Hobson’s choice


Unlike the norm, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s latest take on the Karachi law and order situation is absolutely clear and sharply focused – something which comes as a stunning shock to the MQM leadership.

He was absolutely clear that the Rangers-led operation should continue. “We shall not abandon the operation without producing positive results. Dismantle the militant wings of all political parties,” he told the apex committee.

Obviously the MQM’s local leadership was disappointed, with Farooq Sattar complaining “the prime minister left Karachi without answering our questions.” The MQM had the hope, believably kept alive by Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s visit to Nine-Zero a day before, that its demand for a monitoring committee, and transparency on issues of ‘extrajudicial killings’ and forced disappearances would be met by the prime minister.

But that was not to be – something must have happened between the Maulana’s visit and the prime minister’s arrival in Karachi that negatively impacted the prime minister’s mind, shattering the MQM hope. Maybe, it was the murderous attempt on the life of MQM MNA Rashid Godil during that one-day interregnum that affected the prime minister’s take on the Karachi situation and forced his assertive stand against militant wings of political parties. Farooq Sattar believes implementation of MQM-minus-Altaf formula is in progress. Indeed, there are wheels within wheels. The MQM’s travails don’t end here; it is trapped in a blind alley.

Should the MQM members return to the elected house empty-handed, the party leadership is apparently confronted with a Hobson’s choice, but for a political entity that the MQM certainly is, this is not the end of the game. Politics is an art of the possible. It should return to the elected houses and meanwhile prepare for the local government elections.

Accepted, the question what options the MQM has is now more or less settled. The prime minister has lobbed the ball back in the party’s court. But his visit to Karachi and his interlocution with other players in the game; namely, the law-enforcing and intelligence agencies including the Rangers and police, the Sindh government and the judiciary – do identify quite a few other daunting challenges also. One: while monitoring of the operation in Karachi too is being done by the Rangers’ high-ups, it is only just and fair that it is also transparent and impartial in the eyes of independent observers. It should be kept in mind that for socio-political peace to be permanent and lasting it must come naturally, and is not the kind of calm that obtains in the eye of the storm. Two: there are no two opinions about the lingering inability of courts to punish alleged criminals in the absence of matching law and proper investigation and prosecution. That one in every four suspects gets bail on very first hearing is a factual statement that has earned a new credence from the Rangers’ chief. But can courts of law punish the accused in the absence of relevant law? The truth is that our criminal justice system is a relic of our colonial system, and barring minor tinkering, retains its originality which is not in harmony with circumstances almost a century down the road. Now, that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has promised to look into this aspect of criminal justice, it would hopefully be done soon. After all, to every emergency measure that the Rangers operation in Karachi is, there is a sunset clause, spoken or unspoken. Three: there is logic to Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah’s claim that the FIA and NAB interfere in the working of the Sindh government as they take action against its functionaries without bringing it to the knowledge of concerned authorities of the provincial government. The argument that ends justify the means makes no sense unless the applied means are justifiable under the law of the land. Both the prime minister and the interior minister promised the chief minister to ‘resolve the matter’, and we will wait to see how soon it is done.