Sunday, August 26, 2007

Viewpoint – Indian Intellectuals Can’t Accept Pakistan

Indian Intellectuals Can’t Accept Pakistan

Exposing the anti-Muslim attitude of Indian writers like Ramachandra Guha.

[Text by Ali Eteraz; picture by Muhammad Zaheer Mohsin]

On August 15, 2007, presumably to mark India's 60th birthday, the New York Times published an op-ed by Ramachandra Guha, a prominent Indian author. Titled India's Internal Partition, the article appeared to be a promising examination of Hindu-Muslim relations in India. Mr. Guha began with the events of 1990.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader Lal Krishna Advani journeyed for five weeks between Somnath and Ayodhya, making fiery speeches at towns and villages en route, denouncing the Indian government for "appeasing" the Muslims. In many places Mr. Advani visited, attacks on Muslims followed. In New Delhi, where I then lived, Mr. Advani's march represented a grave threat to the inclusive, plural, secular and democratic idea of India.

However, the reader is not treated to any meaningful discussion about India's "internal" matters whatsoever. In fact, as soon as the discussion about Indian-Muslims begins, Mr. Guha starts to discuss - Pakistan.

In his article, Mr. Guha is quick to invoke his Muslim friendly credentials by recalling his friendship with a Pakistani economist called Tariq Banuri. The latter was apparently the first Muslim Mr. Guha ever became "close" with. He also had dreams about Mr. Banuri during the Ayodhya crisis. Alas, the friendship did not leave any discernible positive residue.

When discussing Muslims in India, Mr. Guha states the oft-invoked trope that Muslims don't do anything but films, saying "but in law, medicine, business and the upper echelons of public service, Hindus dominated." An objective editorial about India's "internal" partition might have inquired why Muslims in India do not make it to the "upper-echelons" of Indian society. But why would Mr. Guha waste time with trivialities? After all, on the 60th anniversary of India , there is plenty of Pakistan bashing to be had. It comes soon enough.

As usual with prominent Indian intellectuals who are unable to accept that Indian Muslims are Indian and Pakistani Muslims are Pakistanis (and not Indians), Mr. Guha calls in Pakistan in this edit on India's Muslims. He recalls his visit to Badshahi Mosque in Lahore.

It was Friday evening, and a large crowd of worshipers was coming out after the weekly prayers. Walking against the flow, I had to jostle my way through.

As I bumped into one worshiper, I was seized by panic. In one pocket of my kurta lay my wallet; in the other, an exquisite little statue of the Hindu god Ganesh, dancing. I am not a believer, but this was my mascot, a gift from my sister, carried whenever I was separated from my wife and little children. What if it now fell out and was seized upon by the crowd? How would that turn out — an infidel discovered in a Muslim shrine, an Indian visitor illegally in Lahore?

Note the use of the terms "infidel" and "panic" and "seized upon by the crowd" (as if all Muslims crowd act as one). The term "shrine" is used to describe a mosque.

The fact is Mr. Guha is unwilling to accept that when he was in Pakistan, no one cared he was a Hindu, or had a dancing god in his pocket, or that he was from the upper-echelons of Indian society. In India, by virtue of being Hindu, he'd at least have been able to feel better than Indian Muslims. In Pakistan, deprived of recognition, and in desperate need for it, he resorted to a simpleton's victimization-complex.

As expected, Mr. Guha ends by predicting war between India and Pakistan.

Despite their shared culture, cuisine and love for the game of cricket, India and Pakistan have already fought four wars. And judging by the number of troops on their borders and the missiles and nuclear weapons to back them, they seem prepared to fight a fifth.

Mr. Guha has selective eyes. He sees only what he wants to see. There is no mention of the peace-initiatives initiated by President Musharraf; nothing on the cricket-diplomacy conducted over the last seven years (during which time Indian visitors were celebrated by Karachites and Lahoris).Mr. Guha ignores that there hasn't been any saber-rattling between India and Pakistan since a long time.

