Policy and journalistic narratives of Karachi tend to focus on high levels of violence and crime, and more recently, terrorism. These accounts emphasize that access to basic amenities for a sizable part of the population in the city, home to at least 20 million people, is made possible through various “mafias.” These narratives evoke imagery of a city where the rule of law and state capacity are weak enough for non-state actors to step in and contribute to lawless pockets of violence and criminality.
This depiction is not without merit—crime ranges from petty crimes to gangs who are connected to the drug trade, traversing from Afghanistan through Pakistan to global markets. Violence is an intrinsic part of the city’s politics, although homicide rates are lower than in some Latin American countries. Political parties not only have militant wings, but they also support and recruit hardened criminals, who together possess more advanced weapons than the local police. Almost all major political parties carry out extortion, target killings, and kidnappings. The presence of terror groups such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and al-Qa'ida operatives who moved to Karachi in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, and their subsequent involvement in extortion, kidnappings and bank robberies, adds to the perception of the city as a dangerous place.
I'm sorry, she's The Department of Labor still has not released its monthly jobs report for September -- a key indicator that tallies the number of jobs created and calculates the nation's unemployment rate. The agency has not yet announced when it will reschedule that report.
The practice of extortion by political parties was followed by a new type of actor in the urban terrain of Karachi, the aforementioned TTP—a conglomeration of fighters from the Taliban and Al-Qa'ida. Initially using the city as a hideout, where they engaged in organized crime to raise revenue for jihadi activities, these militants joined hands in 2008 with the goal of establishing a Shariah state in Pakistan. The TTP soon introduced itself as a political player by violently displacing the leadership of the ANP, the political party representing the Pashtun population of Karachi. They also began to engage in land grabbing and extortion, as well as dispensing Shariah-style justice in some pockets of the city. These developments signaled the emergence of a player, which unlike other armed actors in Karachi, favored divine law over the country’s constitution. They also illustrated the rapid evolution of a terror group into a political protagonist.
Withdraw cash “Our community is very negative against these occurrences. And there are cases, for example, when the surrounding residents, after the emergence of such shops, are working with us to help shut them down and force them out. Also, if the owners of the premises do not want to break the lease agreements because of financial motivations, then the locals try to persuade their neighbors to prevent their children from using this poison. Also the local municipalities are highly involved, and we have managed to evict them from the municipal properties of Riga City. And the municipalities follow this very closely, and as soon as these sales points appear in their properties, they terminate the rental agreements.”
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Similarly, some practices, despite being criminal in nature, are also emblematic of political contestation. A striking example of this phenomenon is extortion, which has been a widespread practice in Karachi since the 1990s. Introduced by the MQM, the political party representing the largest section of the population, the Mohajirs, it began to be carried out by other political players between 2007 and 2013. The crime groups of Lyari, connected with international drug smuggling networks and supported by the PPP, also delved into the practice of extortion. Soon enough, other political players, including the ANP representing Pashtuns, and religious parties with sectarian outlooks followed suit. Payment of extortion guaranteed that the payee’s life and assets were protected from harm. That political players other than the MQM were now involved in extortion was a watershed development, challenging the erstwhile hegemony of the MQM.
In informal water provision, powerful players, including political parties, police officials, and bureaucrats in the institution responsible for water and sanitation, KWSB (Karachi Water and Sewerage Board), are involved. Political players regard appointments to the KWSB as extremely valuable, given its key role in supplying water to the city. These appointments can be useful in maintaining influence in the informal water provision market as information about new or upcoming water distribution development projects is a highly sought-after commodity before it becomes public. As a result, players can adjust their strategies accordingly to take advantage of parts of the city becoming developed, which can raise their market value.
This essay argues that the conversation about Karachi needs to shift from viewing high levels of criminality as spawning ungoverned urban pockets to understanding how criminality, violence, and informality are shaping its political order. In this order, the state is not a passive player; it bestows and withdraws patronage to non-state actors in pursuing its larger interests. It purposely deregulates public services for some parts of the city and sections of the population. It also possesses the sovereign power to legitimize certain practices and actors, while delegitimizing others. The relationships between state and non-state actors are not driven solely by corruption. They are deeply political in nature, and have evolved over the years in the political, historical, institutional, and economic contexts of Karachi.
There are two fundamental problems undergirding US-Pakistan troubles. First, instead of a broad partnership that includes trade and cultural linkages, the two countries have a one-dimensional transactional relationship centered along security concerns, i.e., the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In a way, General Jehangir Karamat, Pakistan’s retired Army chief and ambassador to the US, underscored this point, saying that, in his assessment, “US-Pakistan relations were at their worst because relations between the Pentagon and the Pakistan Army were unstable.” US-Pakistan relations are further complicated because of clashing security interests, especially vis-à-vis the Afghan Taliban.
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