NationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 9

Will MQM’s narrative for polls succeed?

The Urdu-speaking community in Pakistan, represented by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), is poised to participate in the upcoming elections. However, the party appears to lack a substantive program or manifesto to garner support from its constituents. Despite being part of various governments at the national and provincial levels since 2018, the MQM has failed to address the pressing issues faced by its political base. Even during its tenure with the mayoral office in Karachi, the MQM did not effectively tackle the city’s significant civic problems, let alone address security concerns.

The primary focus of the MQM’s current campaign revolves around advocating for Karachi’s separation from Sindh to become a distinct province. While this demand is crucial, it is not solely driven by the MQM’s preferences; rather, it is presented as a matter of national interest for Pakistan. However, delving into this proposition reveals essential aspects that warrant consideration.

As the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) endeavors to secure a substantial number of seats in Karachi, often at the expense of the MQM, the latter is increasingly vocal in demanding the creation of a new province for Karachi. This demand gains more justification as the PPP, instead of addressing the city’s mounting civic challenges, resorts to gerrymandering to undermine political opponents and exploit the situation for political gain. This strategy may backfire, alienating an increasing number of Karachi residents who already harbor a deep dissatisfaction with PPP policies.

In this context, the idea of making Karachi a separate province gains credibility. The PPP’s political stronghold in Sindh has predominantly been rooted in rural areas over the past two decades. Conversely, the MQM has maintained its dominance in urban Sindh, encompassing Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, among others. Despite the PPP’s attempts to govern Karachi similarly to rural Sindh, it has struggled to maintain control. In recent local government elections, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) secured the majority of local government constituencies, prompting the PTI to align with the JI against the undemocratic tactics employed by the PPP.

The PPP, through horse-trading and the use of force, managed to install Murtaza Wahab as the mayor of Karachi, resulting in a minority party ruling the city. The PPP’s success in rural Sindh can be attributed to the political conservatism and inactivity of the population, allowing the party to fulfill minimal demands such as providing government jobs. However, the urban dynamics of Karachi demand a different approach, and the PPP’s attempt to control the city through rigging and force is unsustainable.

As Karachi, an urban center, faces these challenges, the proposal to make it a separate province gains traction, not merely as a response to the MQM’s desires but as a pragmatic solution aligned with the city’s unique needs and dynamics. This is crucial for the formation of the PPP’s national government in the country. However, the PPP lacks a political stronghold in the largest province, Punjab, holding 141 out of 266 National Assembly seats. Establishing a national government appears nearly impossible. In Pakistan, where the constitution is frequently violated, and rules are flouted, the PPP is willing to go to any extent to secure seats in the National Assembly and Sindh assembly from Karachi, potentially leading to significant conflicts.

Surveys and opinion polls indicate that the PTI, led by former Prime Minister Imran Khan, is the most popular party in Karachi, with the JI regaining lost ground and the MQM aligning with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to challenge the PPP.

It’s worth noting that during the rule of former PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s, the PPP attempted to assert control over Karachi, leading to the formation of the MQM by Urdu-speaking youths. Exploiting the situation, the MQM, with support from the General Zia regime, established a totalitarian grip over Karachi. Despite changes in federal and Sindh governments, the MQM’s influence persisted. In the 1990s, deteriorating security prompted military operations in Karachi, marked by widespread casualties and destruction caused by the MQM, now more of a fascist organization than a political party. MQM founder Altaf Hussain’s exile to London followed.

Throughout these years, the PPP attempted to dislodge the MQM from Karachi but faced resistance. The PPP’s image as a Sindhi ethnic party contributed to the Urdu-speaking community viewing it as an entity working against their interests.

In 2018, Karachites turned to PM Khan and the PTI, giving the party a significant number of National Assembly seats. Although the PTI has not firmly committed to making Karachi a new province, there’s a sense that the party’s Sindh leadership, centered in Karachi, might support the idea. If, against the odds, the MQM and PTI reach a consensus on this matter, the PPP would find itself at a disadvantage. While creating a new province is challenging, it could be a viable solution to improve social services for the people of Karachi, rather than an issue of personal egos.