Rather than just being a stage where broader conflicts between national political actors and transnational armed groups are imposed, cities themselves pose political challenges that deeply affect state authorities and institutions. This is clear in the four cities of Mogadishu, Nairobi, Kabul and Karachi – all of which are in countries where institutions and rule of law are very weak.
These observations were published in a study entitled ‘Drivers of urban political violence: decreasing state authority and armed groups in Mogadishu, Nairobi, Kabul and Karachi’. The study was recently conducted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a security think-tank based in London. Based on field research, this report identifies urban triggers of political violence in four cities located in the so-called fragile country.
The report observed that the governance problems that ensued were severe in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest and most populous city, which is now home to 21 percent of the country’s urban population. Between 1988 and 2018, the population surged from 6.6 million to more than 15 million, an increase of 130 percent, making it the twelfth most populous city in the world. Evidence of Karachi’s inability to cope with this demographic explosion is seen in large slums, home to 55 percent of the population.
The soaring armed violence in Karachi during the first half of 2010 was mostly related to militias run by legitimate political parties, the report said. The low-income areas of the city are divided into territories controlled by rival militias associated with parties such as the Mutahida Qaumi Movement and the Pakistan People’s Party. “The presence of the militias, in turn, means that local community leaders will help them influence the way citizens vote in elections – a process that has been referred to as ‘cleavage’ from low-income areas,” he said.
Rapid and unmanaged population growth in Karachi has added further governance and political challenges in a city that also has to face ongoing sectarian competition, organized crime and armed militias, the report noted.
Also, in the slums of Karachi, criminal gangs and political militias have been able to generate income and achieve some political legitimacy by exploiting weak state service provision such as health services, water and dispute resolution mechanisms such as courts, according to the report. IISS report. “The way the ruling political parties at the city level tend to support their own constituencies when providing services has strengthened the role of violent actors in low-income areas.”
While political violence that occurred in Karachi is related to the dynamics of wider conflict in Pakistan – such as the activities of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) – this violence is also driven mainly by special tensions for the urban environment, such as urbanization, disputes about influence in the region densely populated, and the provision of prohibited services without effective provisions by the government, he observed.
“The inability to extend services and development to the broad outskirts of Karachi has pushed local people farther from the country and towards political parties organized along sectarian lines, armed militias, gangs and other groups competing for territory, extortion money. and income from land grabbing and illegal water supply. “
Drawing similarities between the Karachi and Nairobi cases, the report underscores the value that densely populated urban areas have for political actors willing to ally with non-state armed groups. “In exploiting the influence of these armed groups on territory, parties and politicians in both cities have been able to secure the votes of local voters and also access to profits from local criminal companies.”
Karachi offers an example of how land tenure problems can end with severe security consequences. Criminal groups that benefit from illegal occupation and then sell land shifted their loyalty from the secular Awami National Party (ANP) to the TTP when the latter began to infiltrate Pashtun suburbs in the late 2000s and early 2010s, according to the report. “These so-called ‘muscle men’ are allies that are needed even for armed groups like the Taliban, because of their connections with government agencies and the police. And the muscular men, on their side, benefit from having a stockpile of weapons for the seizure of their land. “
For those who control urban areas, another valuable resource is the land itself. The increase in land prices has become one of the consequences of urban population growth in all four cities, including Karachi, the report observes.
In Mogadishu, Kabul and Karachi, the growth of this urban population has not been disrupted for at least 20 years, driven in large part by the displacement of large numbers of people by armed conflict and poverty elsewhere in the countries, he said.