Almost on daily basis Pakhtuns are killed in Karachi and there is a complete silence in the media to the plight of the beleaguered community. And the victims are dismissed as workers of ANP as if their blood is cheap.
The knowledge that how the MQM’s military wing is undertaking the killings of political opponents, police officers and the Pakhtuns is in public domain- a fact even acknowledged by the government’s own interior ministry report (May 23, The News) with input from all the official security stakeholders in Karachi, including the Sindh Police, Special Branch, IB, ISI, Rangers and the Interior Ministry. So what is the strategy of the MQM behind these targeted killings of the Pakhtuns?
Those carrying out this war has two goals: the first is to create sympathy in Karachi and throughout the country for Urdu speaking community to portray the picture as if they are being driven by the Pakhtuns from their homes parallel to what happened to their forefather over six decades ago in communal riots in the united provinces prior to partition.
Second, they have sought to portray their war against the Pakhtuns as a struggle against the land mafia, the Taliban and and extremism. The Pakhtuns are being portrayed as aggressors toward the Urdu speaking community. The Urdu speaking community is portrayed as patriotic Pakistanis fighting the Pakhtuns much as the their forefathers had fought against communal rioters.
It is a brilliant strategy. By focusing on the alleged victimhood of Urdu speaking community and on the alleged aggression of the Pakhtuns , the MQM strategists defined the battle as being mainly against the Pakhtuns, with the Sindhis and Balochs of Karachi playing the role of people trying to create the second phase of the “Muhajir” victimhood. The goal is to vilify the Pakhtuns and to position the Urdu speaking community with other nationalist groups whether in rural Sindh or Balochistan rising against the Pakhtuns.
Not to mention the sub text that sends a message to other Pakhtuns who intend to come to Karachi to think twice as their properties: transport, push carts, huts will also be brunt down.
The precise truth or falsehood of this portrayal didn’t particularly matter. For most of the country, the Pakhtun issue in Karachi is poorly understood and is not a matter of immediate concern. The MQM intends to shape the perceptions of a the public with limited interest in or understanding of the issues, filling in the blanks with their own narrative. And they have succeeded by portraying the Pakhtuns as the Taliban and extremists.
The success is rooted in a political reality. Where knowledge is limited, and the desire to learn the complex reality doesn’t exist, public opinion can be shaped by whoever generates the most powerful symbols. And here the media spinning machine of the MQM works 24/7 in conjunction with the elements of mainstream Punjab and Karachi based media who is not prepared to accommodate alternative narratives on Karachi’s underlying issues, militancy, terrorism, India and Afghanistan relations. And on a matter of only tangential interest, governments tend to follow their public’s wishes, however they originate.
There is little to be gained for government in resisting public opinion and much to be gained by giving in. By shaping the battlefield of public perception, it is thus possible to get governments to change positions.
In this way, the MQM’s ability to shape public perceptions of what is happening in Karachi (to demonise the Pakhtuns and turn the question of Pakhtun issue into a MQM-ANP tussle) shapes the political decisions of a range of governments at centre and the province. It is not the truth or falsehood of the narrative that matters. What matters is the ability to identify the victim and victimiser such that Pakistani public opinion caused both in Karachi and central government not directly involved in the issue to adopt political stances advantageous to the MQM.
It is in this context that we need to view the silence of the PPP and other political parties over the plight of Pakhtuns in Karachi. It is weired that the PPP are tacitly supporting the MQM, in latter’s policy to drive Pakhtuns out of Sindh or in case of Sindhi nationalists staying neutral thus by default if not by design, punishing the poor Pakhtuns. But the PPP representing the Sindh vote bank and other Sindhi nationalists better understand that the MQM’ is not going to stay a 3 city party in Sindh and they would expand to rural Sindh.
As far the state of Pakistan, it is in Islamabad’s interest to check the policies of the MQM towards Pakhtuns and other ethnic minorities in Karachi also balance the monopolising politics of the group. At the end, it is only Pakhtuns that are between Jinnapur and Pakistan checking the lingering ambition of the MQM for its own separate fiefdom. Besides, economically vibrant and a peaceful Karachi is only conceivable if it survives as politically pluralistic, multi cultural and multi ethnic cosmopolitan city with the State of Pakistan as neutral arbiter in between various communities.
Notwithstanding, the Pakhtun community is well integrated in Pakistan and its political voices including the ANP and PKMAP have never been a centrifugal force-except merely accused by the establishment at time when Pakistan was feeling its way forward in Afghanistan, attempting to find the means to increase its geo-political stature through elements of Mujaheddin later the Taliban across the border and develop new tools of influence in Pakhtun areas through religio-political forces including the MMA and Suadi-funded religious seminaries.
But If Pakhutns are driven out of Karachi and Sindh, they have their ancestral land from the mountains of Chitral in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the plains of Sibi in Balochistan which will take them back when they the need it.
However, the biggest losers would be the PPP, ethnic Sindhis and the State of Pakistan if the MQM’s march towards ethnic cleansing and demographic engineering were left unchecked, aside the ordinary Urdu speaking population reeling under the yoke of the MQM.
The MQM’s demographic engineering and stocking ethnic riots comes at a most precarious time. Pakistan has already arrived at crisis point as the militant insurgency continues to spiral out of control and floods devastated the nearly 100 years of savings of Pakhtuns. Stoking ethnic unrest in Karachi for political reasons exacerbates the security dilemma confronting the state and provides a greater opportunity for the militants to thrive.
With Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA under the grip of terrorism and floods and the Pakhtuns in northern Balochistan being discriminated against, the 40 million Pakhtuns see least prospects for any livelihood in the foreseeable future. The only way the MQM can get rid of 7 million Pakhtuns of Karachi (Source: Wikipedia, and “Front Line World”-Focus- a report produced in association with the New York Times”) is to drive them into Arabian sea. Otherwise, they can not replace their Pakhtun neighbours no matter how many of them (the Pakhtuns) they target kill.