It is the anti-Muslim attitude of intellectuals like Mr. Guha which leads to enmity between Hindu and Muslim; and between Pakistan and India. India's Internal Partition reveals more about why Pakistan was necessary, and a good idea, than casting any positive impression of India.

[An earlier version of this article appeared at Jahane Rumi.]

Monday, August 20, 2007

Viewpoint – Jiye Gandhi

Jiye Gandhi in Pakistan

We need more Gandhians in Pakistan.

[By Maryam Arif; she hails from Lahore]

Pakistan paindabad, not the blog site but the concept (Long live Pakistan), depends on critical self-analysis on our parts. We are critical, but the analysis is missing, as far as the general public, particularly the Pakistani youth, is concerned. I feel the need to justify everything that doesn’t translate to “All hail the land of the pure.” This is a dilemma not unique to us, but is found in societies where the concept of nationalism is the result of a process other than an organic, bottom-up struggle.

While this hypothesis requires further research and analysis, I have some points to discuss. My question is why do we get so defensive when it comes to issues like nationalism, identity and our ideological past? I think this close-mindedness is very dangerous. Everything either starts or ends with “Insha’allah,” and the saying that God helps those who help themselves goes largely ignored.

Where do we find activism in our youth today? The lawyers’ movement was unprecedented in the history of this country, for as long as I have been around at any rate. They gave us something to be proud of; a golden opportunity to finally take an active part in politics- and what did we do with that opportunity? We lost it. We let the lawyers parade in their suits till they won their case, part of it, and then we let them shut up and leave us alone.

Where was the youth involvement in this movement? How many of us even thought about reminding the lawyers that their struggle was not based on a one-point agenda? It could have become our movement if we had taken charge of it, or even showed an active interest in the weekly protests. Alas, we lost a chance to bring to trial the “kala coats.”

Are things so much better in India? Well, there is definitely more activism. There are several reasons for that – political awareness, a history of upholding democratic ideals, and faith in voters’ power to bring about change from within the system. In my opinion, the most important factor is the Gandhian tradition. It is a tradition of grassroots politics; of reaching out to and connecting with the masses.

Gandhi’s is a legacy of peaceful protest – long marches, long fasts and long struggle. To this day most Indians look up to this leader who was a people’s person, one who led by following.

Where is that legacy to be found in Pakistan? Ours has been a politics of the army and an aristocracy that made every effort to remain aloof from the common people and their problems. What we need are Pakistani Gandhians – activists who believe in the politics of resistance and perseverance. Don’t think I’m anti-Pakistan for saying this. Or go ahead; think what you will but the fact is that Gandhi is not just an Indian leader. He is one of the most prominent personalities of the sub-continent.

How do we honor this great leader in our country? We reduce him to a footnote in our history books. I learnt more about Lords Curzon and Mountbatten (even Lady Mountbatten and her affair with Nehru) than I did about Gandhi or other activists of the Indian sub-continent.

Being Muslim is only a part of our identities. Does faith require us to give up other aspects of our selves that make us complete human beings – people who learn from history and take an active role in shaping their societies?

I rest my case. I hope that you will take it up with your friends. All is not lost.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Azaadi at 60 – We the Pakistanis

A young Karachite demands a new not-so-moth-eaten Pakistan

[Text and picture by Ameer Hamza, a freelance photojournalist whose works have appeared in newspapers like Dawn and The Friday Times.]

Freedom came to us at midnight, a time when people are supposed to be sleeping. And it was the night between 14 and 15th August, 1947. But historical facts can be murkier. For one, the Mountbattens were in Pakistan on 14th for the assembly and announcement. So the actual freedom was on 14th. Some historians don't agree. But Pakistan lives on and it marks its independence ahead of its arch political rival,

But freedom can be a dangerous thing for millions, if thrown away like that. Fortunately, Pakistan did not get freedom just for nothing. Many lost their lives. Many lives turned into horrible mess, thanks in part to the British idea of speedy independence. And yet, today we do not really realize the importance of national freedom. Ask Palestinians about it. They might be able to tell you what it means to be free as a nation.

