The people (Mohajirs) who migrated from various parts of India settled in Karachi, Hyderabad, and other cities of Sindh, brought with them an urban capital culture, relatively large entrepreneur class along with an administrative and educated petty bourgeoisie and a well-trained working class.
Karachi, the economic hub of the country, depicts the complex social, political and economic problems afflicting Pakistan. The failure of the state to accommodate its ethnicities and diverse cultures in a national narrative, has logically resulted in rising political trends that lead to ethnic and regional conflicts and sectarian clashes. Karachi is understandably now a battlefield of mutually conflicting and contradicting interests. A bad omen for country’s fragile democracy as well.
Karachi cauldron can better be understood by discussing all the major sources of conflicts —- ethnic, sectarian and terroristic—- but this article will discuss only the political aspect of the whole issue.
The metropolitan city is the concentration centre of all the ethnic identities of Pakistan gathered here for varying reasons; political as well as economic, and reduced the original inhabitants, Sindhis and Baluchis, to a minority.
Massive migrations took place sporadically for reasons including Partition of India, industrialization during Ayub dictatorship, 1971 war and creation of Bangladesh, Afghan war, insurgencies in FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well as Baluchistan and now the floods.
These migrations, dislocations and displacements have changed the demographics of the city, hence the political landscape as well. The people (Mohajirs) who migrated from various parts of India settled in Karachi, Hyderabad, and other cities of Sindh, brought with them an urban capital culture, relatively large entrepreneur class along with an administrative and educated petty bourgeoisie and a well-trained working class. Their common experience of dislocation and sacrifices due to the Partition, their active part in independence movement; considering themselves the real creators of the state, and skills of political maneuvering and running state machinery made them key players in political and economic arenas.
Being a capital city, under federal control, One Unit administrative structure and disarticulation of Karachi from the administrative boundary of Sindh marginalized the local inhabitants as compared to Mohajirs, Punjabis and Pashtuns. After the liberation of Bangladesh, when provinces were restored, the Bhutto government while responding to the genuine grievances of Sindh, took steps to declare Sindhi an official language, medium of education and a compulsory subject. This step was resisted in Karachi by an alliance of Mohajirs, Punjabis and Pashtuns.
The conflict between Sindhis and Mohajirs on quota allocations in jobs and admission in educational institutions agitated Mohajirs, who first had a common experience of dislocation to tie them together, now had common material grievances too.
The Zia regime, fearing the resistance by democratic forces in Sindh sponsored two mutually conflicting phenomena, “Sindhi nationalism” and newly realized “Mohajir nationalism”, ensuing in ethnic conflicts between Mohajir-Sindhis, Mohajir-Pashtuns and Mohajir-Punjabis, that caused many casualties.
Violent confrontations with different ethnicities, led to alienation of Mohajirs, who were now left with no option except to be a part of the MQM which emerged as the sole representative of Mohajir community. In the pursuit of Mohajir identity, electoral powers and territorial control on the basis of this new identity, the MQM began to demand an equal share in the resources of Karachi city.
For a long time, Karachi’s urban middle classes have demanded a share on the basis of revenue generation and tax collection. The much-hyped revenue generation and tax collection is based on the non-productive services sector and mostly because of its facilitated status as compared to any major city of Sindh province.
In the same way, Karachi relies for its basic necessities on other parts of the country. Even its port activity is dependent upon the industrial activity of major cities of the Punjab.
The port city makes it an attractive place for drug trafficking, smuggling and other illegal activities. It is said that the underworld and drug rackets cannot be separated from political parties in Karachi.
During the Musharraf dictatorship, the establishment wanted to keep PPP out of the provincial set up. Hence, the MQM was offered a major chunk in Sindh government besides governorship of Sindh and ministries in the federal cabinet. It indeed was an attractive package for the MQM. The MQM also got slots of Karachi’s and Hyderabad’s mayor.
Even the United States and Great Britain began to openly show their interest in this party.
The MQM got rid of its contenders Haqeeqi faction, by reviving its hold in the areas it had lost during the military operations. Ironically, the MQM even ‘gave up’ its Mohajir identity and insisted on its Sindhi identity. It began sounding different on ‘two nation theory’.
All this was appreciated by certain critics. Even the ANP embraced MQM and supported its candidate Abid Ali Umang in by-polls from Baldia Town against Qari Usman of MMA.
This romance period ended when the City government started a campaign in the name of public transport reformation. This move affected taxi and rickshaw owners, mostly Pashtuns. A Pashtun Action Committee was formed. It was a loosely-knit body comprising Pashtuns from all political parties. It was chaired by Shahi Sayyed, president of ANP Sindh chapter. The Action Committee was annexed to the ANP, contested a by-election in UC-2 Baldia town in alliance with the PPP and won the election.
On 12th May 2007, when deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chauhdry on an invitation by the Karachi Bar Association, visited Karachi, the city was bathed in blood. Mostly PPP’s and ANP’s activists were the victims of brutality. Certain TV channels were showing armed men openly firing at defenseless gatherings. The MQM was blamed and condemned for the massacre, all over the country. A judicial investigation in this regard, is still pending.
The situation was suitable for the ANP. Pashtun votes in Karachi, divided along religo-political affiliations (JUI /JI to PPP/PML) swung to the ANP. Two ANP provincial candidates on constituencies previously won by MMA, managed to win in the last general elections.
Due to insurgencies and counter-insurgency operations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pashtun flew from their native places to Karachi. Fearing the demographic changes, the MQM raised the issue of Talibanization. With the passage of time, Talibanization has been replaced by direct naming of the ANP.
Here in Karachi political differences are sorted through arms and gunfire.
As Dr. Muhammad Taqi, in his Op-Ed “Karachi’s civil war: politics by other means” describes “In a multi-ethnic, mega city like Karachi, where an overt secessionist movement or insurgency does not exist, various ethnic — and occasionally religious — groups use systematic violence to project hard power. Violence is also used as a coercive adjunct to negotiating and obtaining concessions from opponents, competitors and partners. The so-called land-grabber, drug and extortion mafias or the gangs operating with impunity, serve as the coercive muscle that the different ethnic and political outfits use to demonstrate hard power. Whereas the Mafiosi and gangsters are a problem by themselves, their importance lies in their association with various political outfits’’.
The periodic spat of violence every time resulting in assassinations of hundreds of peoples is described by him as a civil war.
While talking of a resolve he states, “It would be erroneous to assume that the criminal outfits of Karachi are just a function of the urban sprawl and disarming them, without a concomitant political solution, is going to be useful or even possible. However, political rapprochement by itself would also be insufficient and ineffective.” How true!