Random posts on all sorts of things designed to inform and provoke.
A massive bomb blast in a predominantly Shi’ite residential neighborhood in Pakistan’s southern city of Karachi killed over 45 people and wounded hundreds on March 3, 2013. This latest incident – part of a sectarian conflict that has been raging for years – highlights the continuing danger and tumult facing residents of Pakistan’s biggest city and sets the stage for a summer that likely will be one of the most violent in the country’s 66 year old history.
Pakistanis are well-versed in living amidst a world of violence as it is a regular part of their daily cadence. There is at least one such incident in this South Asian country every day and, consequently, residents know how to spot the warning signs and avoid the dangerous areas. This avoidance has helped most retain some semblance of normalcy in an increasing moribund environment.
However, over the past year, this violence has begun to seep out of the generally accepted areas into, heretofore, relatively safe neighborhoods. As a result, individuals and families who have not had much direct contact with such carnage now find themselves in the crosshairs of terrorists and criminals shattering their comparatively idyllic existence.
While I would like to hope that this insecurity is primarily sectarian and economic (Karachi is notorious for its land-grabs), its clear the issue is much more fundamental and driven by a growing inequality, lack of employment opportunities and a breakdown of government institutions. In conclusion, this is a long-term problem and, therefore, it’s unlikely the situation in Karachi will get better anytime soon.
I posit the deteriorating law and order situation in the country’s commercial capital is a predictor for the rest of the nation. Consequently, a city like Lahore, which until now had not been significantly affected by major violent incidents, will most likely face higher crime levels as the year progresses.
Then next question then is what incident(s) will precipitate this change. While the issues mentioned above will continue to bedevil Pakistanis, the country’s perennial problem with electricity shortages during the spring and summer months will likely be the tipping point. The reason for my assessment is that violence in Pakistan has been generally driven by terrorist groups with religious, economic, regional or other such interests; regular residents generally stay away from such aggressive actions as they want to live normal and peaceful lives.
However, blackouts combined with higher prices (inflation) and the stress of living in Pakistan will force them to the street – exemplified by the protests following the bombing this past weekend. The police’s violent response to this protest, by the way, shows how the government will react to its residents’ future such actions. Clearly, the Zardari administration does not care to win any popularity contests which is surprising since Pakistan is, theoretically, a democracy.
These electricity protests will also not be limited to government institutions but likely expand to encompass those who are perceived to have more wealth than the average Pakistani. In addition, terrorist groups will use this animosity to initiate retaliatory actions against their enemies and, consequently, violence will spike. Finally, with security services focused largely on protecting the country’s increasingly unpopular political leadership, innocent citizens will be left to fend for themselves; the bottom-line is that instability will increase exponentially.
Pakistan’s economy will also face some tough challenges in the coming year. Indeed, the ongoing violence makes one wonder about the status of the United Arab Emirates’ recently announced investment in Karachi. It also, more importantly, raises questions about why the city’s stock market has risen so significantly in the past few months.
The lack of transparency in the market’s operations make it seem feasible that this rise was driven to generate profits for the small group of people that control a majority of trades at the Karachi Stock Exchange. Consequently, it’s unlikely this rally will continue and quite likely the market will quickly give back the gains resulting in significant economic panic.
One could argue that security will only improve when the military – tired of all this instability – takes over Karachi and other large areas. I don’t agree this would make things better and would point to the impotency of the Army Rangers in Karachi.
On the other hand, given the growing violence, NATO’s upcoming departure from Afghanistan and the relatively long period between military governments, now may be the time for the Generals to take over Pakistan’s political structure. It shouldn’t come as surprise, therefore, if the Zardari administration collapses before the elections in May, and it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility if voting is either cancelled or the results held in limbo while the military rights the sinking ship.
Indeed, given how this government has run the country, the uniformed may find the uninformed quite receptive to this proposal.