In 1990’s election, people of Karachi exhibited their resolute support for Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) purely on ethnic grounds. Subsequently in 1992, an operation was launched by the Pakistan Army. The operation was named ‘Operation Clean-Up’ and was initiated in the aftermath of an abduction and torture of Major Kaleemuddin. A resolution was passed in National Assembly to commence an operation against hardcore criminals, dubbed as ‘big 72 fishes’, in Karachi. Following this, the MQM Chief Altaf Hussain left the country and sought political asylum in London just before the beginning of operation.
During the 1992 operation, the Pakistan Army claimed to have recovered the map of ‘Jinnahpur’, a hypothetical idea of a separate state for Urdu-speaking Muhajirs. Although the operation continued from 1992 to 1994, it adversely affected the political strength of MQM. It was in these two years that MQM was bifurcated into two groups; MQM-Altaf led by Altaf Hussain, and MQM-Haqiqi led by Afaq Ahmed.
On 22 August, 2016, a mass political sit-in was organized by MQM for the release of their missing workers, allegedly held by Rangers in the continued targeted operation. In the political gathering, the MQM founder Altaf Hussain raised slogans against the existence of the Pakistan state; a pivotal moment which served as a real paradigm shift for MQM.
However, it was in the dictatorial era of Pervez Musharraf that MQM witnessed rebirth. In the general elections of 2002, MQM secured a large number of seats from urban Sindh and formed a political alliance with PML-Q. It held portfolios of many high-profile ministries such as Interior Minister of Sindh, which gave MQM tremendous sway in augmenting its political strength in urban Sindh.
Moreover, MQM also secured the position of the Mayor of Karachi in the local body elections of 2005. Henceforth, a plethora of development projects particularly infrastructural development projects were undertaken to resolve the city’s mass transit and transportation problems. This epoch was considered as the golden era of MQM. However, it was during this time that the horrendous episode of 12th May, 2007 occurred when scores of innocent people were killed and blood was mercilessly shed in order to achieve political objectives; something that continues to stain MQM’s political legacy.
With the culmination of Musharraf regime and restoration of democracy in Pakistan, the 2008 general elections were held in which MQM secured major seats from Urban Sindh and had a political marriage of convenience with Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Now they attained portfolios of both the Federal and Provincial Government of Sindh. Throughout this period, MQM had been embroiled with charges of extortion and target killings. The party has been a part of the Provincial and National Assemblies alongside Senate, as well as concluding agreements of power-sharing with different parties to become a coalition partner in ruling government. But it has never floated a single resolution or bill in the Parliament against the quota system.
In the general elections of 2013, MQM for the first time in post-Musharraf period experienced tumultuous political crises of legitimacy when it faced the electoral strength from the emergence of a vibrant, cosmopolitan party the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Karachiites, angst with the horrors and mayhem of the 2008-2013 periods, opted for this political option. Nonetheless, MQM retained its dominant position while PTI only secured one seat of NA-250 amid suspicions of fraud.
The downfall of MQM can be traced with the initiation of the targeted operation by the Federal government with the consent of the Provincial Government of Sindh to root out political violence and organized crime from Karachi for sustainable economic and social development of the city. During the targeted operation led by Pakistan Rangers, scores of workers of different political parties including MQM, PPP-sponsored Peoples Aman Committee, and other banned outlets were taken into custody for varying degree of crimes. On 11 March, 2015, the chickens had eventually come home to roost when paramilitary force of Pakistan Rangers raided MQM’s headquarters in Nine-Zero; arrested scores of MQM’s leaders; and recovered a huge cache of weapons and ammunition, illegally stashed in the premises.
This raid proved to be a prelude to MQM’s apparent dissolution as events in the following months transpired. In March of 2016, the once-prominent leader of MQM and former mayor of Karachi, Syed Mustafa Kamal announced in an exceedingly emotional press conference, his departure from MQM and the launch of his own party, Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP). After this development, many former MQM leaders, different MPAs and MNAs subsequently joined PSP. On 22 August, 2016, a mass political sit-in was organized by MQM for the release of their missing workers, allegedly held by Rangers in the continued targeted operation. In the political gathering, the MQM founder Altaf Hussain raised slogans against the existence of the Pakistan state; a pivotal moment which served as a real paradigm shift for MQM. Instantly, reactions ranging from anger to angst started to pour in from all over Pakistan resulting in the immediate announcement of MQM leadership in Pakistan dissociating itself from the MQM leadership in London. The party’s constitution was also amended; an event which was unconceivable in previous years.
