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Issues Plaguing Karachi

Mallika Joseph

By Wilson John
Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2003, pp. 114, Rs. 195.00


“A potpourri of crime and religious fanaticism.”  This is how Wilson John describes Karachi in his well-timed, concise and pertinent book on the port city. He argues that “terrorism came to Karachi long before Maulana Masood Azhar’s return” to the city following the successful hijacking of the Indian Airlines Flight IC 814 from Kathmandu in December 1999. He traces the origin and growth of various streams of violence that continue to rape the city. In five neatly laid out chapters, Wilson John succinctly explores Karachi’s troubled past, the convulsions of ethnic strife, its violent legacy, the cancer of organized criminal gangs and the bane of terrorism. In the chapter that follows, the author unfolds the conspiracies of September 11 and the attack on the Indian Parliament. Chapter 7, summing up the arguments of the book, attempts to portend the danger of these terrorist networks to regional and international security.      The nature and intensity of violence that Karachi experienced varied according to the forces at play, i.e. criminal gangs, organized syndicates, Shia-Sunni rifts and Mohajirs vs. others. However, what remained constant was the complicity of the state in all the bloodletting witnessed by the port city. Of criminal gangs and the establishment, Wilson John notes, “The lethal cocktail of drugs and guns and the fact that the political establishment, the military, the intelligence agencies and the bureaucracy were willing to look the other way brought the crime syndicates to set up shop in Karachi.” The state also had an undeniable role in the spawning of ethnic violence. “Zia’s objective in directing the ISI to help Altaf Hussain was to counter the steady rise of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party and the religious group Jamaat-e-Ulema Islami. But more sinister was his bigger plan to keep Sindh divided on ethnic lines.” Despite Zia’s death, the violence never ceased as now the “army was keen on ousting Benazir.”      Though Shia-Sunni conflict is traditional and Wilson John concurs, he points out the dubious midwife role played by the establishment in abetting conflict along sectarian lines. “The ISI…lent a helping hand to the Sunnis by setting up an organization called Sawad-e-Azam… the precursor to the creation of Anjuman-e-Sipah-e-Sahaba (re-christened later as Sipah-e-Sahaba of Paksitan or SSP)…. Another simultaneous development that would have a major impact on the events that unfolded in Karachi … was President Zia-ul-Haq’s munificence towards Sunni madrasas. Huge funds were ...

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