Last week, a heavy contingent of Rangers raided the MQM headquarters where a number of party workers were detained. Headed by Colonel Tahir, this information based operation was managed and executed by members of the paramilitary forces without any assistance of the local police. Moreover, the Rangers spokesperson revealed that stolen ammunition from NATO containers was seized during the search operation at Nine Zero. A raid of such a nature certainly has a symbolic significance in the Karachi operation that has been underway since October 2013.
As is usually the case, attempts are being made to give the situation a political flavor as questions are being raised about the army being reluctant to take on its powerful Punjabi interests resulting in a Punjabi hegemony over state affairs. Allegations of ‘partial refereeing’ are being hurled at the military with the PPP siding with the MQM as the latter plays the victimization card. Yet, it is significant to internalize the fact that the armed forces may have finally embarked on the path of a paradigm shift. Under a new leadership, the army has exhibited greater clarity in terms of focus and purpose of the operation making it significantly different from the one conducted back in 1992. It needs to be taken into consideration that the military is a dynamic institution that has to remain abreast of the evolving situations and threats. Those doubting its intent and clarity forget that the army has an institutional memory that enables it to learn from its mistakes and plan forward; therefore, it would be naïve to assume that the military has not thought this through. Instead of waging war against an entire community because of historical trends of involvement in anti-state activities, this time the army has gone the extra mile to ensure that unnecessary victimization is avoided.
The most pressing concern is the challenge that lies ahead for the security forces of Pakistan. While the militant wings of other parties might not be as well documented as that of MQM, it is a well known fact that major parties such as JI, ANP, PPP, and PML-N, all maintain strong links with militant wings in order to further their political objectives. It is perhaps another widely accepted fact that Lyari is an area that is infested with mafias and criminals and also a haven for drug and arms smugglers, is also a strong hold of the Pakistan Peoples Party. Even more notorious in this regard is the Jamaat-e-Islami, owing to its militant student wing, Islami-Jamiat-e-Talba which is credited with spearheading the Kalashnikov culture in Pakistan under the patronage of Zia. In addition, their rumored links with the TTP and Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal-Jamaat make matters even more complicated for the armed forces.
The above are just a couple of examples of Political Parties and their militant wings, therefore, it is imperative to be cognizant of the fact that the raid at the MQM headquarters is just the start of an uphill battle. Be it Southern Punjab or Baluchistan, militant organizations are to be found in almost every corner of the country; with some of them furthering foreign agendas which makes matters even more delicate. Thus, in no way undermining the importance of the operation being carried in the business hub of the country, a more challenging and complex battle lies ahead as the armed forces pledge to make their way into the province of Punjab next. According to reported intelligence assessments, it is the Punjabi Taliban that poses the biggest threat. Furthermore, it comes as no surprise that MQM has a stronghold over Karachi as much as some of the political and religious organizations do in Lahore, perhaps with even higher penetration in the state’s machinery. The army deserves all the veneration coming its way taking into account the clear headedness it has exhibited while going about the operation. While its intentions seem to be noble and its assessment of the current threat spot-on, it has to come up with a very well thought out strategy as the operation expands into other more treacherous areas of the country; where its operational capacity to handle the resulting blowback will be tested severely.
With an attempt to read between the lines coupled with some speculation, one can get a glimpse into what lies ahead. The fact that few hours after the raid, the anti-terrorism court announced that Saulat Mirza would be executed on 19 March, and then just a couple of hours before his execution an unprecedented confessional interview is aired points to the orchestration of a well thought out game plan. Analyzing developments that have been taking place, for instance the timing of the Baldia Town report coming to surface and the startling revelations in the letters retrieved from Osama Bin Laden’s compound; one cannot help but draw parallels and notice the peculiar timing of these events. Perhaps this is a signal to the ruling party in Punjab as to what the army’s course of action will be next?