14th August is here for the 60th time. And in these years what have we achieved? This is the question which is being asked not only nationally but also internationally. Being the sole nuclear Muslim country with a proverbial Islamic bomb in hand, world looks pretty anxious on our birthday. Some, like the neocons in Washington, perhaps do not want to see us alive for 61st Birthday. Others would like us to live long, like China. But what do we the Pakistanis want?

The question is daunting as much as it is philosophical in nature. For one, we would want to have freedom of expression - not permission to dance nude in beaches, but freedom from Wahabi Islam; freedom from people who blow our Muslim brothers and sisters in the name of Islam. We would like to free ourselves from the hold of psuedo-Talibans like Qazi Hussain and Fazal (Mulana Diesel), and their cohorts. We would like to see our army defending our borders and not building bank balances (which it seems to be doing presently).

We would surely want our tribal areas to become more humane, more accepting, and friendlier. We would like to see our sisters and daughters educated, so they are free from the clutches of often illiterate husbands and fathers. We would love to see free trade with India. After all, why should we buy Indian goods from Saudi Arabia or Dubai?

There are many other things we would want. Naming them all would not be possible here. In short, I, as a Muslim and as a Pakistani, would like to see Hindus, Christians, Zoroastrians, and other religious minorities to be treated as equal citizens. We don't want burned churches, blown up temples, and killed clerics. We don't want bloodshed. We've already have had our fair share of such happenings. Being a pure-blooded Karachite, I know the price of blood.

We want a peaceful, powerful, independent, sure-footed Pakistan. Not the moth-eaten one we had at midnight some 60 years ago.

[Written by Ameer Hamza. All rights reserved. Only for Pakistan Paindabad. No commercial use.]

Monday, August 13, 2007

"Writing columns often moves me to tears" - Independence Day Interview with Kamran Shafi

Independence Day Interview with Pakistan's Wittiest Columnist Kamran Shafi

One of Pakistan’s most acclaimed columnists and commentators, Mr. Kamran Shafi writes for Lahore-based Daily Times. A former officer in the Pakistan Army, he was Ms. Benazir Bhutto's press secretary during her first stint as Prime Minister. Some of his columns are archived here.

On the eve of Pakistan’s 60th Independence Day, Mr. Shafi talked to Pakistan Paindabad.

[Interview by Mayank Austen Soofi; picture courtesy - Kamran Shafi]

Welcome to Pakistan Paindabad, Mr. Shafi. How was your July holiday trip to Europe?

Good, thank you. It was great meeting old friends again, and visiting quite stunning places: Cordoba, Granada and Seville, and the great architectural monuments that even today leave one speechless. Not to forget some of the most beautiful and elegant people in the world! On the cutting edge, so to say, it was instructive to see how far small countries like Sweden have progressed technologically, leaving one asking why India, and far more than India, Pakistan, lag so far behind.

Why do Pakistani columnists mostly write negative things about the country? Is there nothing left to celebrate?

Due to authoritarian rule, there is so much wrong with the country. Yet there is much to celebrate: such as the good-hearted, resilient Pakistani people and their honest labours.

Your writing, spontaneous in tone, is witty and dark at the same time. Just what effort goes in the making of a weekly column?

Very little time is spent on the actual writing if I happen to be incensed about something, which is usually the case. Emotionally, the toll is greater. It drains me completely, quite often moving me to tears.

You were an officer in the Pakistan army. Why did you choose it as career? What made you leave it after few years? How you became one of the country's liveliest and most popular columnists?

While I am not so sure about the “liveliest and most popular” bit, and while I thank you for the compliment, I joined the Army to prove to my family, and more importantly to myself, that I could hack it on my own. Later I left the Army when I realised it had become too big for me.

I began writing when one of our very senior retired generals said in a press interview that while he was “number four in the army" at the time of the East Pakistan tragedy, he did not know the “full extent” of what was going on there. This was something like twenty-seven years ago but I remember writing a response that, even though I was only "number 7,844th” in the army, I was quite aware of what was going on in East Pakistan! Some of his friends reacted to what I had said; I responded; and my writing career started.

