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Karachi operation and new paradigm

Army chief General Qamar Bajwa, during his recent visit to Karachi, made an important announcement with regard to engaging ‘sub-nationalists or dissidents’, and bringing them into the national mainstream.

If one understands it correctly, it hints at some sort of amnesty for those not involved in heinous crimes or those used or allegedly exploited by the anti-state elements.

This is a positive development particularly in the backdrop of the policy, adopted in the Operation Raddul Fassad. General Bajwa last week visited the mega city and was briefed about the ongoing Karachi operation. While appreciating rangers and other law-enforcement agencies over their successes in combating terrorism and resorting peace in the city, he also lauded the efforts of the intelligence and security agencies for engaging sub-nationalist/ dissidents to bring them back in the national mainstream.

It may be part of the National Action Plan to de-radicalize society for which the establishment, for the first time, has also engaged professors and teachers of universities and colleges.

Karachi has a charred history and in the last three decades in particularly, there were thousands of youth, who got themselves involved in different criminal activities and became part of pressure groups, including outlawed extremists, nationalists and ethnic, not merely by choice. In the last three-and-a-half years, over 16,000 had been detained, over 7,000 still languishing in prisons and various groups claim that hundreds of their activists were missing.

Failure of successive governments to bring about jail reforms led to a dangerous situation, as jails being overcrowded became safe havens and sleeper cells for criminals and terrorists. In these jails, young minds involved in minor activities were engaged by these groups to work for them and, in exchange, they would promise to look after their families.

Thus, the army chief’s remarks to launch a clean-up operation and not to allow anyone to disrupt peace in the city has its own significance, particularly at a time when all is not well between the institutions and a tussle is going on between Centre and Sindh.

If one has understood his remarks clearly, it provided a base for bringing many of disgruntled elements in the mainstream, if they rue their past activities and pledge to live a life free of crime.

Not many details are available of the briefing and his address, but some of the officials engaged with Karachi operation revealed that it’s a sort of policy of amnesty or de-radicalisation for those exploited by the anti-state groups, who want to return to national mainstream.

Serious problems persist in Karachi operation like delay in extension of powers to rangers after every three months, tension between Centre and Sindh, delay in holding of the apex committee meetings (the last one was held in February) and mysterious disappearance and recovery of close associates of former president Asif Ali Zardari. The army chief was very firm and clear in saying that under no circumstance, anyone would be allowed to disrupt peace in Karachi.

Sources said these engagements do not confine to groups active in Karachi, but also in other parts of Sindh.

Prior to army chief’s visit, Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had visited Karachi. During his two-day stay, he held important meetings with officials of civil and armed forces about the progress made so far and the shortcomings experienced in the operation.

However, he kept distance from the Sindh dispensation as the federal government was not happy over unnecessary delay in giving extension to rangers powers under the Anti-Terrorism Act by the provincial government. Secondly, the issue of transfer of Inspector General of Police (IGP) Sindh AD Khwaja also annoyed the quarters concerned.

Sindh wants an immediate transfer of AD Khwaja, who reportedly showed some resistance and allegedly refused certain orders of non-official PPP leaders or close aides of the top leadership.

For the last five months, AD Khwaja is heading the police on Sindh High Court orders. The case will again come up for hearing on Wednesday (today).

Some officials believe that the term ‘sub-nationalists/ dissidents’ had been used for those who have been used by alleged anti-state elements or groups, including Baloch, Sindhi and Mohajir, beside those linked to outlawed groups as well.

This could be the follow-up policy adopted in Balochistan, where officials claimed that hundreds of people who had joined the Baloch separatist groups, had laid down their arms, and were now undergoing the rehabilitation process.

In context of the Karachi operation, there were intelligence reports about hundreds of youth, which over the years, had joined separatist groups, and now were being termed sub-nationalists, and had allegedly been used by Indian secret agency RAW.

It is not clear whether this policy also involves activists belong to the MQM-London in the post-August 22 scenario. But, both Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) chief Mustafa Kamal as well as MQM-Pakistan head Dr Farooq Sattar have been pleading for a symptomatic review and amnesty on the pattern of cases in Balochistan.

This could also resolve the issue of missing persons. Many of them are living in self-exile and cannot return home for fear of being booked in cases of terrorism, target-killings and other heinous crimes, would return home ultimately.

This policy, if seriously pursued, could also help many young Lyari boys, who in the last 10 years or so had joined one gang or the other.

Sources said that while there is no change in the decision regarding top leadership sitting in London, the authorities may give serious consideration and relief to those who are ready to distance themselves from these leaders.

It would be interesting to watch in the next few months how many would benefit from the new paradigm shift, as in the last few years, some of underground groups in interior Sindh had also emerged, who had also claimed the responsibility for some subversive activities including explosion on the rail track.

Besides, there are also reports that the security agencies had also detained many of the activists of different groups engaged with the anti-state elements and are now undergoing the process of official engagements.

Such a policy was first explored during the tenure of former DG Rangers Lt-Gen Bilal Akbar. He also prepared a proposal for establishing a big Rehabilitation Centre for all those who were not involved in any heinous crimes like target-killings, kidnapping for ransom, but were found involved in extorting money.

The general once told me that he had been approached by many MQM boys, who were living in South Africa, Dubai and other countries and wanted some kind of assurance in case they decide to return and join the national mainstream. Their only fear was that police would either kill them in fake encounters or book them in heinous crimes.

He said he told them that they would certainly undergo a process after their arrival and if they were not found involved in any target-killings or heinous crimes, sympathetic consideration would be given to their cases to allow them to live a normal life.

If the establishment has finally decided to engage such elements as part of national policy, it will be certainly help both in the process of de-radicalization and also provide them another chance to live a better life. But, in a society which, in the past four decades, had been radicalized and because of poor governance, they may still find difficult to live a normal life, it’s quite a challenge, but the one which must be accepted.

Credits: Mazhar Abbas