Tragedy, farce, comedy


We can all cry oceans for Karachi and it still wouldn’t be enough to mourn the state of affairs this city of the Quaid has been forced to exist in. Its political existence for many years has been veering between tragedy and farce, but of late comedy and hopelessness too have been added to the marvel it has become.

Take its politics first. We all know that the change of political guard is primarily a tactic to divert attention from the growing problems between the establishment and Asif Ali Zardari’s core group entrusted with the task of wielding real power from behind the curtains. And yet the song and dance around the arrival of the new chief minister, Murad Ali Shah, has been so detailed that you can be easily mislead into believing that from now on Sindh will be a different province altogether.

Chief Minister Murad is young and dynamic. He is foreign educated and knows the art of saying the right things to a statement-craving media – quite unlike the lost soul that Qaim Ali Shah had become long ago even as he lingered on in this crucial office for endless years. But the new man is not a free man, disentangled from the basic requirement of stonewalling everything that can potentially challenge the power and privilege of the PPP chairman, who, in self-exile, is just as powerful as he was when he occupied the presidency.

In fact as the tug of war between the establishment and the PPP leaders moves into the next gear, the chief minister will be facing more egregious demands from his selectors than Qaim Ali Shah did.

He will make the right kind of noises about symbolic changes in governance: he will be allowed to have a new team, and be able to field a team that can create the impression that things have really changed after Qaim Ali Shah’s do-nothing-except-sleep-over-everything government. However, there is little that is there for him to achieve when it comes to hardcore power politics of the province, whose hub is Karachi and whose crux is the nexus between mindboggling corruption and political capture by a wily elite.

And that would not be surprising for CM Murad. In fact there is every reason to believe that he is fully aware of the red lines drawn around his chief ministership and has willingly signed on the arrangement. This is so because, as a former finance minister and a key figure in talks involving the Rangers and the Karachi corps commander, he understands what the issues really are and how high the stakes around these issues. He shall not betray the confidence that Zardari has reposed in him. He cannot afford to. Not in the present circumstances.

In fact he has to prove that he is a far smarter and tenacious devotee of the Z-temple than his predecessor. And that is quite tragic from the point of view of those in the establishment who had thought that undoing the ZPP would be easier if only the old guard could make way for a slightly more reasonable lot at the helm of affairs.

What is farcical? The MQM saga. Just when we being to think that we have seen it all, this infinite soap opera pops up a new dimension. Working for RAW, targeted killing, mass murder, foreign funding, disintegration of the state, destruction of the economy, bankrolling national terrorism, mowing down law enforcers, illegal weapons smuggling – you name it and the charge is there, slapped on the face of the party leadership. From death-cell videos to blanket bans on speeches to office raids to netting top leaders and pushing them into jails, to splinter groups – there isn’t a single rough end of the multi-headed stick that has not been administered to the party.

There are many who legitimately believe that the MQM leaders actually asked for it, and even deserve it. That however isn’t the point. The point is that this almighty establishment with all the resources at its command only had to dismantle what it had itself built over the years, but now this seemingly easy job has become a splitting headache. The MQM has won every single election since its supposed dismantling began two years ago and has expanded its political clout at the grassroots. A diminishing political entity is also an expanding political reality – now that is bizarre, nay, farcical.

What is comical is the way attempts are being made to somehow make sure that something – anything – sticks so bad on the MQM that it gets completely demolished at the top. There is also this anxious wait about the final news about Altaf Hussain from London. When will he go? Why doesn’t he go? Alongside these queries from the prayer mat, there is this clumsy and desperate – clumsy because it is desperate – effort to dig out old cases and get them revived.

The May 12 confessions of Wasim Akhtar, which he later on denied he ever made, are part of this thoughtless lunge for the scruff of the MQM’s neck. Not that the party’s leadership is innocent of the charge of hurling the city into a virtual bloodbath. At different levels most of them were in on it.

Mustafa Kamal was the biggest defender of all that happened on the 12th of May. In fact he was Altaf Hussain’s most deployed person in Karachi, and justified everything that the MQM did that day. So there is a lot of blame that can be pinned down on many people. But to reduce that day’s sad events to one man’s confessions (which he says he did not make) and then turning on the media hype for a day believing that a case has been built is stuff of legendary comics.

The more so since the real architect of May 12, General Pervez Musharraf and his entire cabinet of political and non-political advisers, is considered to be off-limits for any investigation or criminal prosecution. This is laughable also because the whole world knows how events unfolded on that day and whose decision it was to ensure that the then deposed chief justice of Pakistan along with his supporters were allowed no space on the streets of Karachi.

It is there on TV footage, it is there in personal testimonies, it is there in intelligence records, it is there everywhere for everyone to see and yet we were told (for a day at least) that Wasim Akhtar singlehandedly managed the carnage from start to finish.

Hopelessness about Karachi’s future is born out of such developments, which are either tragic or farcical or comical in a sick sense or all three. The place has been reduced to a laboratory for all sorts of failed experiments and for inventing transparent pretensions that things are getting better and that there is a game-plan that is being implemented with solid gains in the end.

The fact of these disturbing matters in Karachi is that there is no game-plan, there is no end-state, and there is no strategy in place to reach anywhere. It is primarily a groping in the dark exercise with some over-polished statistics about improved law and order displayed at a distance to ensure that gloom and doom does not take over national senses completely. Otherwise the great idea of re-engineering Sindh’s urban and rural politics is pretty much dead. Those who had conceived it may not admit its demise, nor will they ever announce it but it has run out of all oxygen.

The only thing that can get it back to some form of life is the possibility of Altaf Hussain suddenly disappearing from the scene through divine or British intervention. Otherwise the plan has come unplugged – yet another reminder that the desire to compress political change into timeframes worked out in secret meetings is defeated the moment it meets reality.