Please share some of your experiences in the army life. How that institution shaped you as an individual?

I spent some of the best years of my life in the Pakistan Army. I learnt to work with comrades in very close proximity; to tell the truth at all times; to stringently follow the law come what may; and to handle responsibility, at a very young age. I was a Company Commander at the age of 19 after the 1965 war with India. More than anything else I was humbled by the sheer loyalty and courage of the common soldier.

Many are identifying the army's hold on power as the key problem facing the nation? We even have a book by Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa with some unflattering observations about its commercial entanglements. How has the character of the Pakistan Army evolved?

It has become more commercial, dabbling in business, which is not what armies should do.

ln the book Twice as Good: Condoleezza Rice and Her Path to Power, there is an account of how the US Secretary of State refused to be taken by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz's "Savile Row-suited gigolo kind of charm ...” … If you were in place of Mr. Aziz, what would have been your rebuttal to this offensive description made against a top Pak leader?

I take it you mean had I been in place of Shaukat Aziz, what my response would have been to this bizarre charge. If I was an elected leader and not the hand-maiden to a military dictator (who is beholden to the United States), and if Ms. Rice (or her biographer) had been wrong about the charge, I should have got my government to protest most vehemently. In this case, Shaukat Aziz is neither here nor there in the scheme of things. Who takes him seriously anyway?

On a Former Colleague

You served as Ms. Benazir Bhutto's press secretary during her first stint as Prime Minister. How was it like working with Ms. Bhutto when she was still a Daughter of the East and was not tainted with corruption scandals?

I have always thought of Benazir Bhutto as a good woman and a highly gifted politician who more often than not said and did the right thing. As to corruption scandals, they are not peculiar to Pakistan - only the way the Pakistani Establishment reacts to corruption scandals alleged against politicians (not generals, not bureaucrats) is most peculiar.

Look at India and at the Bofors scandal. If I have it right the CBI is still investigating the scam. While the Hinduja Brothers are off the hook, Sonia Gandhi's Italian friend is still under investigation. Yet, she remains the leader of India's governing Congress Party and a member of the Lok Sabha. More than anything else she has not been chased out of the country under threat of imminent arrest.

What do you feel about Ms. Bhutto now? Is she still a credible leader for the country?

I am completely against her making a deal with the dictator; but she will remain a credible leader so long as the people of Pakistan support her.

There are hints of her return but everything appears uncertain. Since you have worked with her, do you have some idea what must be going through her mind presently?

The available evidence points to the fact that she has made the deal and will soon return. Unless Musharraf reneges, which too is being talked about in the bazaar, and which he is quite able, Sancho Panza-like, to do.

Personal Choices

Who would make the best Prime Minister: Benazir Bhutto, Imran Khan or Iftikhar Mohammed Choudhury? Is it okay to skip Nawaz Sharif?

Mr. Justice lftikhar Chaudhry is a great jurist and has handed down some important and ground-breaking judgements. He has halved the pending cases before the court and one hopes and prays that he continues to enjoy good health and remains the Chief Justice for many more years. As to who will make the best prime minister, it is not for me to say – let there be a free and fair election and let the people decide. No body should be left out of the electoral exercise.

Among the Pakistani columnists, whom do you never skip reading?

Mr. Khalid Hasan, Mr. Irfan Husain, and Mr. Ayaz Amir.

You live in Wah. Was there any special reason behind this move to a 'rural life'?

Wah is my mother's family's ancestral village. I was brought up by my maternal grand- mother. As for my opting for rural life: we are a rural people. However, Wah can hardly be called a “rural” place anymore considering the rapid and unchecked urbanisation which has turned our quite beautiful valley into a virtual bazaar.

In some columns we read passing accounts of your friends visiting from the West. How did their impressions of Pakistan evolve during their travels?

Since our friends have always stayed with us there is not much difference in their impressions of the country.

Mr. Musharraf and Co.

