Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Karachi: After Altaf, the deluge?

Karachi, Pakistan's Economic capital (contributing around 1/4th to national GDP) and South Asia's largest city- more than twice the area of Delhi with more people than Mumbai in city proper (due to lack of recent census, exact numbers may be debatable here), is also  an extremely violent place- no other megacity’s homicide rate comes within 25 per cent of Karachi’s.

Laurent Gayer

 

Laurent Gayer

Ordered Disorder and the Struggle for the City

Laurent Gayer

Laurent Gayer

Ordered Disorder and the Struggle for the City

Laurent Gayer

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As if the current levels of violence are not bad enough, Dr Christophe Jaffrelot argues that
things may get out of hand in near future:

Until recently, The combination of electoral politics and paramilitary techniques helped MQM, retain control over urban Karachi. But growing Pashtun assertiveness has gradually become a major challenge. According to the 1998 census, only 49 per cent of the city population are Urdu-speakers (to whom the Gujaratis, with 8 per cent, must be added to obtain the proportion of mohajirs), whereas Pashto-speakers made up 11.50 per cent, Punjabis 14 per cent, Sindhis 7 per cent and Balochis 4 per cent. But the war in Afghanistan that started in 2001 and the growing instability in Pakistan’s Pashtun belt resulted in the migration of one million people to Karachi, the largest Pashtun city today. The mohajirs felt threatened by these Pashtuns also because of the growing number of Sunni militants and Taliban supporters among them.
 
To resist the Pashtun more effectively, the MQM has further refined its paramilitary style and introduced sophisticated weaponry. This has meant an unprecedented escalation of violence in Karachi. While the previous wave of killings had resulted in 1,742 deaths in 1995 before a quick return to normalcy, the number of casualties has been rising since 2006 to reach the unprecedented number of over 3,200 casualties in 2013, partly because of the tensions generated by the elections. But it is not that Karachi is mired in chaos. As the mixed strategy described above suggests, and as Laurent Gayer has recently shown in his book, Karachi: Ordered Disorder and the Struggle for the City, there is a rationale behind the conduct of the parallel state that the MQM in Karachi has become.

The judicial vulnerability of Hussain, who had been arrested on suspicion of money laundering and who will have to report to the police again in July, may affect this relatively stable brand of instability. Hussain is the one who keeps the MQM united and has no obvious successor. If the party breaks apart, an already volatile atmosphere may spin out of hand — in spite of the ongoing deployment of security forces.




To an outside non-expert, things do look grim for South Asia's largest city or  perhaps I am papering over the stabilising forces of modern economy, self-preservation capacity of local elites/bourgeoisie, spread of PakNationalist brotherhood and the 'spirit' of the port city?