MQM’s political future is at stake though it represents an important population segment.
Pakistan is an unfortunate country in the sense that a very important part of its population still follows an estranged existence and is not a part of the mainstream in the true sense of the word. Pakistan came into being because the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent wanted their own homeland. They may have been a minority in the greater sense since the Hindus were much more in numbers and this was the prime reason why the Indian Muslims were not being treated even-handedly. Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah may have been a proponent of Hindu-Muslim unity in the beginning but when he realized that the Muslims were not receiving fair treatment, he changed his views and fought tooth and nail for an independent Pakistan and managed to win a separate homeland.
The news that Pakistan was to come into existence was a time of great rejoicing for the Muslims of India because they would now live in a land which they could call their very own and pursue their ideals in an unfettered and free manner. That is how the great migration took place and most Muslims abandoned good jobs, thriving businesses and productive lands to migrate to Pakistan in droves. They used all kinds of transport – rail, road, sea and air – and some even walked to their new homeland. Even the tragic massacres they were subjected to on the way, especially on the road and train routes, did not lessen their resolve to reach Pakistan.
The immigrants from India spread to all parts of Pakistan but it was the city of Karachi which bore the greatest brunt of the migration. The immigrants settled in the metropolis, taking up jobs of all kinds and running the industries and merchant segments. The city galloped in size from a population of some three lakhs to millions in a matter of a few years.
The Urdu word for immigrant is ‘Muhajir’ and this is how those people were known who had come from India. It is a pity though that the word stuck on a permanent basis and despite some 68 years of independence, the immigrants and their subsequent generations are still known as Muhajirs. What has perhaps further hardened the Muhajir identity are the political trends that had been festering in independent Pakistan over decades and which exploded into an organizational form somewhere in the 80s in the form of a political party devoted to winning the rights of the Muhajirs.
The trends had its roots in how the immigrant community, largely resident in Karachi and responsible for the city’s commercial and industrial vibrancy as well of the country, was meted unfair treatment compared to the privileges enjoyed by the ‘sons of the soil’. The migrants were subjected to quotas in education and in government jobs. Some political leaders even made a distinct effort to draw a line between those who belonged to the land and had become Pakistani by birth and those who had migrated from across the border after 1947.
This is where a schism occurred between the locals and the settlers and was duly exploited on the basis of ‘Muhajir rights.’ Since the immigrants were generally a better educated and more enlightened lot, their claim to jobs and educational opportunities was also greater but they were denied what they rightfully deserved. It was this denial of rights that hardened the Muhajirs into becoming a distinctly separate community and into their claiming the city of Karachi, as well as other urban areas in Sindh, such as Hyderabad, Sukkur, etc., where the majority of them lived, as their own strongholds.
The APMSO (All Pakistan Muslim Students Organization) first appeared on the scene and claimed to fight for educational rights of the Muhajirs. The central figure in the APMSO, namely Altaf Hussain, then converted the student party into a political party and called it the MQM – Muhajir Qaumi Movement.
The MQM purported to fight for the rights of the Muhajirs – or the immigrant community that was said to have been sidelined by the rest of the population. It made the middle class its central platform and claimed that it represented their rights in getting them even-handed educational privileges, better employment opportunities and an identity that would establish them on an equal footing with other Pakistanis.
Their ideals and objectives may have been perfect and best suited to the Muhajir milieu. There was a little problem though in the immigrant community continuing to represent the Muhajirs and thus excluding other middle class communities from its folds. It was for this reason that at one point the name of the party was changed from Muhajir Qaumi Movement to Mutaheda Qaumi Movement to make it a more inclusive party for all Pakistanis. The problem remained, however, that the manner in which the MQM operated was not allinclusive and its overall methodology as well as image continued to be urban Sindh-centric. Other ills also crept in and were largely attributed to the MQM, such as bhatta (extortion money), kidnapping for ransom, etc. It is true that other criminal elements may also have jumped on to the bandwagon and taken to such criminal acts but it is initially the MQM that was identified with these evils.
Another development that did not work well for the image of the party was the fact that its leader, Altaf Hussain, went over to the UK and took residence in London while his party was left rudderless in Pakistan and was run by committee rather than being propelled forward by the man who had founded it. He resorted to ‘dictating’ things from afar by remote control rather than instituting a more democratic leadership style with his presence in Pakistan
If the MQM was or is a party of Pakistan’s middle class, it has failed to live up to its claim. The resident of urban Sindh is as lost today as he was three decades back. He is as deprived of the fair right to exist as a respectable citizen of Pakistan. This is of course not to say that other Pakistanis are immersed in rivers of milk and honey because the country’s political leadership in general has not done much for the masses. But the MQM had all the opportunity to better the lot of its diehard followers and it has not delivered. It may not be a part of the Sindh or city government at present but it has had very good opportunities in the past to do good for the people. It would perhaps claim that it built quite a bit of Karachi’s infrastructure in terms of roads and flyovers when its own Mustafa Kamal was the Nazim (mayor) of Karachi. It forgets to mention that this was in the days when Gen. Pervez Musharraf was the President of Pakistan and it was on his behest that the Nazim received an unbroken stream of funds for the developments undertaken in Mustafa Kamal's years.
The party is also subject to a lot of wear and tear from within and outside. It does not seem to have attended with any seriousness to the issue of succession within the party. Altaf Hussain, though he is a British national now, continues to lead the MQM from the safety of London but what after him? There is no successor of the great leader in view. The MQM is perhaps engaged in a lot of soul-searching these days and in weeding out those evils that it has been identified with from time to time. This is just what is required of it because whatever its current problems, it continues to be a party that represents an important segment of Pakistan’s population and it must continue to represent them in a more vibrant manner.
The resident of urban Sindh is as lost today as he was three decades back.