Crime in Karachi
SEEN together, the just released JIT reports about the Baldia factory fire and Uzair Baloch’s alleged criminal career shed some light on Karachi’s dark underbelly and the urban violence that blighted the city until a few years ago. Nevertheless, there is little that can be described as major revelations in these accounts. At most, they confirm long-held suspicions pertaining to both the Sept 11, 2012, tragedy as well as the man often described as the kingpin of Lyari gang warfare. The horrific Baldia inferno, in which 259 workers perished, was no accident, but a “planned sabotage/terrorist activity” allegedly carried out by MQM thugs in reprisal against the factory owners for refusing to pay the protection money demanded. The investigation gives a glimpse of the atmosphere at a time when the MQM ruled Karachi with an iron fist, using fear and violence to intimidate law enforcement, the media and anyone it deemed an adversary. The report describes the initial police investigation into the case as having been carried out in an unprofessional manner that worked to the offenders’ advantage. The JIT report about Uzair Baloch reveals details about his espionage activities, a crime for which he was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment by a military court in April. It also lists a large number of targeted killings and politically motivated murders allegedly carried out on his orders.
In Pakistan, and other dysfunctional democracies where institutions of governance are weak, the truth is inevitably a casualty of political machinations and point-scoring. Indeed, the public has justifiably little faith in the willingness of the state machinery to get to the bottom of even the most heinous offences. It does not appear therefore to be too far-fetched to assume, given earlier leaked information from the report on Uzair Baloch, that some inconvenient truths may have been excised from that document before it was released. Maritime Affairs Minister Ali Haider Zaidi alleged as much yesterday. Of course, facts that could have given a more complete picture of how criminal elements are exploited by multiple actors to further strategic objectives were undoubtedly never considered for inclusion in the first place.
The one bitter truth is that the state is indifferent to its duty to protect the people, if that goes counter to its own interests. The three JIT reports — including one on Nisar Morai, former chairman, Fisherman’s Cooperative Society — did not see the light of day until long after the crimes in question were committed. Why have hard-core criminals been allowed to get away for years with terrorising civilians? The Sindh government seemed to have only made the reports public when its hand was forced by the provincial high court acting on the petition filed by Mr Zaidi, also no doubt acting in service of political point-scoring. When will the state realise the dire, long-term effects of such sinister games?
Safer for investors
THE confidence expressed by multinational companies operating here regarding an improvement in security conditions in the country will help project Pakistan globally as a peaceful destination for foreign visitors and capital. The manner in which law enforcement swiftly tackled the attack on the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi the other day seems to have reinforced foreign investors’ trust in the country’s ability to counter future security challenges. The annual security survey released by the Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry that captures the perceptions of the 200 member foreign companies regarding the security environment is a critical assessment of operating conditions in Pakistan. The findings of this survey are taken seriously by potential foreign investors and diplomats. The very fact that the OICCI security surveys have for the last few years recorded positive sentiments expressed by foreign investors about continuously improving security conditions is helping mend Pakistan’s international image.
The 2020 survey findings also reaffirm that law and order, especially in the two major business centres of Karachi and Lahore, has improved as reflected by the increasing number of trips to Pakistan by OICCI member firms’ senior management from their headquarters and regional offices, as well as the number of their board meetings held here in the last one year. The initiatives implemented in the last five years under NAP to tackle security challenges after the 2014 APS attack in Peshawar have helped improve security in most parts of the country. Consequently, many countries including the US, UK, Portugal and Norway have significantly eased travel advisories for their citizens planning to visit Pakistan. British Airways also resumed its flight operations in Islamabad last year as Pakistan was declared the best holiday destination for 2020 by a reputable British travel magazine. The number of tourists from abroad had been rising in the last few years because of improved security conditions until the Covid-19 pandemic struck the world, forcing countries everywhere to impose lockdowns to halt the spread of infection. However, the challenges remain, as reflected by the militant attack on PSX and periodic protests by certain organisations, disrupting life and business in cities. Besides, the government still has a lot to do to root out militancy in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Indeed, the country is much safer today than it was a few years ago. Yet there is little to no room for complacency.
Iran nuke sites
AS the Iran nuclear deal unravels, a series of mysterious incidents have been occurring at several sites linked to the Islamic Republic’s atomic programme. The most significant of these was at a facility in Natanz last week, which hosts a complex that produces centrifuges. In what has been termed an ‘accident’, Iranian officials have said there was no loss of life, “but damage is significant on a financial level”. Moreover, there have been reports in the international media which claim that dissidents within the Iranian security services may be behind the incident. Due to the sensitivity of the matters concerned, it is very difficult to ascertain the facts, though two possibilities emerge: that of an industrial accident, and sabotage carried out either by Iran’s foreign adversaries, internal opponents of the regime or a combination of hostile forces.
If it is indeed an industrial accident, then Iran must consider re-evaluating and scaling down its nuclear activities, for the sake of its own people. It is a fact that Tehran has been battered economically by US-backed sanctions, while it struggles to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic. If proper operation of nuclear facilities cannot be carried out due to financial constraints, the Iranian administration must do whatever it takes to minimise the chances of future accidents in the country. However, there is also a strong possibility of sabotage. In the past, America and Israel have been known to launch cyberattacks against Iran’s atomic facilities causing considerable damage, while a number of Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated, with suspicion falling on Mossad. If it is indeed true that hostile powers are sabotaging Iran’s nuclear programme, then they are playing a very dangerous game. The fallout from an attack on a nuclear facility can be catastrophic, especially for civilians living in the immediate vicinity, which is why such devious activities must be halted immediately, and all sides must work to salvage whatever is left of the nuclear deal.
Published in DAWN, July 8, 2020