Be­neath Karachi's vi­o­lence

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Khur­ram Zia

FOR more than two decades JITs have been bring­ing Pa­haris, Com­man­dos, Mo­tas etc on to our TV screens, but an­a­lysts out­side Karachi fail to un­der­stand why a party with a mil­i­tant wing is not los­ing its grip on the metropoli­tan city, de­spite the heavy pres­ence of the Rangers.

Many of them think that the MQM does not en­joy much sup­port in the city, and that the elec­tion re­sults only re­flect mus­cle and not pop­u­lar­ity. The re­cent en­try of for­mer city nazim, Mustafa Ka­mal, has fur­ther ce­mented this per­cep­tion. But for a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing, one needs to look at the power strug­gle for con­trol of this city and the in­se­cu­ri­ties of its in­hab­i­tants, who gave birth to this party. The cur­rent state struc­ture does not al­low elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Karachi to have any say in its mat­ters. Hav­ing a say in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment re­quires con­sid­er­able seats from Pun­jab. For the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment con­sid­er­able seats are re­quired from ru­ral Sindh. There is also an un­writ­ten agree­ment un­der which the chief min­is­ter of Sindh can only be a Sindhi.

One also needs to count into the equa­tion the vari­able of law-en­force­ment agen­cies in Karachi. The Rangers were de­ployed in the city in the mid-80s and since then they are an in­te­gral part of the power strug­gle within the city. Their stakes can be gauged by vis­it­ing the Univer­sity of Karachi, con­sid­er­able land of which is oc­cu­pied by this elite force. Even a con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate sug­gests that more than 50 per­cent land in Karachi is can­ton­ment or semi-can­ton­ment area. Ac­cord­ing to some re­ports, ex-ser­vice­men are also in­volved in se­cu­rity and re­cov­ery busi­nesses.

Af­ter the 1972 Urdu-Sindhi ri­ots, mi­grants from In­dia started feel­ing a sense of alien­ation with the state - es­pe­cially the Sindh gov­ern­ment - but the wave of vi­o­lence dur­ing the Afghan mi­gra­tion in the 1980s gave birth to a party that was more about se­cur­ing the Urdu-speak­ing neigh­bour­hoods than con­test­ing elec­tions. In Ni­chola Khan's words, the "MQM of­fered se­cu­rity and pro­tec­tion, in­clud­ing from Karachi's highly politi­cized, cor­rupt and vi­o­lent police force; mil­i­tants gained power, re­spect and a per­verse route to so­cial and eco­nomic ad­vance­ment when con­ven­tional routes seemed cor­rupted and blocked."

The mil­i­tancy and street power of the MQM con­sti­tutes a semi-state like struc- ture for Mo­ha­jirs within the Pak­istani state, with sec­tor and unit of­fices at the mo­halla lev­els look­ing af­ter cit­i­zens' needs. It is sad but true that the peo­ple of Karachi trust sec­tor of­fices more than police sta­tions and gov­ern­ment of­fices, since state in­sti­tu­tions are mostly run by of­fi­cials who are not na­tives of the city. The party fund col­lected - force­fully or by will - also works like a tax­a­tion struc­ture.

Re­ports of Jin­nah­pur maps be­ing dis­cov­ered in the 1990s, and the con­fis­ca­tion of Nato weapons by the Rangers or al­le­ga­tions of as­so­ci­a­tion with RAW have not stopped the Urdu-speak­ing pop­u­la­tion from turn­ing to Nine-Zero for a so­lu­tion to their prob­lems. The MQM re­mains a more re­li­able in­sti­tu­tion than the Sindh sec­re­tar­iat for those re­sid­ing in ur­ban Sindh. Altaf Husain has been run­ning not a po­lit­i­cal party but a par­al­lel gover­nance struc­ture for ur­ban Sind­his.

De­spite such strength, this state-like or­gan­i­sa­tion op­er­ates un­der con­stant pres­sure. The party has a his­tory of clashes with al­most ev­ery ma­jor eth­nic group as well as the pow­er­ful mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment. Its habit of rais­ing the Mo­ha­jir prov­ince slo­gan when­ever its re­la­tions with the PPP hit a low has re­sulted in an­i­mos­ity be­tween eth­nic Sind­his and the Urdu-speak­ing pop­u­la­tion of Sindh.

On the other hand, the pow­er­ful state in­sti­tu­tions fear that there are also sep­a­ratist ten­den­cies within the party. And even if not, strong con­nec­tions out­side Pak­istan and the mil­i­tant street power make it dif­fi­cult to con­trol the party. This fear has not only led to mul­ti­ple op­er­a­tions against the party but mil­i­tant groups from other com­mu­ni­ties and par­ties have also been propped up to coun­ter­bal­ance the MQM. Be­cause the MQM han­dles the situation in a state-like man­ner, co­er­cively deal­ing with these com­mu­ni­ties and groups, it fails to find any sup­port out­side Urdu-speak­ing Sind­his. The party has of­ten tried to broaden its base, even chang­ing its name from Mo­ha­jir to Mut­tahida, but their re­treat to the Mo­ha­jir shell when­ever they face the heat has re­stricted them while vi­o­lent clashes with other com­mu­ni­ties have iso­lated them.

Karachi did en­joy a brief pe­riod of peace dur­ing Mushar­raf's regime, as sev­ered re­la­tions with the PPP and the PMLN forced a mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment to end its an­i­mos­ity with the MQM. With a strong gover­nor as well as ma­jor min­istries at the pro­vin­cial and fed­eral level, and ef­fec­tive lo­cal gov­ern­ment, nei­ther the MQM nor the Urdu-speak­ing pop­u­lace needed sec­tor of­fices.

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