Farooq Sumar is a textile mill owner from Karachi who has courageously decided to stand up to the “extortion mafias” who are terrorising the city. He says that for several months the MQM Haqiqi extorted money from him. He got fed up and asked a string of senior provincial and federal officials for assistance and protection. Stung by their abject “helplessness”, he decided to defy the terrorists by not complying with their demands. The mafia struck back by marching into his factory and seizing 3000 yards of cloth. Then he began to receive threats, so he went underground. He thought of going public but was persuaded against it by family and friends. So he sent a discreet note to the prime minister through a senior government official and apprised her of his troubles. After the PM ordered immediate action against members of the Haqiqi mentioned in Mr Sumar’s complaint, he returned to his home, thinking the problem had been solved.
He was mistaken. Early this month, his factory was raided on Pay Day and the terrorists decamped with Rs 4.2 million in cash. So much for your complaint, the terrorists rang up to tell him, and so much for the PM’s orders, which were rubbished by the Sindh government.
Mr Sumar did not suffer any financial loss because his business was insured. His business colleagues, many of whom continue to suffer the same fate, urged him to keep quiet and stop putting his life and property at risk. But Mr Sumar chose to do otherwise. He went to the police and asked them to lodge his complaint against Mr Afaq Ahmad, the head of the MQM (Haqiqi), and several of his known henchmen with whom Mr Sumar’s factory manager had previously negotiated. When the police refused, he called a press conference and lodged a “public” FIR.
The commotion in the press compelled the Sindh government to accept his complaint. When Ms Bhutto’s attention was drawn to editorials in leading newspapers exhorting action, she asked the FIA to contact Mr Sumar and get to the bottom of his troubles. The FIA has interviewed Mr Sumar and submitted a report to Ms Bhutto. The PM has also been gracious enough to meet Mr Sumar in the presence of the Sindh chief minister and hear him out. The problem is that Ms Bhutto doesn’t quite know who to believe and what to do.
Mr Sumar has told the PM that he believes the Sindh government and the federal Intelligence Bureau are in cahoots with the Haqiqi and condone their criminality because they are using them to attack the terrorists of the MQM (Altaf) group. He believes that the government’s policy of pitting one group of terrorists against another in Karachi is seriously misplaced. He has strongly urged the PM to halt this policy and take punitive action against all terrorist groups irrespective of party affiliations.
The Sindh chief minister, however, does not accept this prognosis. Mr Abdullah Shah denies any links with the terrorists and, as proof, points to the recent “action” against the Haqiqi in Karachi. Mr Shah would therefore like the PM to believe that, having collected the insurance, Mr Sumar’s actions are “politically motivated” in order to falsely embarrass the PPP government. Who is telling the truth and who is lying?
Mr Shah’s insinuations of Mr Sumar’s motives are preposterous and self-serving. Mr Sumar and his family are in hiding because Mr Sumar has consciously taken the path of exposing the great lie about Karachi. If he had been interested in reaping an insurance claim, he would have chosen to stay silent after he was paid up instead of jeopardising his life and that of his family by publicly taking on a dreaded group of terrorists. To suggest that Mr Sumar is anti-PPP and acting at someone else’s behest is equally absurd. Mr Sumar’s reputation as an outspoken citizen with “sympathies” for the PPP precedes him in business circles.
Mr Shah’s claim that his government has no links with the Haqiqi is also false. The following facts have been written about in the past and are widely accepted: (1) The Haqiqi faction of the MQM was nourished by the IB and the MI in 1992 in order to combat the MQM (Altaf). (2) When the policy failed to yield significant dividends (because the political leadership of the time was divided and confused over to role of the MQM), the new leadership of the MI changed tack in 1994, stopped abetting the Haqiqi and advised the army to pull out of Karachi so that the new PPP government could negotiate a political solution to Karachi. (3) The continuing intransigence of the MQM (Altaf) to negotiate peace and power-sharing in Karachi has, however, made the civilian government reluctant to cut its links with the Haqiqi in order to retain “terrorist” leverage against the MQM (Altaf). (4) This “dependence” of the government on the Haqiqi has emboldened the latter to resort to criminality and extortion for survival and sustenance without worrying about a crackdown. (5) The situation has been compounded by the MQM (A)’s demands that it will only start negotiating with Islamabad after the government has wiped out the Haqiqi. But Islamabad is not yet persuaded of the necessity of this policy because it does not trust the MQM (A). The fear is that if the Haqiqi are removed from the scene and the counter-leverage is withdrawn, the MQM (A) will regroup its forces and become even more aggressive and powerful.
Ms Bhutto’s dilemma is obvious enough: damned if she crushes the Haqiqi and damned if she doesn’t. So she has taken to devising a balancing act by trying to keep the monster on a tight leash instead of eliminating it altogether. That is why she was prepared to order action against Mr Afaq Ahmad’s henchmen on Mr Sumar’s earlier complaint (because they are dispensable) and that is why she is reluctant to move against Mr Afaq Ahmad himself on Mr Sumar’s later protest (because he is not yet dispensable).
Mr Abdullah Shah’s problems are more vexatious than the PM’s. He finds it difficult to abide by the PM’s instructions and keep the Haqiqi on a tight leash for two basic reasons: (1) His government has been weakened by political divisions and corruption. (2) His police forces are so riddled with corrupt and criminal elements that they cannot cope with the sort of threats emanating from the MQM (A) terrorists. Hence Mr Shah clings to the Haqiqi and condones their criminality like a drowning man clutching at straws.
Mr Farooq Sumar’s case has exposed the murky nature of federal policies in regard to the situation in Karachi. The PM blows hot and cold, not knowing which way to turn. Her hope is that the Sindh government will somehow bring the level of terrorist violence in Karachi to “acceptable” levels quickly so that she can get a firm grip in negotiations with the MQM (A). Mr Shah, meanwhile, totters from pillar to post, transferring a police official here, firing another there, all the while clutching at the coattails of the Haqiqi. The bottom line remains deeply immoral: the use of state terrorism to combat the MQM (A)’s terrorism in Karachi is seriously objectionable.
Six months ago Benazir Bhutto wasn’t prepared to take any sort of action against the Haqiqi. Then the army signalled its disapproval and moved out of Karachi. This prompted Ms Bhutto to feign some disapproval of the Haqiqi. However, when Haqiqi mercenaries were found to be involved in the murder of two American officials, Ms Bhutto was compelled to take a less lenient view of them and launch a limited crackdown. In Mr Sumar’s case, she might eventually be prepared to take action against Mr Afaq’s henchmen (though not against him) if pressure is built up in the domestic and international media. But she is still not ready to accept that her policy of pitting one terrorist group against another is deeply flawed because it erodes the legitimacy of both state and government.
Ms Bhutto has got hold of the stick by the wrong end. Karachi cannot be made peaceful and stable on the basis of a balance-of-terror formula. If the city had a clean government and efficient administration, the people of Karachi would see the necessity of cooperating with it to root out violence and terrorism. The sooner Ms Bhutto comes to accept this fact and acts with wisdom and courage, the better. The real enemy is within, not without. Mr Farooq Sumar has shown the way. His voice must not be allowed to drown in the wilderness of fear, cowardice, apathy or cynicism.