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Karachi notebook: No more no-go areas?

Karachi notebook: No more no-go areas?

Karachi has been lamentably a city under siege, one large no-go area, for quite some time. Based on your ethnicity, sect or political leaning, there are certain areas you cannot enter, or would enter at your own risk, or areas that you would avoid for the fear of getting stuck, mugged, or kidnapped for ransom. Karachi’s geography has become a complex one, subdivided into smaller ethnic enclaves.

Gone are the days of celebrating diversity, tolerance and freedom. The Karachi of yesteryear used to be a city belonging to generous, tolerant and open-hearted people. However, things started to change when political tensions increased, sectarian factions emerged and extortionists and kidnapping gangs gained space. Finally, the extremist insurgency has proven to be the final nail in the coffin of the city.

There are cities within the city; hubs and nerve centres of political power, especially areas such as Mukka Chowk, Sohrab Goth, Lyari etc. There had been visible lines separating the city dwellers in the form of walls, gates and barriers erected by government bodies, political and religious parties, consulates, and residential societies under the pretext of security. Around 70pc of residential streets in the city had been cordoned off through the installation of barriers at entry and exit points.

But a change is slowly under way now. With a resolve not to let any locality be made a ‘no-go’ area, most of these barriers have been removed by the Rangers or by the residents themselves upon the paramilitary force’s instructions. It’s a welcome and much-needed move.

However, the problem of access and inaccessibility goes deeper than cemented walls, steel barriers, containers, and their removal. There still are invisible lines that one would not dare cross. On a different but related note, one must also take into account the countless rallies and sit-ins or dharnas that take place in the city, especially around Numaish and M.A. Jinnah Road, transforming these central areas into no-go zones.

Also, while barriers have been removed from residential communities, neighbourhoods have now become more open and accessible, meaning they have also become quite vulnerable again to criminals and snatchers. If powerful government officials, political and religious parties, and diplomatic missions feel unsafe in the city, then how is the public supposed to feel? Or should it protect itself? Hence, it is the duty of the law-enforcement agencies to provide fool-proof and long-term protection and security to the public.

The removal of physical barriers is a welcome move, but one wonders if the impact of this is a temporary or a permanent one. Permanent and long-term measures are required from the government, security forces and the political and religious parties in order to provide a safe and secure environment in Karachi and restore peace in the city.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2015

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