The MQM Saga

The Lament

The recent article in New York Times “Altaf Hussain’s grip on a Pakistani city faces a threat” and BBC documentary broadcast immediately after the elections in Pakistan in May 2013, portray Mr. Altaf Husain the leader of MQM, as a Mafia boss and MQM as a political party with a history of violence, which arguably makes it the most feared political force in Pakistan. TV anchors, many political leaders in Pakistan, some UK Parliamentarians of Pakistan origin, routinely appear on to Pakistan talk shows and say openly that they would be scared for their lives if they utter a word against MQM!

Pakistanis talk incessantly about the USD 500000 recovered from the MQM offices, and USD 3-5 million worth of property that they own in London, saying that this proves beyond a doubt that MQM are thieves and money launderers and should be put out of business. However, I do wonder whether the USD 4.5 million dollar watch that Mr. Nawaz Sharif is reported to have worn to his inauguration would pay for all of the MQM assets taken together.


To an outsider, like myself, this MQM leader they talk about does not appear to be anything special. His speeches are often rambling and off point. He bursts into song now and then, throws tantrums and uses the same rough language, like the other political leaders. He talks about exploitation of the masses by feudal landlords and the well-to-do. All a rehash of the slogans we have heard before.


All this commotion in the press and over the electronic media does not sound quite Kosher and is part of a larger story of painting MQM as a bogey man which is responsible for all the problems of Karachi. We need to go back a few years to see how this story has unfolded over the years.


The Origins of the MQM Bogey man image:


The migrants from India at the time of partition in 1947 constituted the most skilled and educated group who had managed to secure important positions in Government in the united India under Britain. Muslim business leaders also came from the Memon-Gujrati community who had migrated from Bombay, the hub of commercial activity in pre-partition India.

In response to pressure from the local politicians, very soon after partition the government set up barriers to entry designed to restrict entry of Urdu speaking migrants to Government positions by instituting a 2% quota for recruitment from Karachi where the majority of the Urdu speaking migrants had settled. As a result of these discriminatory practices the numbers of Urdu speaking people in the both the civil and military services, which in Pakistan also constitute the main policy making institutions, has become severely limited. This directly affected the political status and voice of the migrants.


Very soon after independence the euphoria of securing a country which would be the home of the Muslims of India wore off and raw ethnic rivalries started surfacing.


Initially the migrants suffered from idealistic fervor at having succeeded as the primary change agent that made Pakistan a reality and they could not imagine that they would be subject to discriminatory practices since they had given up their homes and lives in India and fought for Pakistan in spite of the fact that many of their brethren had to stay behind and they themselves had to start all over again.


However reality dawned very soon as ethnic rivalries turned to ethnic hatred and resulted in violence. Terror was first unleashed on the poor and middle class Urdu speaking classes in Karachi by Mr. Gauhar Ayub in 1965 after the electoral defeat of Fatima Jinnah against his father Gen. Ayub Khan when he headed processions of truckloads of armed Pathans in the poorest areas of Karachi which were at that time completely unarmed. Similar behavior under similar patronage continued in the 70s and 80s and even continues today.


MQM was created in1984 as problems of this type continued unaddressed over the years. Its objective was to represent the poorest areas of Karachi where the Urdu speaking migrants from India had settled after partition, when no other political party offered the Urdu speaking voter a choice or a voice and to protect them from the onset of violence..


At this time, and here I speculate, MQM took steps to ensure that whenever such violent incidents are repeated, then this activity would not be cost free to the perpetrators. At this the State and other political parties rose up in protest and labeled MQM as a violent ethnic group and created the MQM bogey man. It suited political parties to propagate the MQM bogey man stories instead of trying to address the causative effects.


The main cause of violence was the apathy of the state towards problems of the people of Karachi and its complete inability to manage a rapidly growing metropolis and the influx of multiple ethnicities from across Pakistan seeking livelihood. Each of these groups tried to create space for themselves and often resorted to violence.


In response to this situation it was inevitable that the Urdu speaking people of Karachi, who constituted the largest ethnic group, be similarly equipped to be able to survive in this environment, as they did under MQM. However they were not then and are not now the only armed violent group in Karachi.


The real solution for the problems of Governance in Sindh:

Surprising as it may seem to an outsider, the real problem of Sindh is not MQM or its alleged violent activities.


The basic problem in Sindh is that it is the only province in Pakistan where a distinction has been made between Urban and Rural areas. This has been done ostensibly as an affirmative action measure to level the playing field for the rural Sindhi population which is less developed against the more educated Urban areas where other ethnicities reside and constitute a majority.


The consequence of this is that no matter how the Urban votes are cast, the management of all of Sindh including Urban Sindh, will always lie with the representatives of the Rural areas, since the rural seats in the provincial, assembly are more than those for the Urban areas.


The people who have the responsibility to address local issues for the Urban areas have no interest in doing so, since their vote bank comes from the rural areas.


Further as a result of the recruitment quotas the state bureaucrats and the law and order agencies who are responsible to implement the policies made by the rural politicians are also largely staffed from areas other than Urban Sindh.


So as a consequence the people of Urban Sindh have little or no voice in either the formulation or the implementation of the policies that affect them directly.


It is obvious to an outsider that the real solution is that the governance system be modified so that the political representatives of the people are made responsible for all areas that affect the lives of the people living there and the necessary resources are allocated to them. They will have a direct interest in doing so. If they do not, they will be thrown out in the next elections.


This will be possible only if either, the division of the province, which is currently half done, is completed and two separate provinces formed with separate electorates, assemblies and budgets.


A second less drastic option is that responsibility and resources are devolved to a third tier of Government and implement a strong local government system where the local representatives are given extensive responsibility and the resources to manage all local affairs.


We see that when responsibility was actually devolved to this level, as was done during General Musharraf’s time, Karachi witnessed tremendous progress and the law and order situation was also much better.


However, attempts to devolve responsibility and finances to the local Government have been always resisted by the rural party in power at the provincial level.


This behavior has been repeated again a month ago when the Sindh provincial assembly has yet again forced through a bill that limits the scope of the Local Government and vests the responsibility with the bureaucrats instead of the political appointees. As mentioned before these bureaucrats have little or no representation from Urban Sindh.


This is counter to all democratic principles and international practice regarding local government. If the Government continues to play these games then the problems of Karachi will go largely unaddressed once again, irrespective of who wins the Local government elections.


This is a no-win situation and putting in place a bad system will just ensure that even when your “favourite party” wins the Local Government elections they will be unable to make any significant change.

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