There was demolition of the homes of Ahle Bayt Muslims while they were inside, in Quetta and Karachi by organized extremists. Now Christian homes in Lahore have been set on fire by a mob after the inmates had been forced to flee. What is clear in each case is that the state whose essential function is to provide security of life and property to its citizens failed to do so. Amidst this horror, there was poignancy in the way the victims responded. In contrast to the inhumanity of the perpetrators and the indifference of the state was the humanity and fortitude with which the innocent citizens faced those terrible moments. As the multi storey buildings collapsed, ordinary people rose heroically to give care to the injured. In the Badami Bagh mob attack, Christians were forced out of the locality as their homes were set on fire. The pain of the politically powerless was matched by the moral strength of their response. Each one of my Christian students and the friends I met bore the suffering with a majestic dignity. In some churches of Lahore they reportedly prayed that God may give guidance to those who had torched their houses and violated the sanctity of their homes. There was no rancor: the response to hate was love. It was a moving testament of faith.
The observed acts of terror in some of the main cities of Pakistan are integrally related to an emerging extra constitutional system of power, governance and the mobilization and allocation of resources. Armed militant groups have donned various sub national identities as a means of fuelling emotions of their cadres to engage in urban warfare. These armed groups are fighting for power and resources within their exclusive geographic domains in cities such as Karachi. In the area that each militant group seeks to control, public or private land is illegally occupied; a system of regular financial extortion from individuals and firms in return for providing security is established; and the official state apparatus as well as competing armed groups held at bay with armed force.
At the same time the capacity of the state to wield state power in a systematic way for law enforcement has been considerably weakened. In such a situation some of the mainstream political parties surreptitiously maintain armed wings to pursue “politics by other means”. Some nurture links with extremist groups to gain political influence and a share of the resources that these groups control. A growing stratum of an informal economy and extra legal political power is under contention in urban Pakistan within a nexus of extremist non state entities, political parties and local officials. This could be a significant factor in the difficulty the state is facing in exercising state power through a centralized and integrated structure. Consequently significant geographic and economic spaces in major cities are being ceded to armed groups. Order when it exists is achieved through informal and fragile agreements between these non state entities rather than through the authority of the state.
Time was when the state and the lives of citizens were being defended in the valleys of FATA. Now it is in the main cities of the country that the writ of the state has to be defended, and citizens protected. This is an important challenge as Pakistan is getting rapidly urbanized and a large proportion of the urban population is concentrated in big cities. The New Growth Framework prepared by the Planning Commission under the leadership of Dr. Nadeem Ul Haque is in many ways a historic document. It gives a vision of vibrant cities and harmonious communities that would through enterprise and innovation of the youth give dynamism to commerce and industry. Such an urbanized economy fuelled by innovation and productivity increase would, the Report imagines, place Pakistan on a path of sustained economic growth. But such a vision would remain a distant dream if cities are fragmented into domains of power and pelf that are controlled by competing armed groups while state authority gets eroded. For cities to become the new engines of growth, public order and the rule of law are necessary. Not the spreading fires of anarchy.