The Pakistani Supreme Court has come down heavily on the law-and-order situation in Karachi and had formed a committee to look into arms smuggling in shipping containers.

Last week, Pakistan Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had ruled out the army being sent to Karachi in response to a demand from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). Law-and-order is a subject of the Province and sending the army would go against the mandate given by the people to the Sindh government, he told the National Assembly. Sindh is ruled by the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

However, he said the government would consider a targeted operation to weed out known criminals and target killers in the city responsible for the unrest which has claimed over a thousand lives this year. He pointed out that a political consensus was being achieved for this operation and he had spoken to the Chief Minister of Sindh province (where Karachi is located) in this regard. The Chief Minister would lead the team for the operation which would have a monitoring committee to oversee it.

“We need honesty to change things and peace will happen when there are no political hurdles. The issue cannot be politicised,” he stressed.

The Supreme Court bench hearing a case concerning law-and-order in Karachi said it was not satisfied with the situation or the performance of law enforcement agencies. It also asked for a report on the situation from April 2011 onwards. Karachi has been witnessing a stormy situation after pitched battles between armed groups. In Lyari, many Kutchis had to flee their homes fearing violence. Over a 100 people have been killed in the last nine days, according to a news report. The government has responded with arrests and crackdowns but the killings continue.

Till June this year, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 1,728 casualties were reported with 313 killed in June alone. A news report quoting the Commission said between January and June this year, 545 of those killed had no political affiliations, but were gunned by target killers. Of the 174 activists killed, 104 belonged to the MQM. Ninety- two police officials lost their lives and 101 bodies were found dumped in various party of the city. Ninety two people were killed in bomb blasts, while 41 lost their lives in the Lyari gang war. Sixty nine people have been killed by law-enforcement agencies, the report stated. Mid-August, gunmen opened fire outside the office of Express newspaper office injuring a few people including a guard.

Mr. Khan said that the province would be given a well represented team to control the situation and already he was speaking to the Rangers and police to enforce the law. “We haven’t kept quiet for two months and we have identified the target killers and criminals but a majority has political affiliations.”

He was also briefed by the director general Rangers who accepted that a cleanup of criminal elements was doable. The government plans to hold a special meeting of the federal Cabinet on Tuesday with all stakeholders to resolve the issue soon and evolve a consensus on the operation.

The targeted operation will have to have clear parameters, he pointed out. If there are people with criminal records who are arrested, then there should be no political interference and the civil armed forces and other security forces should be given a free hand. In the past, the Rangers have arrested people who were released or acquitted. A bomb maker was recently let off on bail after he was caught along with others in a bomb factory which was unearthed. The operation must work within the domain of law and it is not that random people will be picked up, he added.

“We need to handle this coolly and calculatedly. If we send the army, it will be unfair to Sindh and the army is already overstretched.” However he agreed with the MQM that something needs to be done, adding that this was an issue concerning all of Pakistan since Karachi was an economic hub of the country, not of Sindh alone.

He said an all-party team can oversee the operation and pointed out that there were no magic solutions. At the federal Cabinet met last Wednesday Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took serious notice of the law and order situation in Karachi and directed the Interior Minister to make a comprehensive presentation in the next Cabinet meeting on the issue.