Let’s start by being honest about one thing: An increasing part of the country is under martial law. Fata is clearly under martial law. Balochistan is under martial law. And over the weekend the last layer of paint peeled off and revealed that Sindh is for all intents and purposes under martial law, too. Pakistan Rangers writ has been extended, and it will continue to be extended. Governor’s Rule has been ruled out for the time being, but this is merely a formality that allows us to pretend that the obvious de facto reality is actually something else.
This is the point where you are saying, “Yes, but Karachi was out of control! It was taken over by terrorists and mafias and the people were living in constant fear! Something had to be done!” Okay, I am not disagreeing with any of that. Karachi has long had problems including being believed to be the home of many al Qaeda safe houses, an accusation that has only been reinforced with the deaths of al Qaeda terrorists in shoot outs with law enforcement agencies. There is also the widely accepted claim that Mullah Omar died while being cared for in a Karachi hospital, though agencies are less ready to accept that one due to the obvious implications for our claim not to be actively helping the Taliban.
So, yes, something needed to be done in Karachi. But what has been done? Has Army cracked down hard on jihadi networks in Karachi? No. Actually, Pakistan Rangers have raided 90 multiple times and continue arresting, detaining, and threatening MQM leaders and workers (though the party continues to stubbornly hang on to life). Predictably, PPP finds itself in the cross hairs now too with arrest warrants issued for former Prime Minister Gilani, Makhdoom Amin Fahim and others. Chairman Higher Education Council Sindh Dr Asim Hussain has even been charged with terrorism! Is it any coincidence that he is a close confidante of Asif Zardari?
In response, Zardari has accused Nawaz of bringing back politics of revenge from the 1990s, which Pervaiz Rashid has obviously denied. Zardari is no fool, however it is likely that the scenario is much less a PMLN strategy than a GHQ strategy. In elections, it will be PTI that probably gains more from a battered MQM and PPP than Noon-league, and Nawaz may only be spared for the moment because Army’s focus is on Sindh and not Punjab.
This is also where things get very, very dangerous. Aside from the obvious problems with a military taking out targeted operations against political parties in a supposed ‘democracy’, there is the regional issue that is obvious to everyone not wearing khaki coloured lenses. After all, It was the Punjab Home Minister who was killed in a terrorist attack. It was the Punjab Law Minister who is a known associate of the leader of a banned organisation. And yet there has not even been any similar military operations in Punjab. Now let us ask, how well has martial law been greeted in Fata and Balochistan? Sindhis already resent the Punjabi attitude that treats them like illiterate backwards serfs, and now there are boots on the ground that give that tension a visible reality. Army’s heavy handedness has never won over a people whether Pashtun, Baloch, or Bengali. What do they expect to happen in Sindh?