MQM’s targeted killing strategy- By Jan Assakzai

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.




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