It seems another age when Mr. Musharraf had the good will of many. Did you not support him when he took power through a coup? How do you justify it now? Can the removal of an elected government, no matter how inefficient, be welcomed?

One thought he could and would break out of the mould, but in hindsight I was always wrong in supporting a military dictator. And no, there is no excuse for the military to remove an elected government. And no, a military coup should never be welcomed.

We know you found his memoirs In the Line of Fire “extremely ludicrous”. If you were the editor, what portions you would have deleted or amended? What alternative title you would have suggested?

I would never have supported Musharraf writing his memoir. Pakistan has made no giant strides during his time in power – if anything it is a far more fractious country than it was when he seized power. In the unlikely event that I was the editor, it would have been a very short book indeed.

Let's say you were Mr. Musharraf’s deputy who carried out a successful coup against him. What would have been your top priorities as Pakistan's new dictator?

Heaven forbid that I should be a dictator's 'Deputy'. Heaven forbid that there are any more coups d’ etat in our unfortunate country. Pakistan needs a free and powerful judiciary, fair and transparent elections, and the hand-over of power to the people’s representatives.

How different things would be if Mr. Bush and Mr. Musharraf exchange their official posts?

Not much; sadly they are quite similar. Only Bush is slightly the better because he is (somewhat) elected.

Readers always look forward to your Bushisms of the Week. Which is your all-time favourite?

There are so many that show the man to be completely stupid and without any human feeling whatsoever. He has said so many foolish things. This is one of those that I put very near the top: "God loves you, and I love you. And you can count on both of us as a powerful message that people who wonder about their future can hear."

What have you been reading of late?

Kargil by General VP Malik and Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart.

Journalism remains a poorly paid career in Pakistan. How do you support yourself?

My sons look after their old Abba. Bless them.

Final Questions

What effect do you think your columns have had on decision makers?

One that I do know is when the Pakistan Army enforced the Army Dress Regulations as regards the dimensions and shape of the beret when I repeatedly wrote about the ugly chapatti the 'smart and tight' beret had become over the years. It was heartening to see that change happen over a very short time.

This is personal. Just who is Charlie's Aunt? She appears very often in your columns.

Mr. Khalid Hasan, who was my English teacher at school (he was a very young man then), chided me once for referring to George W Bush as 'Dubya'. He said that even 'Charlie's Aunt' had stopped calling him that. I use it now to stress a point and to poke fun at whoever is in my sights that day.

Any sentiments you wish to share with the readers on Pakistan’s 60th Independence Day?

I fervently wish that Pakistan and India grow up and learn to live with each other like good, responsible and affectionate neighbours. Just yesterday, my friends and I went by train from Regensburg, Germany to Salzburg, Austria for the day. There was no passport or Customs control between the two countries. Why can´t I drive from Lahore to Amritsar to eat Thandi Khui wali poorian, and visit my great-grand aunt’s house there; why can´t my friend Alpana and her husband Rajeev climb into their car and drive to Lahore for tikkas? When will these two countries, both nuclear powers (I ask you!!) grow up?

Thank you for talking to Pakistan Paindabad, Mr. Shafi.

Thank you, Mayank. Be happy; and in the words of Mr. Spock of Star Trek: ‘May you live long and prosper’.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Pakistani Riddle – Speaking Hindi; Reading Arabic

Making sense of our Pakistani identity.

[By Maryam Arif, she hails from Lahore; picture by Zadignose]

As Pakistanis we constantly struggle with the contradictions of religion and culture. Culturally we share much in common with Indians, religiously we feel bound to Afghanistan. Too many ironies lurk in our daily lives. We read Arabic without understanding it; we speak Hindi without being able to read or write it.

In his latest film, Khuda Ke Liye, acclaimed director Shoaib Mansur does a good job of bringing these tensions to light. My favorite scene takes place in a court where the actor Naseeruddin Shah, preaching tolerance and rational thinking, says, "Din mein darhi hai, darhi mein din nahi." (Beard is part of the religion; the religion is not in a beard). Also, on the question of dress in Islam, he points out that what one wears depends on one's socio-economic status and one's location on the globe. For instance, it wouldn't be fair to expect a Muslim convert in the North Pole to wear an ankle-high shalwar. Sensible indeed!

