Academic Articles

Karachi, violence and democracy

Karachi has been marked by violence for past three decades, largely due to ethnic tensions. But those have since morphed into political, economic and social enterprises, which are constantly battling for power.  Possibility of violence is omnipresent, and like any enterprise, violence is bad for business. What is good for these violent enterprises is the presence of threat of violence. And we see these bursts of violence, just to express such a threat that is real to their adherents and enemies. But all parties know, a perpetual violence is in no one’s interest, and no one can win really such a war. Problem then always is who blinks first.

There are two solutions to this problem, short term and long term. Short term is to ensure high security personal presence, strict regulations such as imposition of curfews and at the same time trying for that uneasy peace to re-emerge again, through dialogue. All this is being done already.

Long-term the solution is Democracy and constitutionalism. It is then disheartening to see that Sindh Government is doing what either a knee jerk response, or may be a political manoeuvre. If it is latter, then it’s not curtains as yet, but it’s stated that procedure must be done properly.

Firstly the local government system is an anathema to all undemocratic forces that in itself makes it a system to have. It can act as a nursery for forming of newer political leaders, a ground to exhibit political mettle and it gives opposition forces a stake in system and a way to show their competence. One of the most powerful arguments made against PML-N, whenever it tries to point to government failures is their own record in Punjab. Most stop short then, others talk about saasti roti, failing to mention how that has spiraled the cost out of control. As they say it’s easier said than done, Local Government is a stage for people to show that they can do what they claim.

It allows for transferring of power as well as responsibility to local administrators. A system of judicial review (provincial) parliamentary scrutiny by committees and populous democratic scrutiny (through short tenures and periodic elections, say every 2 or 3 years). Latter also helps to create democratic sensibilities & constant elections create sense of empowerment. This sort of thinking is followed in China, where only local government elections are based on pluralist democracy. Training ground for Chinese before Communist party gives way to pluralist system.
Provincial interior minister should be then be limited to making policy decisions that affect the department. This includes, laying out for example agenda & goals, but not directing execution. Execution and responsibility for the same, should lay with police Hierarchy of professionals, & their performance reviewable by parliament & high court.
A separate committee of parliamentarians and senior officers should be responsible for hiring, transfers and Promotions of officers. This committee should always give written account of deliberation & reasons for every decision, and this should be available in public domain. Allowing for local recruitments would also help, as it would reduce the cost of housing that police provides and also it would create a sense of protecting one’s community from criminal influences. A strong feeling that can only come only when one feels one’s dear ones are being affected and must be protected by doing a proper duty.

It is hoped that with such constitutional changes would provide a structure whereby political and administrative competence would help end the capability of violent enterprises, or diminish their destructive appetite. At the base of this system lies an appearance and substance of fairness, which would take away the excuses used for violence, such as victimization.

We can’t overnight end the social inequalities that remain in Karachi and elsewhere in Sindh, but we must firstly build a system that dispenses justice and fairness. Moving from that, we can then move towards engineering social prosperity for the masses. Remaining engulfed in circle of violence only seeks to tarnish the City’s, the Province’s and the Country’s potential of growth; as it takes away valuable resources away from positive activities and contributions. As always, democracy is the answer.


About the author

Sindhyar Talpur


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  • Good job Sindhyar sahab. Good of you to point out that the the threat of violence, but its pathetic and haphazard execution is a constant problem for Karachi’s citizens. And the initial peace is always uneasy, just like it was in the late 90’s. Simultaneously, I hope the shift of the opposition parties goes to implementing local elections as you said, as this allows a space for them to prove or disprove whether they have the capacity to run an administration.

    I am curious about what is the status of elected local governments in the Punjab and what is the PML-N’s stance on it.

    At this point I have to seriously inform the PPP and hope that it listens, that despite reviving the commissionerate system, it would really help the political field if they made a pledge to see democratic input at the local level formalised, preferably through voting.

    I am certainly not asking for the old system to be abandoned but I would think Pakistan’s power structures have to be willing to assimilate new players into it, so that change and progress occur. And for that reason I support local elected governments in urban and rural areas.

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