As news of yet another terrorist attack, this time directed at the Air Force complex at Kamra, trickles in, one trend in the recent violence deserves scrutiny: why has there been such little violence in Karachi?
First, some background. Karachi has always been Pakistan's most violent city, but the violence it has experienced has tended to be of three kinds, all very different from what the country is currently experiencing. First, inter-ethnic violence between Mohajirs and Sindhis on the one hand, and Mohajirs and Pasthuns on the other. This was the pattern of violence that started in the 1970s in the former case, in the 1980s in the latter case, and has sporadically spiked since then but by and large has remained dormant.
Second, violence between the MQM -- the party largely representing the interests of middle class Mohajirs in urban Sindh -- and its breakaway faction (called MQM Haqiqi), as well as state security forces in the mid 1990s. This form of violence too has petered out, as the MQM becomes mainstream and an acceptable player on Pakistan's political scene.
The third type of violence has been sectarian violence, between Sunni and Shia militant groups.
By contrast, the rest of the country finds itself squarely in the middle of Taliban violence, which is wrapped up in geopolitical considerations, as well as control for the state. All forms of terrorist violence, but particularly suicide attacks, have been aimed at both civilians and agents of the state -- but have been geographically circumscribed in FATA, the NWFP and Punjab. So what gives?
The piece linked above, by Nadeem Paracha, claims it has something to do with the demographic and political balance in the city -- where different ethnic groups and parties maintain a relative balance of power. I'm not so sure. I think his arguments speak to these organizations not being able to establish a base of operations in Karachi, but that is different from saying that they are unable to launch attacks in Karachi.
To be honest, I really have no clue as to how Karachi has remained relatively peaceful in all this. I have a few hypotheses though:
1. The militants have changed their focus from civilians targets to state targets. Over the last three weeks, the majority of attacks have taken place at military and police headquarters or offices or training centers. The heart of the state, meanwhile, exists in northern Punjab and the center of gravity of the military is also in the NWFP/Punjab arc. As such, Karachi has managed to avoid violence by simple virtue of the fact that it's far away from the things that matter to the militants. So it's about military strategy.
2. Security forces and the police are doing a better job in Karachi than they are in the rest of the country. Attacks aren't taking place because they are being caught before the implementation stage. So it's about the effectiveness of the state.
3. The MQM -- the party with the strongest secular (good) and anti-Pashtun (bad) credentials in the country -- takes the Taliban threat more seriously than anyone else. And as they are in control of Karachi, they are most concerned with taking strong and effective action against militant groups, not allowing them the freedom to operate. Their aggression delivers results for Karachiites. So it's about local politics.
Any ideas, readers?