I congratulate Shoaib Mansur on reviving Pakistani cinema. An original work of art, his film comes out at a time when many of us are struggling with what it means to be a Muslim in Pakistan. Is music haram or halaal? Every second house has a youngster who plays an instrument or sings. Underground bands are growing by the day. More and more Pakistani singers are making their way up to the top charts in India. In case if the music is indeed haram, then are all these people not good Muslims?

Are we becoming a nation of non-believers? Quite unbelievable - even the leftists in this country offer the Friday prayers!

I see the ideological contradictions in my own family. My mother is a communist, Gandhian, and an atheist – all in one. Yet, she has a religious corner in her room where she keeps a shrine - complete with an idol of Krishna playing the flute, puja thali and all. There is Jesus, Sikh gurus, Buddha, Khana Ka'aba, Kaali and even a miniature Taj Mahal. But she happens to be born in a Muslim family!

When I recently fell sick, my mother's instinctive reaction was to blame the evil eye. Before I could take any medication, she performed the "damm" on me, which made for an interesting spectacle indeed. With her head uncovered and hands that smelled of cigarette smoke, she mumbled something that I assumed to be Quranic verses.

Her furious invocation followed her belief that her daughter had become a victim of the evil eye. To get rid of it, an egg and some peppers were summoned from the kitchen. After rotating the edibles over my head, the egg was left on the roadside and the peppers burned on the kitchen stove. These are the doings of my sweet mother who claims to be an atheist.

My mother is not unique. Like most Pakistanis, she too is a person enjoying interesting complications borne out of influences ranging from our multi-faith history, moderate Islam, modern trends, ancient traditions, to our nation’s turbulent politics – all mish-mashed together in a fantastic combo meal. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that there are several Pakistans inside each Pakistani.

Pakistan Paindabad.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Reading Karachi; Understanding Pakistan

A single city defines the ethno-political dimensions of an entire nation.
(This is part II of a two series article. )

[Text by Gaurav Sood; picture by Edge of Space]

Pakistani politics cannot be understood without paying close attention to the deep ethnic cleavages that line its polity. The seminal moments in its brief history – the 1971 war with India which led to the creation of Bangladesh, the horrific violence that rocked Karachi in the mid-90s – are a reflection of the inability of politicians to transcend narrow ethno-linguistic boundaries, be it in revenue allocation or in crafting policies around language and culture.

In the first part, I had discussed the volatile ethnic dimensions of Karachi, particularly the roleof Mohajirs in the city's political curning.

Revenue Sharing Issue

In 1995-96, Karachi's estimated contribution to the Federal and Provincial Tax Revenue was Rs 403 billion or just a little over 63%. Karachi metropolitan area's population of about 12-14 million then was just about 10% of Pakistan's total population. The Federal Government reallocated just over 2% of the revenues it harvested from Karachi back into Pakistan that year. The imbalance can be largely explained by the redistributive nature of tax regimes in which taxes from rich provinces are often used to provide for public goods elsewhere. While that is largely true, there was also explicit discrimination that led to such neglect of infrastructure that it almost killed the cash cow of Pakistan.

Mohajir Quami Movement

In 1978, Altaf Hussain formed a student organization called the All Pakistan Mohajir Student Organization (APMSO). The nascent student organization quickly leached students from Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami. In doing so, it sealed its future as an adversary of IJT. APMSO and IJT regularly clashed on the college campuses in the early 80s, and have continued to battle since then.

In 1984, the Mohajir Quami Mahaz (MQM) set up with by Altaf Hussain. Between 1984 and 1986, Hussain worked to recruit its cadre and then launched itself on national stage with a massive rally in Karachi on August 8th, 1986.

