The battle of Karachi

It’s the anniversary of the 1857 uprising after all

Altaf Hussain’s Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) party rules the streets of Karachi. It also runs the provincial government of Sindh province for Gen Musharraf. Its hold over Karachi is such that it does not really need to throw in its lot with Gen Musharraf as he fights his own citizens. That it has done so—and in such a brazen manner—suggests that it has hopes or promises of being part of the ruling establishment beyond the scheduled elections later this year.

For the time being though, it appears that it has badly miscalculated. Last week it forced cable operators off the air in order to prevent them from broadcasting live scenes of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry’s rally in Lahore. Yesterday, it ensured that key roads and thoroughfares of Karachi were blocked, using trucks and vehicles to prevent the flow of traffic. Unknown gunmen shot at the residence of a leading lawyer representing the Chief Justice in his legal battle against the Musharraf regime. The official authorities, who too take orders from the MQM, did what they could to ensure that pro-Chief Justice activists and ordinary people were intimidated, while the MQM went about holding its own rally.

And today, MQM marksmen shot at the crowds. Fifteen people have died and scores injured over the last several hours. And Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has not even made it out of the airport yet—thanks to the thug-police joint blockade of the streets.

Musharraf—who has used the official government apparatus to bus in rent-a-crowds to Islamabad to hold a rally of his own—has called an emergency meeting. Unless the Chief Justice backs down—and changes his plans of addressing a rally in Karachi—this situation will soon develop into what the general needs to impose martial law.

Since justifying an emergency on account of the real crises is not feasible, the Musharraf regime will need engineered ones…The public rallies in support of the Chief Justice could be made to turn violent, providing the government a pretext to ban them in the interest of public order. [Emergency case/The Acorn]

There’s a battle on in Karachi. The Chief Justice is unlikely to stand down. (Update: he has returned to Islamabad). The thugs have been given a free rein. The army is likely to be called in to restore order. Gen Musharraf knows that if he loses this battle, he is quite likely to lose the war. Indians may be the ones marking the anniversary popular uprising of 1857. Pakistanis are enacting it.

Related Link: Cable TV networks started going off the air. But Karachi bloggers are using Twitter to provide live updates of events. Metroblogging Karachi is another site with several first person accounts of the battle; and this discussion in its immediate aftermath.

4 thoughts on “The battle of Karachi”

  1. Nitin: Its hold over Karachi is such that it does not really need to throw in its lot with Gen Musharraf as he fights his own citizens.

    Not true. If Benazir cuts her deal with the General, the MQM loses out big time – Benazir’s roots and power stem from Sindh in general, and Karachi in particular. But you’re right that Altaf Hussain is playing with fire here. He’s obviously following the Bush Doctrine (“with us or against us”) rather than the Powell Doctrine (“1. Don’t go to war. 2. If you must, pick the winning side. 3. Make sure that side wins.”)

  2. Nitin: sorry for the 2nd post. But you’re dead right about Mush wanting to manufacture a crisis. He’s already mewling about both “no emergency” and having emergency meetings with Shaukat Aziz. This commando ain’t going down without taking a lot of people down with him …

  3. Libertarian,

    I find it difficult to believe that Altaf Hussain thinks that whatever he does can substitute for a Musharraf-Benazir deal. But he may be nursing hopes of continuing in the current arrangement (MQM in Sindh, PML-Q in Punjab) beyond…if so, can’t say he’s as smart as he’s made out to be.

  4. Nitin,
    Was basing my opinion on onlooker’s assessment of why MQM would do something as crazy as this. Now with 30 dead and counting, Mush may have the facade he needs for real martial law instead of de fact martial law. For their “help”, Mush must have cut a deal with them. Altaf Hussain may not be the sharpest tool in the shed after all.

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