A protest in Lasbella, Karachi over prolonged rolling blackouts. No one listens to the citizenry and comes up with a solution for their most pressing problems. What choice do they have? And yet, what do they achieve? PHOTO COURTESY ATHAR KHAN FOR THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE
Pakistan’s largest city once again proved to be an excellent hiding spot for al Qaeda men with the arrest of a Yemeni operative on May 17, Tuesday. The swoop was announced in Islamabad/Rawalpindi which is why our crime reporter in Karachi couldn’t get any details because the intelligence agencies were involved. I’ve often wondered why they don’t just shake down the city, literally turn it upside down and shake out all the militants, jihadis, wannabe jihadis, preachers and pranksters.
Small wonder people can hide here. Karachi is an ungovernable city. The government has no clear estimate of its population, which is quoted to be between 15 million to 20 million people. You pick up a rock and someone will peer out at you. I don’t really blame them, there isn’t any work in the rural parts of the province if you aren’t a farmer – and even they work in terrible conditions for bad pay. There aren’t enough schools and hospitals out there. Karachi is where the streets are paved with gold.
These days I’ve been thinking a lot about Rudy Giuliani, the man who ran New York in the mid-1990s and cleaned it up with a zero tolerance policy for crime, especially low-level crime. It was called quality of life crime reduction. Stop people from breaking the smaller laws to instill a sense of safety. Yes, Giuliani was criticized for draconian measures – especially against the homeless – but in the end, I am attracted by the assessment that he made New York America’s safest city at one point in time. Don’t get me wrong, Karachi is no New York – Saddar is no Manhattan – but there are parallels and lessons to be learnt.
I’ve also been thinking about Michel Foucault and some stuff I learnt in college about governmentality. And while I’m not going to act like a ponce and delve into some obscure theory in an attempt to impress you, there is one thing that the French theorist had to offer. One of the main reasons why Karachi is ungovernable is because the bureaucracy doesn’t have a grip on its population. Until Google maps came along there weren’t even any proper accessible maps of the city. I’ll give you just one example of how woefully ill-equipped the authorities are. A couple of months ago the chief of police came to meet me at the newspaper office. At the Karachi city section we run a crime map that is printed on page 18 of The Express Tribune (http://tribune.com.pk). He marveled at it and said he wanted something like this for his force. I was amazed. I said, haven’t you watched the movies? Don’t you have some big digital map at the central police office where the crimes show up? He didn’t. At the very least, he needed to know how much crime he was looking at.
Crimes aren’t fully reported in Karachi and as a result, the statistics are skewed. I’ll give you another example of how desperate the situation is. Every once in a while I’ll ask the crime reporter (they’re always men) if any rapes were reported. They emphatically shake their heads.
“You mean to tell me that in a city like Karachi, with 20,000,000 people not a single rape took place today,” I ask. But I know their hands are tied. Women don’t report rape here because of the stigma and the laws; because of the Hudood ordinance they land up in jail unless they produce four witnesses to testify that indeed the rape took place. [The original Quranic laws are, I personally believe, vastly misinterpreted against their spirit by male jurists].
I’ve been thinking about Karachi and crime and how to cover it for years. But recently I’ve been watching Law and Order’s Season 19 and Law and Order SVU. These shows may not properly portray how it actually goes down in the US, but they often give me food for thought.
For example, the other day we were talking about a case at the University of Karachi. A news report had surfaced saying that the head of a department had resigned after her daughter was assaulted on campus (many faculty members live on campus). I was talking about it with the reporters from our sister newspaper, the daily Express.
They said she had been caught in an objectionable position. But that she had gone on her own to the tennis courts to meet whoever she was meeting. The blame was solely placed at her door. I was stunned to learn that the girl was just 13 years old. “Doesn’t that count as abduction or in the very least luring a minor?” I asked. I got no answer. They smugly said that they weren’t reporting on the issue because the girl’s honour would be at stake.
One thing Rudy Giuliani did was increase the police force for New York. I believe this needs to be done for Karachi. The existing force is underpaid and undertrained and whenever any of its members do some good policing political bigwigs interfere with the process. They get their buddies off the hook. Karachi will always remain a dangerous place as long as the police chief and his subordinates take it lying down.
Karachi is awash in weapons and until the police or authorities crack down on assault weapons, it will always be a dangerous place. Within the course of one week hand grenades were lobbed at the Saudi consulate and a diplomat was gunned down in a drive-by shooting. The cops didn’t take chase even though the attack took place in a cleanly laid out neighbourhood and not a slum with a rabbit’s warren of alleyways. The Bahrain consulate and several banks were a stone’s throw away from the crime scene. Where were all the guards?
Karachi will never be cleaned up if things continue like this. I don’t see it happening in my lifetime. It is too fragmented a city along ethnic lines and there is no political will to work with the state apparatus to crack down on bad behaviour no matter who does it. Pressure groups too often get their way and public displays of schoolyard bullying by militant and banned groups and political parties continue. When one political party’s chief said something against President Zardari in Lahore, ruling party goons trashed a restaurant in Karachi because it belonged to a man who supported the rival party. The attack happened just a block away from Zardari’s residence in Karachi, Bilawal House. It is one of the more heavily guarded places in the city. How did the police deputed there let it get out of hand?
Just to dwell a little bit on the theory of governmentality and how to manage a population. I don’t believe we are producing the kind of citizens who can be governed either. People who understand the nature of the social contract and self and collective responsibility. But more on that at the next post; I have some excellent Camille Paglia to pull up there.