Karachi city skyline Image Credit: Getty Images/Flickr Open

When Mohammad Zubair claimed “full credit” for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday for overseeing an army led crackdown in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi, his statement seemed as hollow as it comes.

Zubair, a well-known crony of Sharifs who was recently appointed the provincial governor of Sindh, of which Karachi is the local capital, probably had good reason to place his leader in the limelight. The head of Pakistan’s largely dysfunctional privatisation programme until recently, Zubair’s appointment as governor of Sindh was widely seen as a recognition of his loyalty to the prime minister.

Zubair’s own credentials in the past year have included the very public and frequent defence of Sharif and his three children, on questions to do with the chance discovery of massive wealth that culminated with the prime minister’s children buying some of the world’s most expensive real estate in central London. As many Pakistanis await the outcome of a Supreme Court hearing in what has come to be popularly known as the ‘Panama leaks’ — after the infamous Panama Papers from where the information came, the matter of who led the Karachi clean-up hardly needs to be revisited.

Across the city, which is home to almost 10 per cent of Pakistan’s population, ordinary citizens lead lives with relative satisfaction. Motorists stay out for longer than before while many Karachi residents appear increasingly confident carrying new mobile phones which were once the top-most item for being snatched at gunpoint.

This relative improvement has come about mainly following the army’s crackdown which began under Pakistan’s former army chief General Raheel Sharif. Though criminality has not ended in Karachi, the frequency of crimes has visibly come down. Consequently, the city’s economy has begun to recover from the era when extortion of protection money from businessmen and kidnappings for ransom were far more prevalent.

Yet, just like the future of operations against criminality elsewhere in Pakistan, the job is far from done in Karachi. Sustaining the success in places like Karachi requires a host of comprehensive reforms on the political, societal and economic fronts. Not only has Prime Minister Sharif done little by way of leading the crackdown. More vitally, areas within his realm of responsibility simply present major glaring gaps. The host of reforms which are essential to sustain the army’s success require unprecedented activism by members of Pakistan’s political ruling structure.

To date and in spite of much by way of lip service, Pakistan’s rulers have yet to craft a comprehensive new national security policy that has been adequately discussed and debated by elected representatives. Herein lies the role of the parliament at the federal level where Sharif remains in-charge and in Sindh where the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by former president Asif Ali Zardari rules the province.

Once there has been a comprehensive discussion of key issues, there will be a need to translate agreed reforms in to reality. Well thought out policies only serve half the trick. The other half is about turning them in to a powerful reality that drives the work of key public institutions.

Plank for a fresh start

It is obvious that the army’s success in winning back space from criminals may provide the plank for a new beginning. However, that success alone cannot solve the full challenge. Indeed, there is a danger of the gains simply collapsing if the army is ever withdrawn in the absence of follow up work by civil institutions. Across Karachi, comprehensive reforms must target the local administration and the police, enabling them to ultimately take full charge one day.

Meanwhile, the issue of Pakistan’s economic direction remains central to any discussion of security trends all around. In Karachi for instance, poverty has practically invaded the city’s low-income neighbourhoods, where average households do not have access to basic comforts such as a running supply of safe drinking water, uninterrupted electricity and a regular supply of gas.

Other needs for human sustenance such as an affordable and acceptable quality of health care and educational institutions remains virtually absent. It is therefore not surprising that most children from ordinary households of such deprived neighbourhoods eventually just embark on low to middle income careers.

The evidence from such neighbourhoods is enough to challenge the ruling structure’s economic direction. In sharp contrast to Prime Minister Sharif’s favourite projects such as networks of air-conditioned buses plying on elevated platforms in different cities or new highway networks for high speed traffic, Pakistan must give priority to more pressing challenges such as energy shortages or the absence of safe water supply lines.

In other conflict-stricken regions beyond Karachi such as those inhabited by local tribes along the Afghan border, high quality health care and education remains virtually absent. With these important areas in neglect, winning the war exclusive through military gains provides no assurance of a conclusive and long term victory.

Going forward, part of the progressive change for the future remains squarely tied to the future of Pakistan’s politics. The dominance of politics by individuals with clout and money only means that the country’s middle class will remain unrepresented in politics for the foreseeable future. Unless such a change comes about in the quality of Pakistan’s political representation, the country’s decision-making processes will remain squarely in the hands of leaders who are just determined to preserve the status quo.

Meanwhile, Zubair’s meaningless claim in favour of Sharif remains clearly detached from Pakistan’s powerful realities. The country’s mainstream will likely just see this as nothing more than pointless propaganda, coming from a set of rulers who are yet to convincingly prove that they care for Pakistanis where it matters the most.

Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.