Ali Abbas Rizvi
The killing of Benazir Bhutto has sharply brought into focus grave internal security issues for Pakistan. Rather, her death has exposed the shortcomings in the national security apparatus that were always there but were swept under the carpet by successive regimes. It is no longer possible to do so now considering the seriousness and gravity of the developments that will haunt the country and its economy. Also, once certain barriers and thresholds have been crossed. What could stop the elements responsible from doing it again, and at larger and more organised levels, is a dreadful thought.
Consider the following:
First, the death of the PPP chairperson has shown that a large segment of society can erupt in uncontrollable rage at an incident it is deeply affected by and an episode it cares about. The death was extremely shocking, to say the least. But even more upsetting has been the reaction that has gripped the nation. What does it say about our psyche? It shows that as a nation we are immature and highly reactive. And at the same time, it exposes a most critical weakness of ours. That is, certain incidents can bring out on the roads people who can vent their anger against the common man and government properties and completely paralyse society. So what would be the next incident that would bring out such people on the roads? One can only hope that no such incident ever occurs.
Second, it is crucial to find out about the people on the roads who created the mayhem that brought society, especially the province of Sindh, to a complete standstill. It is for sure that such elements were not from the People’s Party alone. Rather, many believe that the majority comprised criminal elements who had a field day for some three days. It is safe to assume that Benazir’s death provided an opportunity to these elements to murder, plunder and bring the cities to a standstill. Perhaps it was for the first time in Pakistan’s history that such elements got an opportunity to act in unison for the same cause. This is worrisome, indeed. What we should look into is if some mobs received their instructions from a central authority, who guided their wicked activities?
Third, the elements succeeded in separating the southern parts of the country from the northern. Sindh’s highways were littered with burning vehicles, the railway lines with coaches. Even railway stations were not spared. So, the mobs showed that they can achieve what the people on the country’s eastern borders have been thinking of for the last 40 years or so–i.e., making all traffic impassable between Karachi and Lahore. Since Karachi is the country’s only port through which all imports and exports pass, we have seen it would not take much to create enormous difficulties for people and businesses in other parts of the country.
Fourth, the senseless burning of banks is yet another dimension to the gory drama that was played over the days. Why were so many banks burned? Some people would think that it was the money the mobs were after. Or the banks provided soft targets. But perhaps it would be too simple to think on these lines alone. It could well have been that the purpose was to dent the economy by shattering the vital link that banks play in boosting business. Again, if this was the aim, then we had for sure some people handling the mob leaders in the field that were on a rioting spree.
Fifth, we are seeing for the last several years the rising intensity with which petrol pumps are targeted in case of riots. Again, this needs to be looked into. It may well be that petrol pumps provide a good target for burning as black plumes of smoke symbolise that all is not well. But what if some people have seen that closure of pumps can serve them well by keeping people indoors and, therefore, adopted a conscious policy to target them in riots? The trend to target the petrol pumps has been growing over the years and it cannot be dismissed as merely a phenomenon associated with general rioting.
Finally, the government policy on law and order is in a shambles. The police have been told over the years that in case of bomb explosions and killing of prominent personalities and religious leaders, it should allow the people to vent their anger by burning public and private properties. The police bosses think that if angry, mourning crowds are not allowed to vent their feelings and the police interfere, clashes could take place and the police and the government would become the target. Therefore, it is better to allow the violent crowds to do whatever they feel like and later, after a few days, register cases against unknown attackers and arrest some of them. The law enforcing agencies, especially the police, are working on these unwritten instructions under the protection of successive governments. While they would publicly and officially deny that such policy exists, the facts speak otherwise. If we carefully look at incidents in Karachi during the last 10 years or so, we would find that the police stayed on the sidelines while mobs burnt and pillaged public and private properties. Consider the case of Allama Hasan Turabi, or, for that matter, many other prominent personalities, who were slain during this period.
However, this policy is extremely dangerous, especially as we have seen in the case of Benazir Bhutto. By following this policy in letter and spirit, the police have allowed not only the crowds to do whatever they please, they have endangered national security. There is an extent to which the (obnoxious) policy discussed above can be implemented. But following Benazir’s killing, all limits were crossed. Burning of railway stations, trains and microwave towers, pillaging of markets and then setting them on fire, setting ablaze thousands of vehicles, abusing women and children stranded in vehicles, setting ablaze factories, etc., was perhaps something even the police bosses had not thought of. What this policy has done is that it has further alienated people, even those who were not agitating against the government on the roads earlier. As the time passes and the shock of the death of Benazir subsides to some extent, questions will be raised on the handling of the situation by the police.
It would do the country a lot of good if the above questions are probed into and drastic measures taken so as to warn such elements that the writ of the state exists. Also, the implementation of the Passive Reaction Policy by the police in major episodes should be brought to an end, once and for all. That is one of the few measures that can be taken to stop the inevitable slide into anarchy.(courtasy by THE NEWS)
The writer is news editor, The News, Karachi. Email: abbasrizvi14 @hotmail.com