However, in the midst of inter-MQM contestation for political supremacy, the party lost a crucial seat of National Assembly from Malir and Provincial Assembly’s seat from Mehmoodabad. In addition to this, the process of division and internal political intrigue continued as the issue of ticket-issuance for Senate elections 2018 came to fore. The two power centers in MQM – Farooq Sattar and Amir Khan, contested severely as MQM was further divided into PIB Group led by Farooq Sattar and Bahadurabad-Group led by Amir Khan. This division resulted in more electoral losses for MQM as the party performed poorly in Senate elections.
Now the ball is in the court of Karachiites. They have to make a decision for their future and the future of their posterity, either by supporting ethnic and religious politics with hollow-claims or opting for development-based programs.
This division in the once all-dominating party of urban Sindh – the MQM, represents strong vagueness in the political arena for the general elections of 2018. Now voters, who always cast their votes on ethnic basis, are standing at a crossroads. They are thinking about the crucial choice of which party to vote for. It is possible that for the first time in history, the ethnicity-based voting would be largely silent in the ballot boxes.
PTI emerged as the second largest party in terms of the number of votes in 2013 general elections. However, the PTI’s local leadership in Karachi, which belongs to the elite class, did not appreciate the full gravity of the support they garnered in 2013 elections. They failed to create grass-root political relationship with the people of Karachi as MQM once had and still relatively continues to enjoy. Another political force we can factor in Karachi’s 2018 political arena is the surprising emergence of Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi. After its Faizabad sit-in on religious, populist slogans; the TLP poses a serious threat to mainstream political parties as it can significantly act as a spoiler, particularly in Punjab and Karachi. This is evident from their surprising increasing momentum in the by-election of Provincial Assembly seat in Punjab, in which they garnered 16,000 votes. Moreover, in some of the less-privileged areas of Karachi such as New Karachi, Liaquatabad, Landhi, Malir and Saddar; the traditional voters belonging to Barelvi sect might opt for TLP as an alternative for MQM as they continue to present themselves as the guardian of Khatam-e-Nabuwwat. However, it is a political fact of Karachi’s polity that the city cannot sustain the hate-driven, supremely religiously motivated, political campaign of TLP as they do not have the required socio-economic development programs to resolve intractable problems of the cosmopolitan city.
Now the chances of a Hung Parliament are gradually increasing as the PPP is trying hard to secure its current seats in Sindh as well as trying to attain more seats from Karachi. Some parts of Lyari used to be part of NA-249 but now all parts of Lyari have come under NA-248, during the recent constituency layout. This constituency historically belongs to PPP. In 2013 elections, PPP lost its seat from Malir, but the elected MNA from Malir, later joined PPP in by-election. Likewise, PPP also gained the provincial seat in 2017 by-election of Mehmoodabad. The MPA elected from this constituency was Saeed Ghani under whose vibrant leadership, PPP stood to mark a dent to MQM’s electoral standing. Moreover, this by-election can also serve as a case study for political commentators and PPP that it can perform better than expected in the upcoming general elections because it stands to gain tremendously from the schism in MQM.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has stated that PPP is going to use ex-Chairman Senate Raza Rabbani during 2018 elections in NA-250. Raza Rabbani is synonymous with the voice of laborers. He will mobilize the labor of Karachi as he took a clear stance on the issues of privatization of Steel Mill and PIA. Furthermore, PSP is another political force which cannot be ignored in upcoming elections. However, their political strategy continues to resolve around the opposition to MQM instead of articulating a clearer vision for the city’s development.
In conclusion, Karachi is the economic pivot of the country and is increasingly turning into a demographic pressure cooker. According to statistics, Karachi possesses 50 percent of Urdu-speaking Muhajirs and 50 percent of people hailing from other ethnicities. Moreover, Karachi has also become the biggest city for Pakhtuns. This demographic development is alarming because with poor economic and social development prospects, combined with the influx of multiple ethnicities and hate-driven religious politics, the city stands at the brink of peril more than ever. Indeed, the former city of lights, deserves a better version of politics with the policies oriented towards development. Besides, the mainstream political forces must also be aware of the ethnic heterogeneity of the city. They must strive to strengthen this diversity, instead of cashing upon inculcating hatred and xenophobia, and show a diverse picture with multiple narratives of the city. Now the ball is in the court of Karachiites. They have to make a decision for their future and the future of their posterity, either by supporting ethnic and religious politics with hollow-claims or opting for development-based programs.