuting Capone on multiple charges of income tax evasion. Al Capone, supreme mafia don who got away with murder, several times, went to prison for life — for tax evasion. If only history could repeat itself — in a Chicago-style ending for Karachi.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2010.