Between 1986 and 1988, MQM worked towards a Sindhi-Muhajir alliance. In 1988, MQM fought national elections (under the name Haq-Parast) in an alliance with Sindhi dominated Pakistan People's Party (PPP) led by Benazir Bhutto. In the elections it emerged as the third largest party with 13 seats in the National Assembly. MQM also achieved a landslide victory in municipal elections (1987) in Karachi. MQM's first stint in sharing power was largely ineffectual in delivering real tangible improvements as the governance was marred by both infighting within MQM as well as active sabotage by Bhutto's PPP.

MQM withdrew support from the Bhutto government and fought the next election in an alliance with Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (PML). The Mohajir-Sindhi alliance provided the only real chance to thwart the Punjabi dominance in Pakistani politics, and PPP's parochialism and MQM's need to deliver to its constituents, led to an early demise to the alliance. MQM's decision to ally with the Punjabis would soon prove to be unfortunate.

The coalition Islami Jamouri Ittehad (IJI or Islamic Democratic Front) rode to power in the 1990 elections. Between 1990 and 1992, MQM got a free reign under Jam Sadiq Ali. But with power came dissent and party indiscipline. Aamir Khan, a comrade in arms with Altaf, began muscle flexing. In June 1992, the military, concerned about MQM's rising star, launched Operation Cleanup to weed out Altaf Hussain. All of this was done with the express consent of Nawaz Sharif.

While the Operation was officially to 'weed out criminal', it turned into an all out witch hunt against MQM. The military not only conducted raids but also led a media assault- it released photos 'showing' that MQM was a terrorist organization that ran torture chambers, and newspapers, fed by the military, ran expose' pieces about its gun running operations. Disagreements between Altaf Hussain and the then MQM’s two prominent militant leaders, Afaq Ahmed and Aamir Khan had first surfaced towards the end of 1991.

The military led campaign, sidled with a political campaign, helped create 'mutiny' within ranks and led to the formation of "Real MQM" or Haqiqi Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM-H) under Aamir Khan. Funnily, the progenitors of the splinter group were also killed by the avid embrace of its parents, the government. The group quickly lost credibility on the street and eventually just became a front group for the government to wage war against MQM.

Soon after the launch of the Operation, MQM withdrew support from the coalition. The same year, Altaf Hussain went to UK ostensibly for 'medical treatment' and converted the opportunity in to a voluntary exile. Since then he has led the organization via telephone, faxes, and other modern communication mechanisms. It is important here to note the central role of Altaf Hussain in leading MQM.

MQM is seen as a one man party which deeply relies on the charismatic leadership of Altaf Hussain. Hussain, who was born to lower middle-class background in Azizabad in Karachi, is known as Quaid (leader) and Pir Sahib within the ranks. MQM itself is a cadre based tightly knit organization.

The organization prides itself on superb discipline within its ranks. The organization imposes a premium on its cadres for strict adherence to, what it sees, are essential tenets for building a strong organization. In its pamphlet on training workers, it lists four essential elements of a strong movement: "(1) "blind faith" (literal translation from Urdu) in the leadership; (2) elimination of individuality; (3) strong sense of common purpose; and (4) complete knowledge of, and agreement with the ideological basis of the organization."

MQM boycotted the 1993 elections. The PPP government in 1994 gerrymandered the districts so as to bypass MQM's ironclad grip on Karachi. 1994 onwards Karachi was under grip of violence as MQM(A) fought pitched battles with ISI supported MQM(H). In November 1994, the army was withdrawn from law enforcement duties in Sindh, but the paramilitary Rangers were reinforced and specially trained police inducted. During 1995 and 1996, hundreds of people were killed by Rangers and police, including hundreds of members of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.

In 1997, MQM(A) tried to moderate its stance in terms of ethnicity by changing its name Muthaida Quami Movement (United National Movement). Reflecting MQM's nature (and need) for forming alliances of convenience, MQM again switched partners in 1998. The ruling PML(N)'s troubled alliance with the MQM(A) in Sindh province ruptured during October 1998. Without the MQM(A), the PML(N) no longer had the numbers to govern in the Sindh province, leaving a clear path for the opposition Pakistan People's Party of Benazir Bhutto to join with the MQM(A) to form a majority in the Sindh assembly. Within a year, Musharraf was at the helm of Pakistan as its CEO.

