Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Day After Yesterday

For a long time, I simply could not understand why what was happening was happening. I understood the
immediate causes but for the life of me, I simply could not grasp why the protagonists responsible for yesterday's tragic events acted the way they did. I think I have better idea now. For me, there are two possibilities, depending on how far I am willing to grant intentionality to yesterday's players.

Limited intentionality
One possibility can be best captured by the game of Chicken, popular in game theory. As you know, the game essentially consists of two players driving towards each other on a one-lane road. If I'm player 1, these are how my outcomes rank in terms of preference:

1. I drive straight, Player 2 swerves (I'm the hero, Player 2 is the chicken).
2. We both swerve (We're both chickens).
3. I swerve and Player 2 drives straight (I'm the chicken, Player 2 is the hero).
4. We both drive straight (We're both dead).

What is the key to this game? In a word, intimidation. Each player is going to be hoping that his resolve shows through and that his opponent swerves. This may have been what happened yesterday. On the one hand, the Musharraf government and his MQM allies had had enough of the political player Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary had become. Throngs of people gathering wherever he went, showering rose petals, slowing down his motorcade to the point where it took him 24 hours to make the trip from Islamabad to Lahore. When you add to this show of political force the prospect of the rumoured/confirmed deal between the government and the PPP - which put into serious question the role of the MQM in Sindh - you suddenly have two very aggrieved political actors. Both want to remind everyone they're still the boss. So after the massive success that was the rally in Lahore, the government and/or the MQM decided to hold a counter-rally the same day as the Chief Justice, using many of the same roads both into and in Karachi, hoping to intimidate the Chief Justice and his many supporters into postponing/cancelling the rally. This would have put both the Chief Justice and the PPP in their place and resulted in some much needed political capital for both Musharraf and the MQM.

Meanwhile, from the point of view of the PPP/MMA/other parties involved yesterday, Karachi would not just be the icing on the cake to a whirlwind tour of government agitators, but the filling too. Lahore may well be the center of Pakistani's legal fraternity but show your strength in Karachi, the lion's den so to speak, and you're half way to a legitimate revolution. Both sides, then, were hoping to intimidate the other side into backing down in order to score political gains. Neither side did. The result was a head-on collision which nobody really wanted.

High intentionality
This view puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of Musharraf and the MQM. The argument - fairly unsophisticated it must be said - goes thusly: arrange the counter rally. Block roads. Arm MQM wallahs. Wait. Watch explosion. Blame violence on Chief Justice and those "politicising a judicial issue". Break momentum of gathering political storm and maybe even turn it around.

Which version do I believe? I have to say the evidence is pretty damning. First of all, Musharraf wasted almost no time in using the she-was-asking-to-be-raped defense, saying "If you really feel sorry over what has happened in Karachi, then stop these protests." He went further still, holding the Chief Justice culpable, saying, "But what has happened today in Karachi is because of the chief justice who went there ignoring the advice of the government over the issue." Secondly, there was this statement from a policeman on Shara-e-Faisal, who wasn't even armed: "There were some orders and our weapons were taken from us. It was as if we were put here just to watch." It seems Musharraf was only too happy to have 34 people die as long as his power-hungry political goals were served.

What about the MQM? What can you say? I don't think I was alone in thinking they'd turned the corner from the drilling-holes-in-knees-and-elbows days of the mid-1990s. The generally sensible rhetoric, the generally peaceful disposition, the mega projects in Karachi, and most of all, the strong voice for secularism all convinced me that this was a new political party, one that I could support. Fuck me, was I wrong. Here's part of a story in the Daily Times.
The third major incident took place at Baloch Colony Bridge on Shahra-e-Faisal. ANP workers said their bus was stopped by armed men who forced them to get off and walk back, upon which they were shot at from behind.

