According to Al-Jazeera, “factory fires in two major cities in Pakistan have killed at least 314 people and injured dozens more, including some who had to leap from windows to escape the flames” on September 9, 2012. Most depressing is the fact that even after a week nobody has yet claimed responsibility for the massive loss of innocent civilian lives in the twin tragedies. The ruling elite is completely oblivious of its responsibilities; immediately after a tragic incident occurs a specific amount is announced by the government - federal or provincial - for the victims as compensation, followed by a pledge to set up a commission of inquiry. With this, it seems that the state’s constitutional obligation to ensure public safety and security, as well as protect the right to life is fulfilled until next time something devastating happens. What an irony, indeed!In the country’s worst industrial disaster, the factory blaze in the southern city of Karachi where at least 289 people were burnt to death, the police has registered a murder case under section 302 of the Criminal Procedure Court (CPC) against the owners. Reportedly, “the police are also investigating government officials, who failed to enforce fire safety regulations.” The major question is: who will have the guts to arrest senior officials of the rank of Director General and Secretary of State, including the Labour Minister, for further proceedings? It is unfortunate that the words “Islamic Republic” in the country’s official name are just used to meet constitutional requirements. Otherwise, the rulers well know that they are only hollow words with nothing to back them up. Nevertheless, Nawab Ameer’s resignation from his post as Sindh Labour Minister is, indeed, a welcome step. According to him, “Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah had stopped him from taking action against factories violating labour rules.” Whatever the truth, the fact remains that the nature of the Karachi tragedy in particular is so terrifying and unnerving that the Chief Minister Sindh should have resigned, along with his Cabinet ministers, for the provincial government’s failure to protect the people. One of the main reasons for the Lahore and Karachi tragedies is the criminal negligence of factory owners to follow the law of the land. In case of Lahore, unfortunately, the owner and his son also dead, thus paid a heavy price for disobeying the law. The point, however, is that thousand of such industrial units have been set up in mega cities without meeting the laid down requirements under the law. In addition, the officials of various government departments connive at such violations, thus becoming part of the conspiracy in covering up the crime. This chain goes right up to the Cabinet level. In Karachi also, the bhatta mafia that is involved in extortion, blackmail and coercion is a major factor in becoming party to putting the citizens’ property, including factories, on fire - a new factor introduced in this costly game is the role of terrorists to frighten the community, make money and destabilise Pakistan. As a final word, the increasing number of industrial units that are either being targeted by the bhatta mafia or are at risk for not following security-related laws is alarming, because it points towards the breakdown of the state machinery, which can have devastating consequences for the country. 

The writer is President of the Pakistan National Forum.Email: