In the past weeks, Pakistan has been hit by sad and mysterious events related to Sindh politics. My worst fears of political mafias forging a nexus of convenience with strange bedfellows may have come true. If I continue with my hypothesis, Pakistan could soon be entering a new phase of instability with serious security challenges that never existed before.

In this pessimistic scenario, Pakistan’s federal government has not read the script. Looking for long-term stability without addressing the short-term challenges has remained this government’s limitation. In fact it hardly formed any mechanisms to comprehend the challenges at hand. Its defence/interior ministries and think tanks failed to provide policy guidelines to handle the inevitable. Security and foreign policy issues were outsourced to the defence establishment without the realisation that Pakistan direly needed a comprehensive policy.

A situation has now been reached wherein a jigsaw of criminals, carpetbaggers, money launderers, militants, corrupt and politically franchised crime and hostile intelligence agencies could shape an environment pushing Pakistan’s security managers to the edge. PPP, MQM and Sunni Tehreek gangsters have teamed together with militant groups in Karachi for extortion, target killings, terrorism, land grabbing and mayhem. In many incidents, criminals arrested in one incident are linked to militants, MQM and PPP. This indicates politically franchised joint operations plus the ability of gangsters to transcend from one group to another. Men arrested from Sunni Tekreek include individuals who have worked for MQM and PPP. The Safoora incident has criminals related to militants, MQM and PPP.

Ever since the Nine Zero raid, MQM is in sharp focus of law enforcement agencies. The party has found it convenient to disown its workers involved in criminal activities but the evidence continues to pile up. The latest disclosures by BBC without names, though well-known inside Pakistan have stirred a new debate. Obviously, to maintain ambiguity, MQM leadership will avoid suing BBC. So the kettle will continue to boil, till such time an environment is shaped for the good, bad and the ugly.

Meanwhile Asif Ali Zardari under heat from Rangers and Army has reacted with words his party finds difficult to defend. Rather than attend to growing miseries of people in Karachi scourged by bad governance, absence of potable water, mismanagement of electricity and lawlessness, Zardari with his team retreated to Larkana. To him, it was more important to marshal his Sindh card than address the dying in Karachi. Later, the entire Zardari clan flew out of Pakistan without visiting the hapless, or taking stock of mismanagement in Karachi.

This leaves the party’s next tier of leadership high and dry. It speaks volumes of the lack of Zardari’s leadership charisma as also his abundant prowess at gambling ( “know when to walk away and when to run, never count your money when you are sitting at the table, there will be time enough to do it when the deal is done”). His visit abroad is likely to be a furlough, taking care of assets, investments and meeting his colleagues and advisors abroad to shape events. Obviously, like Altaf Hussain he will run the party remotely through ruffians.

Karachi is fast becoming a swamp and the law enforcement agencies have agitated it causing a coagulation of unions. This coalescing of non-state actors, criminalised political parties and external linkages will soon become a major challenge for law enforcement agencies and the federal government. The challenge to shrink this swamp will not be the task of armed forces alone. A national consensus will be needed to back it politically. Any mishandling will invite international reactions.

In a worst scenario, PPP and MQM could create massive civil unrest in Sindh. MQM’s repeatedly displayed this capability in major urban centres, while Zardari’s men showed it within fifteen minutes of Benazir’s murder in 2007. Civilian oversight (provincial government) itself having become part of the problem will be absent. Controlling such widespread unrest throughout Sindh will be a nightmare for rangers and the army. Governor’s rule will be a bigger challenge the federal government may not like to undertake. International oversight organisations will sharpen their focus. The military and Rangers will be accused of atrocities, overstepping and operating without credible civil sanction.

Zardari has left Nawaz Sharif with two choices. Dare, and we see you; don’t, and the army will see you. The idea is to pull both PML-N and the army into the swamp and then let loose a feeding frenzy of piranhas. He reckons that both international media and actors will be on his side in the final showdown of civil supremacy over the army. He will hope to return to a hero’s welcome.

Surely not only Pakistani establishment but also the entire world is watching these moves. Will Zadari’s threat to sleep with the enemy be taken seriously?

What happens if he harnesses MQM and follows through with his plan? Karachi and Sindh will bleed more because of violence and bad governance. CPEC investment plans will have to wait another day. Governor’s rule could be imposed. Nawaz Sharif’s Kitchen Cabinet will have to be replaced by an equivalent of a National Security Council. PML-N may have to look for new allies for a larger national interest. One overruling factor could be the findings and recommendations of the Judicial Commission.

At worse, it could bring instability detrimental to equilibrium in the region. The space regained from militants in FATA would be lost in urban areas. Violence in Balochistan and FATA could intensify. Stability in Afghanistan, crucial to complete American exit from the area, will be hampered. AFPAK fronts could be reversed. If this comes to pass the entire diplomacy of NRO 1 and fixed elections of 2013 would have fallen flat. The spirit of ‘Shrinking the Swamp’, as the US envisaged, would have actually contributed towards enlarging it.

The mess that Pakistan is in today was avoidable. The entire gambit of managing democracy and regime change was ethically and morally flawed. Though it is convenient to blame USA and UK for supporting the NRO, let’s not forget the roles played by President Musharraf and General (Retired) Ashfaq Pervez Kayani towards this end. Both played games with this nation and its soldiers.