By Yasser Latif Hamdani
(This article represents my personal view alone and PTH as a body does not own or disown it. Unlike some other self styled “liberal” websites which excel in Mcarthyite Neo-jiyalism, we like to present all points of view on this website.)
The violence that erupted in Karachi recently has once again prompted all and sundry to point fingers at MQM. Enough has been written against MQM and I am sure for good reason but there are always two sides to a story and it was that other side that I discovered on a recent trip to Karachi.
I am not an MQM apologist. My attempt is simply to present the other side of the story to balance out what I feel is a one-sided representation. As a lawyer I feel strongly about no body being condemned unheard. The tension between the Urdu speaking community and other groups in Karachi hit at the very root of our identity as Pakistanis. The Urdu speaking, mocked by our up-country liberals and conservatives alike as “Urdas” and “hindustoras”, are composed of many ethnicities united by common language and the historical narrative of partition and migration. The Urdu speaking are relatively secular, modern and integrated in the world. It was their hardwork and enterprise that made a mid-sized city in Sindh into a grand city of global significance.
Opposing them are the indigenous ethnonationalists. Forget that all of these groups also sympathise with separatist movements and narratives but when it comes to laying claim to Karachi they all become “indigenous Pakistanis”. This inherent contradiction in the stance of ANP, various Sindhi parties and the Baloch groups in Karachi would be amusing had it not been so utterly tragic. If Pushtuns have a claim on Karachi it can only be as Pakistanis because otherwise Karachi and Peshawar are very far apart and if Pakistan is that factor that unites the two, then the Urdu speaking are at the core of that national identity having put their faith in this land and given countless sacrifices for it.
MQM is lampooned and demonised for being a violent and terrorist party. It is only because after decades of reversals, it stood up to speak for its people and I am sure excesses were committed. However Altaf Hussain was a god send for the Urdu speaking. For all his faults, and he is no angel, Altaf taught them to stand up for themselves. In a tough neighborhood, where once dictator Ayub Khan’s son Gauhar Ayub had put on a shameless display of Pushtun celebration in Urdu speaking areas after his father rigged the elections to beat Fatima Jinnah, one has to toughen up and Altaf Hussain was the product of that ethnic environment. Had the “indigenous” Pakistanis been more forthcoming to the “Mohajirs”, there would have been no need. Instead parochialism and vested self interests have ruled the day and the memory of massacres such as Qasba Aligarh and the infamous 1992 operation continue to evoke hatred.
If Altaf Hussain is eccentric today, it is because of the burden he carries with him. He is a shadow of the larger than life figure that he was before the army operation crippled his people and killed his brother and nephew. In a way he is a victim of circumstance not just those created by the state but excessive hagiography that surrounds him. I cannot help but see the similarity with Yasser Arafat. Altaf Hussain too came bearing an olive branch but was forced to choose the gun. He still holds that olive branch but are we going to give MQM a chance. If Sinn Feinn could emerge as a force of moderation, so can MQM.
A visit to nine-zero shows just how organised and disciplined the MQM cadres are. It is – say what you may- the only party where party comes above individuals and where individual voter can hold his elected representative accountable. This is why countless MQM senators, ministers and legislators are found at the headquarters listening to constituents’ grievances, making their own tea and fixing office registers. I wish other claimants of urban middle class vote, like Imran Khan, would go to nine zero and see how a true middle class party is actually run.
I must confess I did not find any torture chambers (these were clearly well disguised) nor did I presume that the soft spoken ladies and gents I came across, including the elegant Ms. Nasreen Jaleel, were capable of violence. This is not to say that MQM is incapable of violence. They come from a long tradition of street fighting but these ladies and gents strike me as reasonable people who would first explore logically all avenues of reconciliation. I do not deny that my impressions are formed by the picture presented to me.
Anyone who drives by the famed “Cutty Pahari” in Karachi can see that MQM today seems to be fighting a battle not just for its survival but for the survival of Pakistan’s largest city and commercial hub. The sandy mountains at the edge of North Nazimabad – once completely- deserted are now encroached completely by illegal squatters which is also a haven for Taliban and Al Qaeda militants. ANP’s wants a constituency in Karachi and the powers that be are willing to deliver it. In the 2008 elections, ANP won the vote that previously went to JUI-F and JI. In other words, ethnic and linguistic fissures are transcending ideology but that surely means that ANP now speaks not just for the secular Pushtun in Karachi. ANP to the extent of Karachi also speaks for the Islamist elements that previously supported the MMA. (I am willing to be corrected on this count if I am wrong.)
While ANP continues to lose good people in its party to terrorism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, its local leadership in Karachi seems to have turned a blind eye to this menace. Then you have a responsible central minister from the party threatening widespread bloodshed in Karachi. This from the party that claims non-violence to be its creed.
Both MQM and ANP are coalition partners of the PPP in the center as well in the Sindh Assembly. Karachi is their collective responsibility. It seems though that the PPP is not playing the role in should have: of dealing with MQM and ANP impartially and fairly. MQM is a political reality which cannot be wished away. If coopted it can do great things for the city of Karachi as was evident from their tenure in the City District Government. Therefore the need of the hour is for Asif Ali Zardari to hark back to that original policy of reconciliation he embarked on two years ago. As for the ANP, its central leadership should make a choice. It cannot go on fighting Taliban in Khyber and supporting them in Karachi.