Here's an eyewitness account posted in the comments section of one of the posts on Metroblogging Karachi:
I am a doctor. I work at a tertiary care, govt run, large and very well known hospital in khi. Forgive the short hnd style of typing here. I am, and hav been here at work for more than 32 hrs, and am surfing/typing on my cellphone. I rode with my ambulance drivers, was in the hastily set up emergency room in our lobby, attended multiple gunshot wounds victims etc. but nothing struck down my soul more than what 9 fully armed workers of MQM alongwith 2 sector office bearers did. They tried to drag out the wounded and dying body of a Sunni Tehrik worker (we later learnt he was sunni tehrik) for presumably finishing him off. Whn my junior residents said we could not allow that, they slapped my junior, dragged us both by our legs to the back of the gurney alley and with shotguns, pistols and ak-47's in hand, ran in to our lobby presumably attempting to search whr the man in question was being treated. I ran out to the rangers and police a.s.i. some distance frm our front gate who when approached by myself said, and i quote 'jaante ho inn logoun ko phir bhi kyon larta ho...hamain upar se order hai ke inn ko 4 baje tak karne do jo karna hai. 4 baje ke baad kuch dekhainge' [Why do you fight with these people knowing who they are? We have orders from above to let them do what they want until 4 o'clock. We'll decide what to do after 4]. I recognized the sector office bearers of the MQM, bcoz I have made the mistake of voting for the MQM in the past. I called a friend in Bohrapir, who is related to Farooq Sattar. 5 mins later the sector charges recieved a call on their cell, and they left, one with a bandana threatening me with 'naam dekh liya hai tera. Koi shor sharaba karne ki zururat nahi hai baad main warna samajh ja kya hoga' [We've seen your name. There is no need to create a hullabaloo about this; understand what will happen if you do]. He also took my junior residnts mobile fone saying 'chikna set hai' [It's a sweet set]. The guy they had come looking for had been shot one more time in the head. The o.t dress we had dressed him in 10 mins earlier was freshly bloody.

Let's also remember that the MQM was responsible for blocking the roads with tankers and trucks with their tyres deflated so that when the carnage actually began, ambulances could not get to them. In fact, an Edhi ambulance driver was actually killed too, though it's not clear by whom. All I'll say is: once a terrorist political party, always a terrorist political party.

What now? I think, for at least the next couple of days, the nation is in too much shock and grief for anything to happen. I for one am simply really, really angry. Anyone could have seen this coming from a mile away and yet no one did a thing to stop it. What's making me even more angry is that instead of sympathizing for the victims and their families the way people do all over the rest of the world, we're witnessing the lowest form of political grandstanding. The MQM has the gall to actually have called for day of mourning for the "for victims of the firing on MQM’s peaceful rallies". The opposition isn't far behind, with the PPP, the MMA, the PML-N and Tehrik-e-Insaf all calling for a black day, though to be fair, they have more of a leg to stand on insofar as this matter is concerned than the MQM is.

The medium term is slightly more difficult to project. I can only say three things for sure. One, any deal between the PPP and the government is off. It's done. Finished. Two, the political turmoil in Pakistan will get a lot worse before it gets a lot better. I hate to be a purveyor of doom and gloom, but there's no way the PPP and the MMA are letting the MQM have the last word on this. Three, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry needs to chill out. He's proven his point. We get it. He's popular, probably ten times as much as Musharraf. For the betterment of the country, however, he needs to relax for a while. Please.

The long term? As Keynes said, in the long run, we are all dead. It's just a real shame 34 of us weren't allowed to wait.


Omar said...

One thing that I wanted to bring to attention was the bravery and the fearless reporting of our media, specifically the television channels. In the past, I have roundly criticized the Pakistani media for a complete lack of journalistic ethics and bad quality, but yesterday, they showed what true journalism is and refused to back down from broadcasting images of violence even when MQM workers turned their guns on the Aaj TV cameramen and reporters.

I have never seen anything like it, the live images of people openly shooting each other and the complete lawlessness.

Just wanted to let you know, on the other side of the Atlantic, that there are brave men and women here in Karachi who put their lives on the line to make sure the world knows what happened in our city .

Ahsan said...

yes, i agree that the media's bravery has by and large been unnoticed so far. i think that will change in the coming days as more and more people realize their role in yesterday's events.