Target killing: Collateral damage in an urban war

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What is to be made of the latest target killing spree in Karachi? This question has been the cause of much speculation as an unending (and escalating) wave of violence has swept through the city, with seemingly no end in sight.

Conspiracy theories lavishly depicting an attempt to destabilize the government by forces both internal and external are abound. Still others cite a political battle turned grim between theMQM and ANP, or worse, sectarian conflict or the dreaded ‘third hand’.

The one reason you hear least of is actually the most straightforward of the lot, and fits perfectly with the actual facts on ground – this is turf war against the land mafia – or has everyone really been so deafened by political bickering and the target killing fall-out as to forget the government’s major (violent) operation against land grabbers in Baldia town some weeks ago?

That is not to deny that various conspiracy theory elements do factor into how this turf war plays out, but the public should be mindful as to what the reality is. Yes there are political factions entrenched in the land mafia, and yes not everyone has a heart of gold so maybe this drive against the illegal shanty towns will turn out to be a land grabbing opportunity of its own. Yes there is probably a third, fourth and fifth hand waiting to take advantage of the situation. But no, at the end of the day these are all just elements which are part of the big picture: are we ready to wage war against illegal encroachers in our city?

The MQM has obviously made up its mind on the matter, and I as a citizen of this manic metropolis am wholeheartedly in favour of the plan, come what may. To cite Niccolo Machiaveli, “There is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others,” or perhaps more adequately, to cite Dr Farooq Sattar, “If we get rid of the land mafia, the issue of target killings will end too, but if this policy gets sidetracked due to political issues, then the issue of target killings will never end.”

To draw a comparison to another battlefront we are familiar with, the current situation is not unlike the War on Terror, 2007. At that point in time, we as a nation had a really hard time accepting that it was our war, but given the sharp increase in terrorist activity, we grudgingly admitted that the situation did seem out of hand and ‘talking to the terrorists’ really wasn’t a viable option. However, attention was so diverted to the battle against el Dictator, that the real war was put on the backburner and allowed to fester till we once again decided to pick it up (just where el Dictator had left it) and go back to following his famed ‘three-pronged strategy’ which included ‘fight your enemy’ as prong one.

Now that the nation has committed to war, things like drone attacks and ‘collateral damage’ just don’t outrage as much as they used to, and for good reason – Machiavelli wasn’t insane when he wrote that war is unavoidable and carries necessary costs. He was a realist, and practical, and we have become the same because we want to win, and we recognize that every war has casualties. And this brings us full circle to Karachi and the ongoing violence.

Just like the War on Terror, we have the question in front of us – are we ready to commit to a long, hard war against a well-armed well-entrenched land mafia (whoever they may be)? Because if we are, target killings will have to be accepted as inevitable ‘collateral damage’, political bickering will have to be set aside to do what is needed, and in order to win Karachi back from the land grabbers, we will have to rely on our government to follow another Machiavellian adage:

If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.

I for one, am committed to such a battle.

Published in Tribune Blogs.

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