Transportation Riots

The Soviet Army invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Almost right away Pathan refugees started pouring into Karachi. Pathans, on coming to Karachi, largely went into the transportation, rental, and money-lending businesses. Up until 1979, the informal housing market in Karachi was controlled by Punjabis and Mohajirs. Starting 1980, Pathans started taking over the informal housing sector. This created tensions between Pathans and the predominantly Mohajir (Bihari) renters of Orangi. These tensions came to a boil in 1985 during the transportation riots.

Between 1984 and 1985, Karachi minibuses, called the 'yellow devils', were responsible for on average two deaths per day. In 1985, a Pathan bus driver skipped a light and ran into a group of students of Sir Syed College. The Mohajir and Punjabi student activists from the Islami Jamiat-e Tuleba, the student wing of the Jama’at-e Islami rioted. Bihari basti dwellers of Orangi also joined the transport riots. The rioting saw Mohajirs in pitched battles with Pathans, who formed a partnership with the Punjabis – an alliance cemented by arms trade between Punjabi dominated military and the Pathans. The alliance between Pathans and Punjabis still stands; Pathans are seen as henchmen for the Punjabis in Karachi.


The Mohajir conflict is not an ethnic conflict as Mohajirs don't belong to a certain ethnicity but come from a variety of different ethnicities. The uniting cultural glue, if there is one, is the shared language – Urdu. The major thing that bound them together, especially initially, was economic interest. Economic interest was also what led them to mouth nationalist slogans as a way to propagate the status quo that distinctly advantaged them. The other part of Mohajir identity – the one which made them see as a different nationality- was formed in the era post mid 1960s, when ethnic aspirations had started battering Pakistan's political landscape with gale force winds.

Mohajir 'identity' formed under the pressure of Sindhi nationalism, and the Punjabi and Pashtun ethnic movements, and most importantly under the economic pressures created by limited resources and 'unequal' distribution. Certainly Sindhis felt that they had legitimate grievances for they believed that it was 'their land' and 'their resources' that were being 'preyed' upon by outsiders.

Meanwhile, the Punjabis felt threatened by the economic ascendancy and dominance of the Mohajirs within Pakistan. Additionally, post ethnic quotas, the only way Mohajirs could demand economic rights legitimately as a group was to be considered a separate nationality on par with that of Sindhis, Punjabis, Pathans, and Balochs. And Mohajirs did just that. Given that Mohajirs were ethnically, and to a large degree – especially post immigration of poor Biharis - economically diverse, mobilizing them as a "nationality" proved tricky. The earliest mobilization attempts hence were focused around the style of clothing. It is often called the 'Kurta-Pyjama' mobilization.

The trajectory of Karachi and Pakistan could have been different had it not involved itself in Afghanistan. The Islamization unleashed by Haq to service the Muhajideen pipeline had a deep impact on the political and cultural fabric of Pakistan – an impact whose ripple effects are still being echoed in the demolished minarets of Lal Masjid, and Shia-Sunni relations in particular.

Zia regime, which came at a time when concern about Iranian revolution was high, armed the Sunni extremists within Pakistan and helped perpetrate horrific violence against the Shias in mid 1980s. Zia's regime also saw vicious persecution of other minorities like the Ahmaddis. The Afghan war also made available huge amounts of small arms within the country, something which was abused to deadly effect in ethnic clashes.

The Future

In 1998, Mohajir, Baluch, Pashtun and Sindh parties allied to form the Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement (PONM), which seeks to challenge Punjab hegemony in Pakistan’s political life. Another group that represents Mohajirs, Sindhis, and Baluchis is the Grand Democratic Alliance. While these alliances proved ineffectual, there is now likelihood that Mohajir-Sindhi-Pathan alliance may take shape with Benazir-Musharaf and possibly ANP coming together to fight elections.