How not to write analysis or Has Talat Hussain ever been to Karachi?

Jul 17th, 2011 | By | Category: Dawn

The recent violence that engulfed Karachi was a tragedy of immense proportions. If any good can come of such a tragedy, it will begin by taking a critical look at the root causes of violent outbreaks, and work towards a solution that respects the rights and the needs of all Karachiites. Unfortunately, this discussion is rare. What one finds more often are those who exploit such tragedies to score cheap political points. A perfect example of this can be found in the response of Talat Hussain to Karachi’s latest surge of violence.

Syed Talat HussainTalat Hussain’s response to the situation in Dawn notes that “the provincial capital, has slipped into hellish violence, its peace buried under the ever-increasing piles of dead bodies”. And where does the senior journalist lay blame for this hell on earth? Where else, but the convenient scapegoat of President Zardari and the PPP-led government.

There are several problems with this piece by Talat Hussain, but we will mention only two. First is that the author’s thesis rests on one initial premise that completely misses the point – namely, that it is not “Sindh” that slipped into a war-like state of violence, but Karachi. This is important to note because Talat Hussain’s blame game rests on the fact that the provincial government is indeed led by the PPP. But despite being in Sindh province, Karachi is not controlled by PPP. This is an important point because the complex politics in Karachi are behind much of the violence there. It is hard to believe that Talat Hussain does not know this.

Actually, it would be wrong to lay the blame at the feet of any single political party, though it is a common reaction by party activists to blame their opponents by terming them as gangsters. This gets to the second major problem with Talat Hussain’s column – in order to place blame with Zardari and the PPP, he oversimplifies a complex situation.

According to Talat Hussain, the solution to the crisis in Karachi is simple.

It is important to recount all of this to contextualise the endemic problem of violence in Karachi. These incidents do not happen without warning. There is a well-established pattern followed by any serious law and order breakdown. It is for the government to closely monitor this pattern and position resources and strategies to ensure that the slide down the path of chaos is halted. It is also for the government to engineer long-term and effective administrative solutions to address chronic sources of violence.

In the case of Karachi, this means taking on gangs that have virtually overthrown the writ of the state from vast swathes of the city and run these areas like their fiefdoms. The attempt to disinfect the city of these gangs through `reconciliation` was bound to fail since most of these gangs are politically aligned, with their roots embedded in the provincial body politic. You might set a thief to catch a thief, but that is hardly the way to deal with killers.

The PPP government and all of the party leadership should know this. After all, they have been the biggest proponents of strong-arm action against extremists in Fata and elsewhere, saying that this is the only way to deal with, in American idiom, `irreconcilables`.

So this is Talat Hussain’s solution to violence in Karachi? He believes that Gen Kayani should march troops through the streets to ‘clear and hold’ the city of 20 million? Perhaps he suggests drone attacks on Orangi?

The crisis in Karachi is the result of complex economic and demographic issues, not simple law and order problems. Certainly there are gangs and mafias, but these are the symptoms, not the disease. Anyone familiar with the history of politics in the city would know that a PPP government going into Karachi with guns blazing would be like pouring petrol on a flame. The fire would not be quenched, it would grow and spread. The solution to the violence in Karachi lies not in more violence, but in honest analysis and open dialogue between all affected parties to work out a political solution.

In a lame attempt at humour, Talat Hussain concludes his piece by suggesting that “Perhaps in his next speech, President Zardari can offer tutorials to his opponents in the useful skill of how not to govern”. And in this, Talat Hussain has clearly offered a tutorial on how to not to write critical analysis.

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