Karachi is the economic center of the country and is an essential stratum in the national political pitch. It has no parallel in the country for its political narrative which has exceedingly influenced national politics in the past seven decades. Apart from Karachi, none of the other cities of Pakistan possess such paramount importance or are as embracing of religious and ethnic pluralism as Karachi is.
In 1947, the vacuum created by the colossal migration of Hindus from Sindh towards India was filled by the prodigious exodus of Muslim migrants (Muhajir) coming from India to the newly-independent Pakistan. During the first five years of the post-partition period, the Sindhi population declined from 87 to 67 percent in Sindh. In Karachi, the federal capital of the new-born state, Muhajirs emerged as majority while Sindhi became a minority which significantly disturbed the traditional balance of power. Muhajir, especially those who migrated from Uttar Pradesh (UP), had strong academic background so they were easily appointed on higher governmental positions. Consequently, owning to prevalent culture of neo-colonialism in bureaucracy, the relationship between bureaucracy and citizens implicitly mirrors the relationship between a king and his subjects. This attitude widened the gulf between locals and higher officials.
To bridge the gap of demand and supply of labor in industries, Pashtun labor migrated from the then North West Frontier Province, now KPK and Tribal Areas towards Karachi and settled near SITE area. This migration was considered by Urdu-speaking community as an attempt of demographic engineering against them by Khan’s military Government.
Liaquat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of the newly-created Pakistan, had a prerequisite of a constituency to be elected as a member of the legislature. Therefore, an endeavor was undertaken to create a settlement in Karachi, which is now known as Liaquatabad, to enable Liaquat Ali Khan to be elected as a legislative member of the Assembly.
Intrinsically, Karachi has a character to always swim against the political wave. In 1965, Ayub Khan, the head of Pakistan’s first martial regime, easily gained clear majority against Fatima Jinnah in presidential elections. But it was Karachi along with Dhaka who stood against Ayub Khan and vigorously supported Fatima Jinnah. In the midst of campaigning for presidential elections, a rally was being undertaken by Gohar Ayub Khan, son of the military ruler Ayub Khan, during which clashes between police and public, who were supporting Fatima Jinnah, broke out which resulted in the injury of numerous people.
During Ayub Khan’s epoch, large industrialization took place all over the country. Plethora of industrial units were established in the only commercial port of the country, Karachi. To bridge the gap of demand and supply of labor in industries, Pashtun labor migrated from the then North West Frontier Province, now KPK and Tribal Areas towards Karachi and settled near SITE area. This migration was considered by Urdu-speaking community as an attempt of demographic engineering against them by Khan’s military Government.
Unfortunately, the first general elections in Pakistan were held in 1970, after 23 years of Pakistan’s inception. Maintaining its inherent spirit, Karachi swam against the political wave, which was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s movement with the popular slogan of ‘Roti, Kapra and Makan’. At that time, Karachi had five seats of the National Assembly. The Karachi populace supported religious politics and helped religious parties win four seats. On two seats, representatives from Jamat-e-Islami (JI) were elected while in the other two seats, representatives of Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP) were elected. Bhutto-led Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) secured two seats and one seat was secured by an independent candidate. Some political commentators claimed that support behind JI and JUP had an ethnic underlying notion because the leaderships of both JI and JUP belonged to Muhajirs; JI chief Mulana Maududi and Shah Ahmed Noorani of JUP respectively.
The tragedy of East Pakistan, now the sovereign state of Bangladesh, was deemed as a fruit for 1970’s election. Karachi, once again, saw an influx of migrants from East Pakistan. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto took oath as civil martial law administrator. There were primarily three policies which were opted by Bhutto regime which served as catalysts to the city’s shift towards ethnicity-based politics.
These clashes had caused the emergence of Muhajir Politics. Approximately 200 people were vanquished in riots. MQM, took full political mileage from the turmoil, and succeeded in making the Urdu-speaking realize that MQM is the only vanguard of Muhajir rights. In 1988, MQM emerged as a powerful political force, sweeping the polls from Karachi and Urban Sindh.
His first policy was the initiation of quota system. Bhutto gained a majority of vote from rural Sindh. In 1972, he imposed quota system in government vacancies and universities for ten years. He also allocated only 40 percent jobs for urban Sindh to incentivize marginalized rural population by mainstreaming them in provincial bureaucracy. His second policy initiative was the attempt to pass bill in Sindh Assembly, which was controlled by Sindhi-speaking PPP members, declaring Sindhi language as official provincial language. Numerous protests were held against the bill throughout Muhajir-dominated areas of Karachi. Police opened fire on protestors, resulting in the blatant state-sponsored murder of citizens. The third policy initiative was the nationalization of industries, which was against the capitalists of the time, especially against 22 economic capitalist families. Moreover, many of those families belonged to the Urdu-speaking community. Therefore, the Muhajirs deemed this event against them too. Hence in the election of 1977, Karachiites again supported religious parties’ Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) movement against Bhutto. There were a total of 11 seats of National Assembly from Karachi. Nine of them were conquered by PNA. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) secured only two seats although it gained clear majority all over the country.
Subsequently, with exacerbated ethnic acrimony, the foundation of All Pakistan Muhajir Student Organization (APMSO) was laid in 1978 which served as a prelude to increasing ethnic politics in Karachi. The reasons behind the formation of such an ethnic group by the middle-class students of Karachi were the above mentioned events which took place in Ayub and Bhutto’s epoch. According to some political commentators, General Zia-ul-Haq wanted a popular political force in Karachi to counter popularity of PPP in Sindh.
Mairaj Muhammad Khan, a prominent socialist icon and founding member of PPP, revealed that when Zia released him from jail (after serious conflict between Bhutto and Mairaj, Bhutto tortured and sent him in the prison), he was called in by Zia after 1977’s military coup and was offered to start ethnic politics from Karachi (Mairaj was also from the Urdu speaking community). He refused the offer with strong argument that he follows his own principal which is based on socialist ideology and that he would continue his struggle against the violation of poor and labors rights.
In 1984, Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) was formed as an extension of APMSO. In 1985, Bushra Zaidi, a student of Girls College, was hit by a mini bus which sparked massive protests. Because majority of transporters in the city were Pashtuns, riots erupted in the city and evolved into Pathan-Muhajir clashes. These clashes had caused the emergence of Muhajir Politics. Approximately 200 people were vanquished in riots. MQM, took full political mileage from the turmoil, and succeeded in making the Urdu-speaking realize that MQM is the only vanguard of Muhajir rights. In 1988, MQM emerged as a powerful political force, sweeping the polls from Karachi and Urban Sindh.
MQM’s secular philosophy and advocacy for unrestraint of Urdu-speaking, was like a cyclone which swept through the length and breadth of urban Sindh. This enabled the newly rising force of youth from universities and colleges to win 10 out of 13 Karachi seats of National Assembly and both the seats from Hyderabad.