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.


Anonymous said...

written by a true MQM supporter! you sure must have made Altaf Hussain proud by downplaying his terrorist organizations violent crimes, torture cells, bombing campaigns and arms funneling from India. And making the federal government out to be unjust?!@ what are you dilutional? Lets not forget the numerous assassinations the MQM party has undertaken against its critics, journalist, government officials and public service men/woman. Often times, it has targeted members of its own community who's loyalties lay with Pakistan and not some regional terrorist outfit that has antagonized and polarized Pakistan's fragile multi-ethnic dynamics. And you forget to mention how the MQM has links with Al-Qaeda and is being run from abroad by the terrorist henchman Altaf Hussain, who is in hiding and known to have ordered the killing of hundreds of people. And lets not forget, that the Mohajir community is a refugee community that was welcomed with open arms and given preferential treatment along with houses and jobs by the people of Pakistan (Pathans, Sindhis, Balochis, Panjabi's) only to realize that many(not all) of the Mohajir planned on staying and not returning to their respective regions in India and began treating the indigenous Pakistani people (95% of the country) as backwards, refusing to learn any of the indigenous languages of Pakistan and acting as ambassadors of india by promoting their culture and viewpoints. The welcomed refugees began practising favouritism only hiring their fellow co-linguists over the native population, resentment and a whiplash effect was bound to happen. After living in the country for 60 years, due to their own doings, many mohajir have failed to integrate themselves into the local dynamics of the country and its respective local culture. Their lack of cultural sensitivity and antagonistic viewpoints especially when living on someone else's soil has resulted in their current treatment.

Anonymous said...

nice article !!
very observative!!

At Anonymous guy ! (First Comment)

You are extremely racist!

Anonymous said...

loads of crap.......... 12th MAY was an eye opener for the people of karachi. People of karachi will rise against the tyranny of MQM during the forthcoming elections.You can't fool the most educated people in the country any longer

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous - First Comment

Rightly mentioned you seem to be a racist.

I have nothing to do with Pakistani politics nor do I know anything about it and am not even interested. But your comment seems to be bad in taste for anyone to read. Why do you forget that Pakistan was a part of India for almost 4000 years since the beginning of the human civilization. If your memory is weak or if you are unaware of history, better read some. Modern Pakistan seems to me is divided, not just by the account of this particular article but countless of them are published on the web. I guess Wazaristan, something is going on out there which I am not exactly aware of, seems to have a large Pathan and Punjabi population and that clash has killed quite a lot of people which has nothing to do with Mohajir.
Also why do you forget that the Quiad-e-Azam was a Mohajir, he gave you the so called Pakistani identity and the current leader also is a Mohajir who has saved Pakistan till now from going totally radical. If it were a Pathan or Punjabi I think that Pakistan would have been the next Afghanistan. Also you seem to agree that Sindhi are original Pakistani people or so as to say they resided in Sindh area of India which unfortunately is now a part of Pakistan, then why is it that there are more Sindhis in India then in Pakistan? They may be Hindus and not Muslims but they are Sindhis. Just to add that there are more Muslims, better educated (to a great extent), living with more freedom and self respect in India then they do in Pakistan. The number of Muslims living in India is far much more than in Pakistan! I have never seen a Muslim or for that matter any one whose ancestors came from Sindh and Punjab part of Pakistan denied of any rights or being labelled as Refugees. Gosh! I would have feel ashamed if that would have happened. In India we had a Muslim President till 2 months back and I proudly say that he has been one of the best President ever, our current Prime Minister is a Sikh with his family roots in Pakistani Punjab. All of them share the same respect, no one abuses any religion.
As they say in Indian culture - Atithi Devo Bhava (Guest is Divine), we treat them as God, you can check that with Sonia Gandhi and I assure you that she will agree :).
So as a citizen of the world, I advise you to respect other religion, languages and ethnicities. It would help you be a better human being and serve your country and humanity better.
- A proud Indian Muslim.

Anonymous said...

Amazing article full of truth and facts, certainly shows that an educated and honest person has wwritten it.
Well, now we should learn from our history rather criticising anyother Pakistani. This article is a great piece of work which shows a great deal of observation, surely its the need of time.

Anonymous said...

I was asked whether I am a mohajir by my friend once. I answered him that my forefathers migrated, but i don't. The reality is that, when a paki was born in US, he got US nationality. So do I. My father was born in 1950s in Quetta, so Do I was born in Karachi. What the fuck u ppl r talking about mohajir, pathans, punjabis, sidhis???

I wish that every body in Pakistan could be only a muslim and than a Pakistani. The good - bad deeds, which previous people did with others n themselves! We have to forget that all and trained ourselves and our upcomming generations to be moderate, tolerate and respect all our fellow ethnic groups, and be remain Pakistani. If we plan not to clash with others, and others also plan it in the same way, Pakistan can be a heaven on earth.

What I feel is that non-mohajirs think that mohajirs fuck their soverign right to rule the land of pakistan. For ur kind information, Mohajirs are also present in MMA, PML and PPP as well. I can give example of my nana who is still alive maasha Allah, and fully support Jamaat. Should I kill him because he is a supporter of Jamaat. Obviously not. Mohajirs do have best Punjabi pusto friends as well. Thats mean, hatered is promoted by few insiders, just like 14 m jews are controlling the whole world.

I think this is the time we should understand what we want in real. not the needs, which were injected by our (so called) leaders in our minds and our souls.

Karachities, Do u agree that MQM's city nazim is much better than our old nazims, be those old ones belong to mqm or mma. I never gave vote to any party, but in recent local elections, I gave my vote to mqm only because of nazim. Agar hum kisi k real kaam ko nahi sarhaeen gay, to yahan kabhi taraqi nahi ho sakti. Next election mein agar PPP ya MMA ka nazim aata hai, aur woh Mqm k nazim se achi progress dikhata hai to Well, I will vote him definitely. Because I m not a worker of MQM, or any other party. I appreciate the real work. Thats it!

i hope k meri tqreer achi nahi lagi ho gi aap logon ko. But accept kar leink ab pakistan mein mohajir nahi hain, ya muhajir bohat boorhay bachay hain. Baqi sare socalled Muhajir Pakistani hain.

Anonymous said...

I would like to post something disturbing.

u r free to discuss. u may bring in return jamaat's pics. But the question is still there. Why don't Qazi, or Nawaz or zardari or altaf seem in that condition. We are fighting for nothing. Really!