The events of the past two days have been harrowing. Most of us have been glued to television screens following the horrific scenes of gun-battles on the streets of Karachi. The violence that ensued on Saturday was expected by many quarters. What was not expected was the manner in which the law-enforcement authorities absconded responsibility of maintaining law and order in the city. 34 died on May 12. The Daily Times covered the story under the heading “Karachi bleeds, Nation weeps.” Indeed. 7 more died on Sunday as riotous scenes continued to mar the landscape of the city. According to the reports that have poured in, it is pretty evident that the government in Sindh and the Capital was least concerned with stemming the carnage. In fact, indications are to the contrary. I won’t say more on it as this post covers it very thoroughly. But allow me to make some other points.
While Karachi burned, festivities were in progress at the “Istakhaam-e-Pakistan” rally organised by the government in Islamabad. Supporters brought in from all over Punjab danced the bhangra to the beat of the drums – all the while Karachi continued to bleed. As if that was not callous enough, leaders of the ruling coalition could not manage two words of sincere regret and grief over the developments in Karachi. No sir. It was an evening for chest thumping and declaring to the world that the government could also rally support and nay, real support at that. The honourable President kept on saying that yeh hoti hai awaam ki support. It was distasteful. All he could manage on the Karachi carnage was a self-righteous i-told-you-so:
“But what has happened today in Karachi is because of the chief justice who went there ignoring the advice of the government over the issue,” he asserted.
Justifying what he described as his government’s move to counter the opposition-backed chief justice’s campaign of the past few weeks, President Musharraf said it was unfortunate that such a large number of people were killed or maimed in Karachi. But he was quick to hold the opposition parties, and in a way the chief justice, responsible for the violence.
I am thoroughly annoyed at the insensitivity and the indifference that shone through his speech. And from a man too, who never loses an opportunity to reiterate Sab Se Phele Pakistan. Sadly, we now stand at a point where it could be aptly be formulated as Sab Se Phele Musharraf. The crass indifference could not have been more palpable . Musharraf’s insecurity has never been more evident: last week’s Lahore rally had scared the living daylights out of him.
That brings me to the next point I wanted to make. Could the bloodshed in Karachi have been avoided? Probably not and especially so when you consider the antics of the MQM over the past week. But the counter-question needs to be posed: would it not have been in the interests of the nation if the CJ had postponed the visit? Yes, the government was wrong to announce the 12th May rally to counter the CJ. And yes, MQM thugs are primarily responsible for upping the ante and for putting up a bloodbath for the world to see. But it takes two to tango.
I still believe that better sense should have prevailed. I wonder whether the bloodshed would have ceased if the CJ went back to Islamabad earlier in the day instead of waiting till the evening? Or if the opposition parties called it quits and gave up the battle in the interest of the citizens of Karachi? The cynical part of me says no. But doing so would have been an acknowledgment of responsibility and maybe the carnage could have been cut short. For it is a downward spiral in Karachi from this point. And it is the public which will be caught in the cross-fire.
The last point I wanted to make was regarding the impact of live television. Never before has an internal conflict been so “real” and alive. Private television networks have brought the conflict to the living room. I don’t know know, yet, what sort of reaction will spawn from this… or will one at all? But certainly, viewing live shots of street carnage does leave an impact. And especially when they are not being fired in Beirut or Baghdad. And so do shots of a TV channel crew crouching and lying against a cement balcony to escape a continuous barrage of bullets for over 5 hours [#]. Something’s gotta give at the end of the day.
Three days of violence and political turmoil in the City of Light. Prayers are that the situation normalises soon and the hustle bustle of the city returns. But to state the obvious, this conflict is far from over.
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